Sci-fi weapons closer than most think
By Spc. Bill Putnam
An engineer from the Army’s Tank and Automotive Command shows off the laser weapon mock-up at the Association of the U.S. Army annual meeting in Washington, D.C., Oct. 6.
Spc. Bill Putnam
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 9, 2003) -- The technology behind space ship lasers and force fields is a lot closer to reality than many think.
Although those lasers and force fields won't be fielded for a few more years, Gus Khalil, an engineer at the Army's Tank and Automotive Command in Dearborn, Mich., said the Army has identified what they want for the Army's Future Combat System.
"There's a lot more demands for the FCS vehicle than there are for the legacy force today," he said. "Anything we do today that gives the soldiers less capability than he has is unacceptable."
That technology is being developed for the Army's Future Combat System, the family of 16 manned, unmanned, ground and aerial vehicles the Army wants fielded by 2010.
The manned ground vehicles have to weigh less than 20 tones. They also have to be as fast, as mobile and as lethal as an M-1A2 Abrams and M2 Bradley fighting vehicle.
Doing all that will be like making a Toyota truck as durable as an 18-wheel semi-truck, one TARDECE engineer quipped at a recent FCS conference in Dearborn, Mich.
But it is doable Khalil said. To demonstrate that, Khalil had a mock-up of the laser gun system at the Association of the U.S. Army annual meeting in Washington, D.C., Oct. 6-8.
The gun program falls under the Combat Hybrid Power System. Initiated by DARPA six years ago and handed over to TARDEC two years ago, the program is developing the FCS' "pulsed power" weapons.
Since the system is just being developed, the weapons could be Electro-thermal Chemical guns or even a laser gun capable of firing artillery rounds or destroying tanks, he said.
The mock up showed how TARDEC wants the system to work. On one end was a pack of three lithium-ion battery modules. When it was "fired" it went through a converter that increased the charge from 100 volts to 1,000 volts.
From there it goes to the pulse-forming network, a nest of capacitors and inductors, where the now 1,000 volts will be turned into a "pulse discharge" that will last less than one-millionth of a second, he said.
From there the pulse of electricity goes through an out-put switch that will fire the pulse to its intended target, Khalil said.
The pulse was demonstrated through a bank of four strobe lights. If someone wasn't careful the lights could burn holes in their retinas, he said.
Khalil said tests have shown that 600-volts to 10,000-volts weapons are possible. And that's what they're forecasting to be in the FCS, Khalil said.
The modules' life span depends on how they're used, he said. If they're used just for mobility they can potentially last years, about 15, he said. If they use chemical or laser guns, they won't last long, he said.
"I don't know the exact number because we have not done that yet," Khalil said of how many times the batteries will fire the weapons.
He wants the batteries to last 50 rounds or "firings" but the modules will last only 20 rounds right now, he said.
The FCS is projected to have anywhere from 20-50 of those battery modules and since battery technology is getting smaller, that requirement will be met, Khalil said.
The pulse gun will also have the ability to fire something like today's sabot anti-tank round. But the FCS pulse weapon will give it more penetration capability than it already has, Khalil said.
To the soldier on the battlefield, it will look similar to a sabot round -- a flash of light -- and the result might be the same -- a destroyed tank or armored vehicle, he said.
But Khalil's team isn't stopping there. His team is also developing electro-magnetic armor capable of stopping not only other pulsed weapons but conventional weapons.
The electro-magnetic armor will also be run from the same power source that will power the weapons system and the engine.
If the power system that powers the pulse gun that Khalil is designing fires in milli-seconds, that same source will power the electric armor in micro-seconds, he said. In other words, it's much faster and uses a lot more juice, he explained.
The biggest challenge for his team is to run the gun and armor off the same batteries that will run the engine, Khalil said.