Latest updates[?]: Russia has announced that it is developing its own rail gun technology as the first pictures of US efforts made their way to press. The "battlefield meteorite" is capable of firing a projectile at an initial speed of 4,500 miles per hour, piercing seven steel plates, and leaving a 5-inch hole -- able to "blow holes in enemy ships, destroy tanks and level terrorist camps." For Russia, the new weapon will not replace traditional weapons "even in the mid-term perspective," as much time needs to pass from the first tests to the mass production, especially considering the high price of the production, according to Russian senator Franz Klintsevich.
Back in March 2006, BAE Systems received a contract for “design and production of the 32 MJ Laboratory Launcher for the U.S. Navy.” Some hint of what they are talking about can be gleaned from the name. BAE isn’t the only firm that’s working on this program, which the US Navy sees as its gateway to a game-changing technology. The project is an electro-magnetic rail gun, which accelerates a projectile to incredibly high speeds without using explosives.
The attraction of such systems is no mystery – they promise to fire their ammunition 10 or more times farther than conventional naval gun shells, while sharply reducing both the required size of each shell, and the amount of dangerous explosive material carried on board ship. Progress is being made, but there are still major technical challenges to overcome before a working rail gun becomes a serious naval option. This DID FOCUS article looks at the key technical challenges, the programs, and the history of key contracts and events.
Airmen of the 820th Security Forces Group are busy these days. Not only are they conducting the user trial and training for the GSAT ShotSpotter + ScanEagle anti-sniper system, they’re also the first unit selected to conduct the extended user evaluation portion of the Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration (ACTD) process for “Project Sherrif,” otherwise known as the Active Denial System. ADS won Popular Science magazine’s “Best of What’s New Award” in general technology back in 2001, and DID has been covering this system since May 2005; despite funding and requests from combat commanders, however, the system continues to move toward approval at a very slow pace.
More than 700 volunteers have been tested with the system. Of those, 2 experienced second-degree burns, the last in 2007. It was briefly deployed in Afghanistan in 2010, but reportedly withdrawn without having seen action, according to reports from an interview between Noah Schactman (then of Wired) and General Stanley McChrystal.
In the last month, the Army has been promoting its ADS system, with exercises held in late December, as well as promotional civilian communications, such as the YouTube video appearing in today’s Rapid Fire. The communications come from the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program.
ADS uses invisible, focused microwave beams at a frequency that that can’t penetrate human skin, but does stimulate nerves within it, producing an imaginary but painful burning sensation that instinctively forces people to move away. Past Project Sheriff reports also describe an escalating series of measures, from a “Long Range Acoustic Device” (sonic blaster), up to a Laser Dazzler, then on to the ADS pain ray before things escalate to live ammunition. Tech. Sgt. John DeLaCerda, the NCO in charge of the 820th SFG advanced technologies section, put it this way:
In January 2013, Lockheed Martin in Sunnyvale, CA received a $9.5 million to cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification under the Aero-Adaptive/Aero-Optic Beam Control (ABC) Program.
To explain that term in plain English, turbulence and other atmospheric conditions can de-focus laser beams, limiting their range and effectiveness. A laser that can adapt its focus to the conditions in its path offers a way to mitigate these problems, which makes it a topic of keen interest to militaries around the world. The famous 747 Airborne Laser did some pioneering work in this field, but lasers have both defensive and offensive uses beyond Ballistic Missile Defense. In ABC’s case…
The Mk15 Phalanx system was originally developed as a ship’s final hope against incoming missiles: a radar-guided 20mm gatling gun would would fire up to 6,000 rounds per minute, throwing up a last-ditch wall of lead. Phalanx has become a popular naval weapon that’s also effective against helicopters, UAVs, and even small boats. It has even migrated onto land, where its “Centurion” version can protect a 1.2 km square area against incoming mortars and rockets.
“The Centurion system has provided a near-term C-RAM (Counter-Rocket, Artillery and Mortars) solution for our deployed forces. But we know that our customers would like a larger defended footprint beyond the kinematics of a gunbased system. A missile is too expensive, so we are looking instead at a solution based on the adaptation of a robust but relatively lowpower, low beam-quality commercial laser… By using clever optics to focus the laser beam at range, we demonstrated that we could achieve sufficient energy on target to deflagrate a 60mm mortar round.”
The concept has promise – but it also has substantial obstacles to overcome before it can become militarily useful…
Nov 5/08: SAIC Technology Services Co., of San Diego, CA received an indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract for $16 million for R&D under a Broad Agency Announcement entitled “Electro Magnetic Effects Research and Development.” This research will examine aspects of high power EM lethality, with missions that include survivability of military equipment high power microwave (HPM) environments, the development of HPM weapons, and the refinement of HPM-predictive modeling for inclusion into engagement and campaign-level models. The military woul like SAIC to make optimum use of available AFRL/RDH capital assets and to augment or complement AFRL/RDH capabilities, rather than pursuing its research alone. The Air Force Research Laboratory/RDKP, Det 8 Directorate of Contracting at Kirtland AFB, NM manages this contract (FA9451-06-D-0222, P00009).
EMP (Electro-Magnetic Pulse) is a side-effect of intense radiation bursts, usually from a nuclear weapon. Its effect is to fry most semiconductor-based electronics within its effective range, which is to say most electronics these days. This gives EMP a potential offensive use via strategically placed nuclear airbursts. Rep Roscoe Bartlett [R-MD] has led the charge on this issue in Congress, working to establish an EMP Commission that has reported on the USA’s general vulnerability to such attacks, and further research continues. HPM includes EMP, but it can also be much less dramatic. As one example, there are claims that some modern AESA radars might be able to focus their arrays, in order to produce a very localized HPM effect that could impair or even disable enemy radars. With AESA radars set to deploy in Russian and European fighters over the next decade, a better understanding of the applied physics involved makes sense for both defensive and offensive reasons.
On June 6/08, Applied Energetics, Inc. in Tucson, AZ received a $9.3 million cost plus fixed fee contract for the continued development and production of 10 anti-mine systems, plus spares, operator training and technical support for an overseas operational assessment. Work will be performed in Tucson, AZ, and is expected to be complete by June 3/09. One bid was solicited on April 3/08 by the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (ARDEC) at Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD (W91CRB-08-C-0080). See also the corporate release.
Textron Defense Systems in Wilmington, MA recently received an initial $3.17 million increment of a $21.3 million “other transaction”. They’ll provide protoypes for phase 2 of the High Energy Liquid Laser (HELL) Area Defense System. Work will be performed in Wilmington, MA (66%), Cambridge, MA (13%), Vienna, VA (9%), Bridgeton, MA (9%), Albuquerque, NM, (1%), and Charlestown, MA (less than 1%), and is expected to be complete in August 2009. This is a sole source award from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va., (HR0011-08-9-0006).
Lasers have a number of obvious benefits if used as an air defense system, especially against targets like the terrorist rocket attacks that featured so prominently in Israel’s 2006 war, and which continue from the Palestinian territories to this day. The technical obtsacles remain daunting, however, and include rate of fire, sufficient power to burn through a target almost immediately, number of shots per power source, battlefield fragility, and in some cases the toxicity of the chemicals involved. A system called THEL/M-THEL has been tested, and is even marketed by Northrop Grumman as Skyguard, but lasers have yet to be bought in numbers or deployed under battle conditions. Research continues.
In June 2006, Australia’s former Minister of Defence Brendan Nelson released the Defence Capability Plan (DCP) 2006-16, which outlined more than A$ 51 billion of planned capital equipment proposals. At the time, one of the projects slated for likely investment after 2016 was the Australian Army’s A$ 750 million – 1 billion Ground Based Air Defence capability project to replace the country’s current force, which relies on man-portable RBS-70 anti-aircraft missiles.
On July 9/08, the Australian Department of Defence issued a global solicitation to industry to be part of a preliminary capability study for “Ground-Based Air and Missile Defence (GBAMD) systems and technologies” under Project LAND 19, Phase 7.
At this stage, the range of threats is very wide, from rockets/ artillery/ mortars to UAVs, enemy aircraft and cruise missiles; ballistic missiles are not included. Responses would outline potential air defense system capabilities that may be considered, including information about indicative performance; systems integration; strategic and tactical mobility; supportability; manning and training; simulation; and indicative pricing…