This time I’m going to get into the really nerdy side of things. But both the scifi nerdy and applied sciences nerdy. Certainly you have seen and read the technology eerily forecast by Star Trek, and before that, Jules Verne and his contemporaries. But what about BattleTech? Just how close are we today to having actual walking engines of death skulking the battlefields?
The short truth is, not very. For a time I drove tractor trailer trucks. The driver sits about a dozen feet up in a vehicle that weighs altogether as much as a forty ton medium ‘mech. Modern transfer trucks have cabin and driver’s seat air ride systems for shock absorbing; and thanks to physics, that slight jostle in a sedan feels like a Hetzer blew off our fifth wheel with an AC-20. The higher up you go, the worse it gets. SO I doubt we will realistically see anything larger than an assault battlesuit or a Landmate. But that is still exceedingly cool.
The longer truth is, not only do we have a lot of technology today that eerily mimics the fluff, but DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency of the Department of Defense has been working on the first inklings of powered armor since about 2003. Calling for an exoframe capable of lifting at least 400lbs and continuous operation for up to 24 hours between charging/refueling, SARCOS’ XOS series appears to be closest to the bar.
Weighing in at 150lbs and capable of lifting in excess of 200 so far, the original goal of the concept is for a warfighter to carry their heavy loads- often 80 to 100lbs of kit long distances and be fresh enough to fight at the end of the march. I shouldn’t need to tell you the temptation of armoring this thing from toe to crown with level 4 ballistic armor, adding Landwarrior tactical electronics and making a crew served support weapon like the XM107 into a one-man affair.
DARPA being just one of several international design standard setters, one of the medical applications of a powered exoframe has been pioneered by Cyberdine’s Hybrid Assisted Limb, or HAL suit. It is designed to give mobility to those suffering from traumatic brain or spinal injury, therapy treating atrophied muscles due to extended bed rest, injury or microgravity, and any situation where the normal array of motion and movement can be restored.
Electroactive Polymer Products might sound at first like a marital aid. But can in fact be called the grandfather of Myomer pseudomuscle. ArtificialMuscle- a subsidiary of Bayer Material Science began developing the actuators for anything from smart phone applications to medical purposes. EPPs operate exactly like Myomer bundles as well; electrical-induced muscular contraction and tension- just like our own muscles.
Find the fusion engines that power dropships far-fetched? The University of Washington and space propulsion company MNSW are developing a fusion rocket engine fueled by pellets containing deuterium and tritium capable of reaching Mars in less than a month. Funded by NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts Program, the fusion rocket is based on a 1970s era interstellar drive concept that uses intense magnetic fields to contain and shape deuterium plasma into a fusion torch. A process not unlike calibrating an acetylene welding torch.
Railgun technology is moving along at a good clip. The Navy just purchased another test platform from BAE systems courtesy of General Atomics in October. The Advanced Containment Launcher is currently hurling ferrous objects downrange at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Virgina. Under the latin credo Velocitas Eradico, there is not much that can stand up to one of these nickel/iron slugs that travel over five times the speed of sound. According to this data, the weapon is expected to be deployed within the decade; and will deliver accurate fires over 100 nautical miles thanks to onboard GPS guidance. In this video you get to see and hear for yourself; friction from the incredible speed of the projectile actually setting the oxygen in the air on fire.
Though the US Military originally rejected physics legend Nikola Tesla’s idea for a death ray, anyone who follows the automotive industry lately has seen the Serbian scientist’s popularity rising rapidly of late. While not exactly a PPC, Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey is working on a Laser-Induced Plasma Channel, or LIPC. Essentially it is a Tesla Lightning Gun straight out of the Flash Gordon serials. Using a pulse laser with enough power to light a large city for two trillionths of a second, the laser essentially creates a channel for the electricity to follow accurately. Its designed to take down electronic gear; vehicles and the like, making it more like a TSEMP than anything.
Precision Autocannon Ammunition can now be thought of as a reality. From satellite-guided artillery to a four inch long laser-guided smart bullet, modern warfighters are soon to have access to more to-hit bonuses than Word of Blake. Sandia National Laboratories smart bullet fires through a smooth bore weapon and deploys using a discarding sabot like modern tank ammunition. The bullet nose contains a miniaturized solid state laser seeker like the AGM-114 Hellfire anti-tank missile and similarly uses drogue fins to correct its course during flight. The .50 caliber round can do all this while traveling downrange at twice the speed of sound.
Well I hope you’ve enjoyed this little walk through the near future. I hope it doesn’t turn out as accurate as the Tex Avery’s 1950s House of the Future. It may not be chock full of Jaegermechs and Catapults, but then again, who could afford to get a parking ticket in one?
Bargained well, and done.