Virtual Weapons in Real Life

Published Date
01 - Jul - 2007
| Last Updated
01 - Jul - 2007
Virtual Weapons in Real Life

Videos games have always had over-the-top weapons, Is there anything similar in the real world?

If you're reading this magazine, you've probably played video games at least once in your life, be it on those old Sega controllers or on today's mean consoles. Over the years, games have evolved from the simple but highly addictive Dave to Contra and on to today's near-realistic-physics-and-animation games and massively multi-player online (MMO) games like Gears Of War. As these games have developed, so have the weapons: from the simple "gun" in Dave, we've evolved to the "Big F***ing Gun" in the Quake series, and the "Gravity Gun" in Half-Life 2. We thought we'd dig into classified data to see if any real-world weapons in development today are similar to those in video games. Could these have been… inspired by the games? In any case, without further ado, our expert findings:

Second Skin

Homo sapiens isn't the swiftest creature on Earth. Most of us are limited by how much weight we can lug around.

A Command & Conquer soldier in full armour

In games such as S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Half-Life 2, the powered exoskeleton is an external skin-like framework attached to a solider. It incorporates a unit that supplies energy for physical movement and other functions that the exoskeleton performs. In the Metroid series of video games, released in stone-age 1986, Samus Aran, the lead character, wears an exoskeleton enhanced with a cannon attached to the arm. The suit gives the player special abilities like rolling into a ball or performing very high spinning jumps. And yes, it also allows the player to stay underwater or in the vacuum of space almost indefinitely!

With this thing around, joining the armed forces would be so much cooler…

And now, the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is investing $50 million to develop an exoskeletal suit for ground troops. Imagine turning ordinary soldiers into super-troops who can leap tall objects in a single bound and run at high speeds (unsaid reference to Superman purely coincidental). The details of this program are "blacked out" and classified, and information about these wearable machines is hard to come by. However, DARPA has set some expectations for these exoskeletal machines. Here's what they are expected to do for soldiers:

Increased strength: This one is a no-brainer… We're excited about the prospect of soldiers being able to remove large obstacles from their paths without using heavy machinery. In the future, the exoskeletons will include heavier body armour and protection from ballistic explosions from grenades and rocket launchers too. Coincidentally, in the 1960s, GE in collaboration with the US military jointly developed an exoskeleton named "Hardiman," which made lifting 300 pounds feel like lifting 15 pounds!

Just one example of what the future solider might look like

Increased speed: Akin to making our bots run around like rabbits on an unknown map, soldiers are often expected to carry up to 150 pounds of supplies in their backpacks over long distances. Even the most hardened of troops can't get very far carrying that much on their backs… It's not yet clear as to how fast DARPA's exoskeleton will be able traverse over different terrain, but an independently-developed body amplifier, christened the "SpringWalker," has been tested to move over terrain at speeds faster than 16 kmph (the average walking speed is 3.5kmph)!

Leap great heights and distances: Imagine a marching legion of troops wearing these exoskeletons, jumping over a wide crevice in a mountain. and moving forward relentlessly! It's yet unclear as to just how far or high soldiers will be able to jump, but officials would like the exoskeleton to give soldiers these Superman-like abilities.

Communications integration: The exoskeletal machines will also feature sensors and GPS receivers. In the future, every soldier on the battlefield will have mission-centric information like the terrain they are crossing and how to navigate their way to specific locations in the war zone right inside their helmets. DARPA is also rumoured to be developing fabrics that could be used with the exoskeletons to monitor heart and breathing rates so any health-related issues can be detected on time. Of course, instant medkits haven't been developed yet...

Run And Gun
If you've played games like Halo 2, Command & Conquer: Generals, or Ghost Recon, you've doubtless marvelled at the aircraft in the battle scenes. These planes are supposed to be flying at speeds of over Mach 10!

"Force Application and Launch from CONtinental United States" (a.k.a. the Falcon Program) is a research and joint development program of DARPA and the United States Air Force for a high-speed strike vehicle capable of attacking anywhere on the planet in less than two hours! Operating at Mach 11 and a cruise altitude of 90,000 ft, this mean machine is going to be a reusable two-stage system comprising an unmanned boost vehicle used to take off at high speeds, and a manned hypersonic aircraft used in the second stage for the strike.

An artist's impression of the Hypersonic Attack Aircraft

The unmanned boost vehicle has a gas-fuelled turbine engine. It requires a conventional runway and accelerates the strike vehicle, which is attached to the boost vehicle, to Mach 4 and 60,000 ft. Once this altitude and speed is reached, the manned strike vehicle then detaches itself from the primary boost vehicle and uses a scramjet-technology-based engine to reach its final cruise condition of Mach 11 at 90,000 ft. Schumacher just developed a complex… and with good reason!

DARPA's impression of the Hypersonic Attack Aircraft-looks cooler, we say!

The total range of the system is a purported 10,000 nautical miles. The hypersonic strike vehicle has an un-refuelled range of 5,000 nautical miles, which very impressive-Mumbai to Singapore in less than half an hour! The hypersonic attack aircraft has the capability of engaging a target very accurately, using precision-guided missiles from a distance of 1,450 nautical miles away.

Expect to see it developed by end of 2007, and a demonsration by 2009.

Instant Gratification

This weapon was made famous in the Quake genre, which allowed players a one-shot-kill on opponents at the speed of light… now who wouldn't want this baby?

The concept behind the Rail Gun in Quake III Arena, in case you're still wondering, is about firing a bullet that travels at the speed of light to zap your opponents instantly.

We can already hear cries of "Crap!" from the physics majors, but get this: a weapon like this is being worked on. DARPA has been researching this for 10 years, and work continues. They are working on projectiles that do not contain explosives, but have extremely high kinetic speeds, which would, in theory, make their kinetic energy

...and the University of Texas, Austin's answer

superior to the energy output of a shell filled with explosives of greater mass. This would then enable solders to carry more ammunition and also make the carrying of weapons on tank or fighter craft or boat safer. By firing their shells at far greater velocities, DARPA's "Rail Gun" will have greater range-and will not be affected by wind drift. Read: bypassing the physical limitations of conventional firearms.

Quake 4's Rail Gun... 

Then get this: there is a working prototype at the University of Texas at Austin's Institute for Advanced Technology, capable of delivering tungsten-armour-piercing bullets with kinetic energies of nine million joules-that's like ramming a one-ton truck into a wall at 80 kmph! The only problem is that since the shells are fired at an extremely high velocity, the rail of the gun suffers from extreme damage, and has to be serviced after every shot.

Nevertheless, we can't wait to see this one in action!

Laser Tag!
Right since the days of the first video games, directed energy weapons have captivated our imagination like no other form of weaponry out there. What fun would a game be if you had to shoot planet-destroying aliens with a .32 Beretta?

Almost all first-person and third-person sci-fi games use directed energy weapons like lasers as standard fare. There are pro-gamers in games like the Quake series (OK, this is our last mention of Quake!), the Halo series, Gears of War, and Command & Conquer who specialise in the use of these weapons. In these games, a directed-energy weapon zaps energy in a particular direction instead of like a projectile, for the desired blood and gore effect.

Some wonderful moments with laser guns in Halo

The story so far in real life, however, is different. Almost two decades since its inception in video games, these "lasers" have remained in the realm of the Star Wars movie category. The only worldwide program that comes close is the Tactical High Energy Laser (THEL), which was designed and built by the Israeli government and is now being funded by the US Army Space & Missile Defense Command. The THEL is a high-energy laser weapons system that uses a heady mix of laser beam generation technologies and beam-focusing technologies to merge with existing radar sensors and communication networks to provide a new defence theatre to ground-level, immobile assets. It can fire up to 60 shots without reloading, and if it meets design specification goals, the probability of kill of an absolute 100 per cent at a range of 4 km is guaranteed!

Some wonderful moments with laser guns in Israel

There is also talk of a mobile version of the THEL, conveniently baptised the M-THEL: the Mobile Tactical High Energy Laser, obviously, which can be mounted on a artillery vehicle and moved to forward posts if required.

Can't Touch This

Would you like to go into battle without any armour? No? Surprising-we feel the same way! However, the force-field type protection systems are going to do just that in the near future.

The force-field / force-shield concept has been floating around in academia for ages. It has been showcased in the Star Trek series, and more recently, Halo 3 featured this protective system wherein a solider could shield himself / herself (who says girls can't be soldiers?) from attack by forming a protective "bubble shield," as they call it, around them.

The Bubble Shield in action in Halo 3

Taking a cue from this, the RAFAEL Armament Development Authority of Israel, together with Israel Aircraft Industries' Elta Group, have developed the TROPHY Active Protection System (APS)-essentially a shield system for the armoured vehicles that protects against incoming attacks. TROPHY intercepts and destroys incoming missiles and rockets with a blast similar to a shotgun-like explosion just before they hit the asset. Specifics of the materials and mechanics used in this explosive interceptor device are not available, but TROPHY is designed to form a "beam" of fragments that will intercept any incoming missile threat that gives off a lot of heat, like rockets, at a range of 15 to 35 metres from the targeted platform.

Since this system was designed to work in an urban environment, the direction, formation, and energy of the fragments used are made to ensure low collateral damage, and the lowest possible risk to nearby troops. The TROPHY system can simultaneously engage in multiple threats arriving from different directions, and is effective on stationary or moving platforms. The development program of TROPHY proposes an updated countermeasure unit to be available in the future, to protect against threat perceptions that only rely on kinetic energy to inflict damage against a traditional heat-based propulsion system.

The TROPHY-APS System incorporated into a battle tank

As of April 2007, the TROPHY-APS has been deployed on tanks such as the Israeli Merkava Mk4. The developers claim that a system like TROPHY would reduce or eliminate the need for heavy armoured protection for combat vehicles.
Playing games like Command & Conquer and Age of Empires would never have been possible without those mobile repair stations at the battlefield. What fun is it if you have to wait a few hours till you re-spawn your armies for your next conquest? We hate trainers and cheat-codes…

An artist's impression of the Mobile Asset Repair Systems of the future

As if taking a cue from the games themselves, scientists at the United States Air Force are building a mobile facility that could be located just near the battlefront-where soldiers can be patched up, or parts repaired or manufactured in real-time. Medkits, anyone?

The system has been christened Mobile Asset Repair System (MARS). This facility can be based on land-or in the middle of an ocean. The facility will include a set of Flexible Manufacturing Systems (FMS) and robotic arms that can be linked electronically to commercial suppliers of specific military equipment. A wide array of parts can thus be manufactured. The manufacturers feed in the specifications of the required part-remotely-to the FMS, which then produces it. The manufacturing materials necessary for MARS to operate are proposed to be obtained from the countries in which the system will eventually be deployed.

Plasma Rifle

A constant source of enjoyment in any game-from the BFG10k gun in Doom II to those used in Unreal Tournament, and Quake (sorry, we couldn't resist!), plasma rifles are the absolute future in weapons inventory, and are normally accompanied by bulky-looking guns spewing out obscene amounts of green or blue pulses of energy in a game.

Plasma-based weaponry is theoretically any group of weapons designed to use highly charged, energy-rich ionised gas or "plasma". The idea behind the plasma rifle is that the energy is aimed not directly at the target but a little ahead of it. Since the beams would travel at the speed of light, they would, in theory, be able to intercept any target flying at sub-sonic or even hyper-sonic speed. A cloud of highly-charged ionised air forms at the target focus area. When it enters the cloud, any object-such as a missile or airplane-is deflected from its current course and breaks down due to the large air pressure differences between the outside atmosphere and the interior of the flying body. So much for the Star Trek nay-sayers!

The Plasma Gun in all its glory!

In real life, however, the plasma gun has only come as close as the Shiva Star, an ongoing project for a high-powered plasma beam, with plans of it being used as a tactical weapon in the Strategic Defence Initiative used to protect the USA from nuclear ballistic missiles. It has been in research since the early 1990s at Kirtland Air Force Base in the US. The Shiva Star is a system that can presumably be mounted on a satellite or spacecraft in order to shoot down incoming missiles with projectiles of plasma travelling at very high velocities, thereby damaging the missile's guidance sensors. Work on this has languished, though: costs are running high.

An artist's impression of the Shiva Star System

With all these technologies in place, we can imagine an army recruiter in the future asking what games you've played. But then again, who needs humans if researchers take a cue from the Worms series and clone the ultimate Ninja Sheep, capable of throwing explosive Ninja stars across vast distances! Nukes suddenly seem so passé…


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