The Coolest Emerging US Military Technologies
"Set phasers to stun!"
Captain Kirk’s phasers (or Captain Picard’s, or Captain Sisko’s), just like the proton pack in Ghostbusters and the Death Star in Star Wars, were extremely cool military technologies which never existed in real life – and probably never will. Then again, who could have predicted nuclear weapons or robot drones 100 years ago?
The US military is working diligently to develop new technologies which might seem crazy at first, but could eventually have major implications not only for waging war, but on our everyday lives. Here are a few of the coolest.
Hoverbikes aren’t just for fictional Storm Troopers in Star Wars. New Zealand engineer Chris Malloy built a rudimentary one in 2011, set up a company with the help of a Kickstarter campaign, and developed a few prototypes. Now, Malloy Aeronautics has teamed with the United States Department of Defense to build real hoverbikes for military use. The vehicles would ideally have the same range as a helicopter, and could meet many crucial needs in the field: low-to-the-ground reconnaissance missions (with or without drivers), carrying supplies to soldiers in the field, facilitating travel across difficult terrain, and flying through narrow spaces just like a Storm Trooper. Down the road, there are possibilities for using hoverbikes on humanitarian missions, or even as cool ways for civilians to go joyriding.
The Laser Gun
The reason that Star Trek personnel used "phasers" and not "lasers" is that Gene Rodenberry and company didn’t want viewers misunderstanding what real-life lasers could and couldn’t actually do. That was in the 1960s, though, not today. The armed forces have been researching the use of military lasers and directed electromagnetic fields for a long time, and the Navy has successfully deployed a 30 kilowatt solid state laser gun on board the USS Ponce in the Persian Gulf. Tests have been so successful that the Navy is now planning another laser gun with three to five times the power, and expects it to be at sea for testing within three years. Meanwhile, a railgun which can fire ten bursts of electromagnetic energy per minute should be ready for Navy testing by the end of the decade.
One popular superhero who is a lot closer to being real than you might imagine – is Iron Man. The Army should be sending some soldiers wearing exoskeletons (which they call TALOS, or Tactical Assault Light Operator Suits) into battle in the next few years. The first versions won’t resemble an Iron Man or Call of Duty suit, though; current models of TALOS are quite limited, because there’s no way to carry enough power to do all of those "superhero things" which would make the exoskeleton the coolest military technology ever. However, the exoskeleton will initially be able to monitor and report back the health of soldiers, and pump wound-clotting foam into bullet holes.
There are definitely Marvel-type possibilities for the future, though. Test suits (one of them aptly named HULC) attached to a reliable long-term power source have allowed ordinary users to lift more than 200 pounds, run at speeds up to ten miles an hour, and work without resting. That last skill particularly intrigues the Navy, which envisions using TALOS suits in the near future to allow sailors or shipyard workers to function as "super-humans" and accomplish difficult, time-consuming tasks in a fraction of the time they currently require. That’s not exactly the stuff of Iron Man – but exoskeletons which can create military “iron men” is a good first step.