Military Embedded Systems

Future weapons and the kill web


January 31, 2019

Ray Alderman

VITA Standards Organization

WARFARE EVOLUTION BLOG: Come with me now as we travel to another dimension, a realm far beyond the mundane incremental improvements in traditional military weaponry. It?s a curious domain where warfare is bounded only by our imagination. The technology to implement the weapons you will see is available now, give or take some miniaturization of the components here and there. Not since the invention of gunpowder has mankind experienced such a revolution in the tools of armed conflict. So gear-up, and keep your heads down, as we embark upon this mission. You are now entering the kill web of the future.

If you look at this subject empirically, conventional military weapons attack one of the five human senses: sight, sound, smell, touch, or taste. Let’s start with sight. We’ve already discussed the 1998 United Nations (UN) Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons in previous articles. It basically says lasers that permanently blind combatants on the battlefield are prohibited. But dazzling lasers, that temporally blind soldiers with no lasting effects, are allowed. Dazzlers are already deployed with some Army and Marine combat units. Ask any commercial airline pilot how effective a laser-pointer is at inducing temporary blindness.

Then, we have sound (sonic weapons). The frequency spectrum for these weapons range from 0.5 Hz to 30kHz. Some of these frequencies cause certain cavities in the body to resonate, creating pain, discomfort, nausea, confusion, blurred vision, and organ damage above 120 decibels. One area in the spectrum, between 5Hz and 9Hz, is called the “brown sound” (or the “brown note”). This frequency range supposedly resonates the human colon, inducing involuntary defecation, but that effect has not been consistently generated. The Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) is already being used by the U.S. Army, and investigation of “sonic bullets” is ongoing.

Next up is smell. Recent research has found that smell is the most powerful of the human senses. That discovery demands that we discuss non-lethal malodorant chemical weapons here: intolerable super-stinkbombs. These munitions are outside the restrictions of the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993 that bans deadly mustard, chlorine, phosgene, and sarin gases, so no worries there. Many years of research concerning military-grade fragrances have produced agents with descriptive names like putrescine and cadaverine, that perfuse an area with the potent smell of rotting flesh. Another product, from the fertile minds of military chemists, is called skatole (from the Greek word skato, meaning feces).

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Not many people know about the XM1063, an Army artillery round for the 155mm cannon, that releases 152 stink-bomblets on target. The formula for the extreme maloderant contained in those bomblets is secret, so we’ll call it "stinkerine." It smells like rotting flesh, decaying garbage, and feces mixed together. The Israelis have a maloderant weapon too, called "skunk water," that can be delivered from water cannons, grenades, or small rockets. All these chemical compounds induce debilitating nausea and an irresistible urge to go somewhere else. According to web sources, the odor can persist for three days or more. Words can’t describe how this stuff smells.

Our enemies know that they cannot win on the battlefield against an omnipresent kill Web, so their forces will occupy buildings in the cities, among the civilians. We saw this happen in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Syria. That's urban warfare and puts our troops at a disadvantage. One of the most dangerous military operations in such environments is house-clearing. Think about the effects of a putrescine grenade, shot or tossed into a building containing enemy soldiers or terrorists. Also, when soldiers want to create a barrier or perimeter (anti-access/area denial or A2/AD), they can spray the location with cadaverine or bury stinkerine mines around the area. If you want to explore this topic further, look at a company called Ordortec. They make these fragrances in volume. Maybe they have scratch-and-sniff samples. For readers who are environmentally conscious, have no fear. These incredibly odorous scents are made with food-grade ingredients.

That brings us to touch. Kinetic weapons are most prevalent and rely on motion and contact to kill or injure enemy soldiers. This province of weapons goes all the way back to clubs, stones, spears, arrows, and obviously includes bullets, bombs, missiles, and artillery projectiles that produce shrapnel and blast waves. Two primary elements are improving in this sphere: the speed of the projectile, and the platform used to launch it. A man can throw a rock at about 50 miles per hour (MPH by hand, but velocity goes up to 100 MPH with a sling shot. A bow can shoot an arrow at about 150 MPH, but a rifle can fire a bullet at more than 2,000 MPH. In each instance both range and lethality are improved, but accuracy declines over distance. Consequently, precision targeting capabilities are needed for advanced projectile weapons. the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency's (DARPA’s) Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordinance (EXACTO) program is creating self-guiding bullets, that can hit moving targets from over a mile away. This technology could turn Army cooks into skilled snipers.


There’s also the Air Force’s Modular Disk-Wing Urban Cruise Munition, also known as "robotic frisbees of death." These are disk-shaped grenades that can be launched from aircraft, or from the ground by spring-loaded mechanisms similar to the skeet and clay throwers used in shotgun practice. Once in the air, they can hover around, autonomously find their targets in urban environments, and eliminate enemy soldiers hiding in buildings or behind barriers. No video available, but you can see photos on the web.

At this point, we need to review an existing non-kinetic weapon: the Active Denial System (ADS). It broadcasts 95 GHz radio waves that deliver a burning sensation to the skin, causing targeted enemy troops to involuntarily run for cover while shouting profanity in several languages. A smaller version of this system is under development, so we’re on the path to a primitive version of the Star Trek phaser.


Here’s a video of kinetic energy weapons that can find hidden enemy soldiers autonomously (through image and facial recognition) and neutralize them. It’s a swarm of small quadcopter micro-drones, called "slaughter bots," that carry a few grams of explosive along with a target identification and tracking system. Launch these into a city during urban warfare, and they can be considerably more effective than soldiers fighting their way through the streets with rifles. If these drones had been available in Mogadishu in 1993, the outcome would have been very different.


How about open-field battle? Yes, there are concepts for advanced autonomous kinetic weapons being developed there too. In this next video, you will see an automated bomb-rack, that converts any cargo plane into a bomber aircraft. Then, you’ll see anti-tank munitions dropped from those bomb-racks, that bury themselves in the ground, saturating the battlefield with hidden weapons. They detect and track oncoming enemy tanks, pop-up, and fire on them. Next, you’ll see a group of autonomous mobile combat ground vehicles dropped from another dispenser in a cargo plane. They land, camouflage themselves, and wait for enemy tanks or troops to come along. The enemy is then destroyed in a matter of minutes. Next, the video shows a munition that the CIA will love. It’s buried in the ground beside a highway, can detect enemy political and military leader’s vehicles, pop-up, and take them out. Notice that there’s not one single American combat soldier anywhere on the battlefield when the shooting starts in these scenarios.


If we can easily convert cargo planes into bombers, what about cargo ships? Yes, they can become missile-firing ships easily. Container ships on the open sea are considered non-threatening to warships, until now. Conceal cruise missiles and launchers inside a cargo container, put the container on the deck, and you’re ready to go into battle. The Russians have a design for this system called "Club-K."


Speaking of disguised weapons brings-up the cat-rifle. This weapon attracts enemy soldiers who like furry animals or need food. It's a military rifle with a hinge in the middle, that can bend around corners. The firing mechanism and barrel are concealed inside a stuffed animal, that looks like a cat. When the enemy comes over to pet the cat, just pull the trigger. The cat-rifle shows-up at about 6:02 in this video. While this weapon may look impractical, the concept has been successfully used in the Middle East.


On the big end of the weapons scale, there’s another kinetic weapon worth considering: the Rods from God (Project Thor). They are 24 foot-long solid tungsten rods, one foot in diameter, weighing 24,000 pounds, held in a dispenser in orbit above the earth. When released, they can hit a target anywhere on the planet within 15 minutes, at Mach-10, and create a massive explosion. As our enemies begin to locate their command, control, and communications centers and weapons underground, the Rods can destroy them without resorting to nuclear weapons.


Additionally, the folks at the Air Force Research Labs have been working on conventional bombs with adjustable explosive yields, called Dialable Effects Munitions (DEM). An adjustment mechanism on a 500-pound bomb can be set to full power, to destroy a building, or it can be dialed-down to explode like a grenade, to eliminate a few enemy soldiers sitting on the doorsteps of a house where innocent civilians reside. Fundamentally, it’s a one-bomb-fits-all-situations weapon. No videos on this one either, but you can look it up on the web.

And finally, we arrive at taste. Based on my experiences in the Army, specifically with the food served in the mess halls and the C-Rations I had to eat, I must conclude that extensive experimentation has been conducted on taste-weapons. Our military already has the capability to make what looks like food taste like wet cardboard. My research did not uncover any active DARPA projects on this topic, but agricultural weapons that contaminate the enemy’s food supply with powerful laxatives or hallucinogenic drugs might be possible.

Before we conclude here, there are few other things you need to know about. These are not weapons, but they give you an idea of the research going on in DARPA’s Persistence in Combat program. No, we’re not talking about exoskeletons or cyborgs here. We’re talking about retaining the capabilities of regular soldiers. Other than death, combat soldiers are incapacitated in battle for three basic reasons: pain, bleeding, or fatigue. DARPA has been working on a vaccine, that when injected into a wounded soldier, blocks all pain for 30 days so the soldier can get back in the fight.

DARPA has also worked on another vaccine containing microscopic magnets, to be injected into the bloodstream of combat troops before battle. If a soldier is wounded and bleeding, a magnetic wand is moved over the wound area. This action causes the tiny magnets in the blood to come together, seal-off the wound, and stop the bleeding. Look at it like the medical device used by Doc “Bones” McCoy in some Star Trek episodes. Stopping the bleeding keeps the injured soldiers from going into shock from blood loss, and enables them to continue fighting.

And, there’s yet another vaccine project under DARPA’s Continually Assisted Performance program. Once injected, a soldier can operate at peak performance continuously for seven days, without sleep. The researchers are tinkering with the enzymes found in whales and dolphins, that don’t sleep during their lives. You can look-up each of these on the web for more information.

Surely there are many other weapons ideas being explored, but they are classified. With the information presented here, you should now have a general idea about future weapons technologies coming to the kill web. You already know about advanced fighter planes, bombers, tanks, helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and ground combat vehicles, so no need to plow that ground again. A simple web search will reveal more videos about future weapons, but most of them just show incremental improvements to existing weapons technologies.

While present and future weapons in the kill web look invincible, there are some serious problems we need to overcome. We’ll explore those in our next episode. Meanwhile, make sure you watch the videos included in this article…. and try to get a sample of putrescine or cadaverine.


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