The latest trailer for the upcoming Star Wars: Rogue One movie was released just yesterday, which fans had to suffer through endless hours of Olympic coverage to see. Okay, maybe suffered is the wrong word, the Olympics are awesome. But so is this trailer. Bask in it. BASK I SAY!
As a young man, there were few things cooler to me than tanks. Sure, I wanted to be a pilot at the time, with visions of fighter jets dancing in my head. But armored warfare and the cool and advanced designs of modern MBTs (Main Battle Tanks) were never far behind. And so I thought it was high time I did a post dedicated to the world of these behemoths and what the current crop have to offer.
Originally invented in World War I as a means of infantry support, tanks quickly evolved over the ensuing decades to become a distinct and fearsome weapon of war. In 1917, they were deployed as a means of breaking the stalemate caused by trench warfare, and were little more than lumbering, thinly-skinned land fortresses. But by 1939/40, their use as fast, cohesive offensive weapons that could break through enemy lines and encircle entire armies was demonstrated.
Throughout the Second World War, tanks continued to evolve to sport heavier armor and guns with increased size, range, and muzzle velocity. By the end of the war, some truly interesting designs had been produced by all sides, ranging from the light to the super-heavy. But these were largely abandoned in favor of designs that could be mass produced and had a good balance of speed, durability, firepower and protection.
And by the 1970’s, the Cold War spurred on numerous developments that would culminate in the c0ncept of the MBT. These included the development of lighter, composite armor and advanced anti-armor systems. In addition, the MBT concept was intended to fill the heavy direct fire role of modern armies and replace the light, medium, heavy and super-heavy tanks that were common.
Since that time, every major world power has produced its own variant of the MBT. Here are all the top contenders, group in alphabetical order…
Named in honor of General Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque, who led the French element of the drive towards Paris during World War II, the AMX Leclerc is The Main Battle Tank of France. Beginning production in 1991, the tank is now in service with the French Army, the army of the United Arab Emirates, and is also renowned for being the most expensive tank in history.
The tank’s main gun is the GIAT (Nexter) CN120-26 120mm smoothbore cannon, which is capable of firing the same NATO standard 120mm rounds as the German Leopard 2 and US M1 Abrams. Unlike other MBTs of its generation, the Leclerc comes with an autoloading system which reduces the crew to three, and has an ammo capacity of 40 rounds. It is also equipped with a 12.7 mm coaxial machine gun and a remote-controlled 7.62mm machine gun,
The hull and the turret are made of welded steel fitted with modular armor, which can be replaced easily for repair or upgraded over the years. Unlike other NATO tanks, the Leclerc does not use the standard Chobham composite armor and relies instead on a French variant that includes composite armor, titanium inserts on the sides of the turret, and Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA) blocks.
It’s eight-cylinder 1,000KW (1,500 hp) diesel engine can achieve a top speed of 72 km/h (45 mph) and it has an operational range of 550 km (342 mi) or 650 km (400 mi) with external fuel tanks.
The MBT of India and produced by the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO), the Arjun is named after the main protagonist and world’s greatest archer from the Indian epic, The Mahabharata. Design of the tank began in 1974 as a way of providing the Indian Army with an indigenously-designed and built tank. But delays prevented it from being officially developed until 2004.
The Arjun sports a 120 mm main rifled gun with indigenously developed Armor-Piercing Fin-Stabilized Discarding-Sabot (APFSDS) ammunition, one 7.62 mm coaxial machine gun, and a 12.7 mm machine gun. The tanks is protected by the modular composite Kanchan armor that is composed of layers of composite alongside rolled homogenous steel, and a new honeycomb design of non-explosive and non-energetic reactive armor (NERA) is reportedly being tested as well.
Like most MBTs of its generation, the Arjun has a four-man crew, including the commander, gunner, loader and a driver. It is powered by a single MTU multi-fuel diesel engine rated at 1,400 hp, and can achieve a maximum speed of 70 km/h (43 mph) and a cross-country speed of 40 km/h (25 mph).
The MBT of the Italian Army, the Ariete was developed by a consortium formed by Iveco-Fiat and Oto Melara (aka CIO, Consorzio Iveco Oto Melara), with the chassis and engine produced by Iveco and the turret and fire-control system supplied by Oto Melara. Development began in 1988, with the first prototypes being delivered by 1995 and the tank entering into full service by 2002.
The Ariete’s main armament is a native 120 mm smoothbore cannon that uses the APFSDS-T, HEAT, and most NATO-standard rounds of the same caliber. The tank has a capacity of 42 rounds and secondary armaments consist of a 7.62 mm MG 42/59 coaxial machine gun and an additional 7.62 mm MG 42/59 configured as an anti-aircraft weapon that is fired from the hatch.
The vehicle carries the latest optical and digital-imaging and fire-control systems, which include a laser range-finder, thermal optics and a digital fire-control computer that can be networked. The Ariete’s armor is a steel and composite blend, similar to the British Challenger 2 and the American M1 Abrams. The tank is powered by a 25.8-litre turbo-charged Fiat-Iveco MTCA 12-cylinder diesel engine rated at 937 kilowatts (1,250 hp) that allows for a top cruising speed of 65 km/h.
The MBT of the British Army, the Challenger 2 was designed and built by the British company Vickers Defence Systems (now known as BAE Systems Land and Armaments). Development of the tank began back in 1986 as an eventual replacement for the Challenger 1, which served as the mainstay of the British armor forces from the early 80s to the mid-90s.
The tanks main gun is the 120 millimeters L30A1 cannon which, unlike other NATO MBT’s, is rifled so that it can fire the high explosive squash head (HESH) rounds in addition to APFSDS armor-piercing rounds. The Challenger 2 is also armed with a 7.62 mm coaxial chain gun. a 7.62 mm roof-mounted machine gun, and can also mount a remote weapons system with a 7.62 mm machine gun, a 12.7mm heavy machine gun, or a 40mm automatic grenade launcher.
Challenger 2 is one of the most heavily armored and best protected tanks in the world, employing second-generation Chobham armor (aka. Dorchester) that is sloped in order to deflect the explosive energy of anti-tank weapons. Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA) kits are also fitted as necessary along with additional bar armor and the tank’s shape is also designed with stealth technology to reduce radar signature.
The tank’s advanced targeting systems include a laser range-finder, night vision, thermal vision, digital fire control, and the option of a Battlefield Information Control System. It’s drive system consists of a Perkins 26.6 liter CV12 diesel engine delivering 890 kW (1,200 hp). It is capable of reaching 60 km/h (37 mph) on open road for 450 km (280 mi), or 40 km/h (25 mph) cross-country for 250 km (156 mi).
K2 Black Panther:
A fourth-generation MBT in service with the South Korean armed forces, the K2 began development in 1995 and officially entered service in 2014. Despite enjoying technical superiority over North Korea’s aging army of T-55 and T-59 tanks, the purpose of the K2 was to create an MBT using entirely indigenous technology which could also be sold on the foreign export.
In terms of armament, the K2 comes equipped with L55 120 mm 55 caliber smoothbore gun that – capable of firing standard APFSDS rounds, as well as the Korean Smart Top-Attack Munition (KSTAM) anti-tank missile – a 12.7 mm heavy machine gun and a 7.62 mm coaxial machine gun. It also comes equipped with an advanced Fire Control System (FCS) linked to a millimeter band radar system along with a traditional laser range-finder and crosswind sensor.
In terms of protection, the K2 employs a classified type of composite armor with ERA and NERA modular add-ons, in addition to soft-kill and hard-kill anti-missile defense systems. It also has a Radar Warning Receiver (RWR), radar jammer and Laser Warning Receivers (LWR) to alert the crew if the vehicle becomes “painted” and to deploy Visual and Infrared Screening Smoke (VIRSS) grenades.
The tanks drive system is a 4-cycle, 12-cylinder water-cooled diesel engine capable of generating 1,100 kW (1500 hp), with an operation range of 450 kilometers (280 mi). Its top speed on paved road is 70 km/h (43 mph), and 50 km/h (31 mph) cross-country.
Developed by Krauss-Maffei in the early 1970s for the West German Army, the Leopard 2 entered service in 1979 to replace the older Leopard 1 models. In addition to being the MBT of a united Germany after 1989, the Leopard 2 is also one of the most widely-used tanks in the world, serving in a total of 16 armies that range from Germany and Austria, to Canada, Turkey, Singapore and Indonesia. Due to improved technology, the tank has also gone through many variations.
The primary gun on the Leopard 2 is the Rheinmetall L/44 120 mm smoothbore gun, which is capable of firing APFSDS warheads as well as the German DM12 multipurpose anti-tank projectile (MPAT) and the LAHAT anti-tank guided missile. It also has two 7.62mm machine guns, a coaxially-mounted one in the turret, and the other on an external anti-aircraft mount. The tank also has a stabilization system, a laser rangefinder, thermal imaging and a fire control computer.
For protection, the Leopard 2 uses spaced, multi-layered composite armor that incorporates Rolled Homogenous Armor (RHA), interior spall liners and the option of slat armor on the sides to protect from Rocket-Propelled Grenades (RPGs). The Leopard 2 is also equipped with a fire protection system that automatically dispenses halomethane foam in the event that the interior temperature rises above a certain point.
It is powered by a 1,103 kW (1,479 hp) V-12 liquid-cooled twin-turbo diesel engine with a fuel capacity of 1200 liters (317 gallons). It has a top speed of 72 km/h (45 mph) and an operational range of 550 km (340 mi).
M1 Abrams:The M1 is a third-generation tank and the MBT of the US Army US Marine Corps, Australian, Egyptian, Kuwaiti and Saudi Arabian armies. Development began in 1972 and culminated in 79, with the first tanks entering service in 1980 to replace the older M60 Patton tank. Since that time, it has gone through multiple upgrades and variants in order to take advantage of the latest in technology.
Though the original M1 was equipped with the M68A1 105 mm rifled tank gun, it was quickly upgraded to a 44 and then 55 caliber 120 mm smoothbore gun (variants on Rheinmetall’s L/44 and L/55 used by the Leopard 2). It is capable of firing the APFSDS and HEAT rounds, as well as the M1028 anti-personnel canister cartridge. It also comes with two 7.62mm machine guns – one coaxial and one turret-mounted – and a 12.7mm machine gun mounted by the commander’s hatch.
The tank also has a full-stabilization system for the main gun an comes equipped with a laser rangefinder, crosswind sensor, a pendulum static cant sensor, thermal imaging and a firing computer. The tank’s crew is protected by a halon firefighting system similar to the Leopard 2’s, and a rear ammo compartment with blowout panels that protect the crew from its own ammo exploding.
The tank is protected by composite armor that is composed of alloys of steel, ceramics, plastic composites, and Kevlar, similar to British Chobam armor. It may also be fitted with reactive armor over the track skirts if needed and slat armor over the rear of the tank and rear fuel cells to protect against RPGs. Beginning in 1987, M1A1 tanks also received armor packages that incorporated depleted uranium components at the front of the turret and hull.
The M1 is powered by a 1,120 kW (1500 hp) turbine engine that is capable of running on gas or diesel with a fuel capacity of 1900 liters (500 gallons) and an operational range of 426 km (265 mi). The M1 and M1A1 have a a top speed of 67/72 km/h (42/45 mph) on the road and or 40/48 km/h (25/30 mph) off-road respectively.
The latest MBT of the Israeli Defense Forces, the Merkava and its predecessors have the distinction of being designed with considerable input from soldiers themselves. The fourth variant of the Merkava program, the Mark IV began development in 1999 and entered service by 2004. Like its predecessors, it was designed for rapid repair of battle damage, survivability, cost-effectiveness and off-road performance.
Following the model of contemporary self-propelled howitzers, the turret assembly is located closer to the rear than in most main battle tanks and has the engine in front to provide additional protection against a frontal attack. It also has a rear entrance to the main crew compartment allowing easy access under enemy fire. This allows the tank to be used as a platform for medical disembarkation, a forward command and control station, and an armored personnel carrier.
The Mark IV includes the larger 120 mm smoothbore gun that can the HEAT and APFSDS rounds, using an electrical semi-automatic revolving magazine for 10 rounds. It also includes two 7.62 machine guns for anti-infantry defense. a 60 mm mortar, and a 12.7 mm machine gun for anti-vehicle operations. The tank’s 1112 KW (1,500 hp) turbocharged diesel engine can achieve a top road speed of 64 km/h (40 mph).
Some features, such as hull shaping, exterior non-reflective paints, and shielding for engine heat plumes mixing with air particles are designed to confuse enemy thermal imagers and make the tank harder to spot by heat sensors and radar. It also comes equipped with sectioned, modular armor that can be easily removed and replaced and carries the BMS (Battle Management System) – a centralized system that networks and shares data from all over the battlefield.
A third-generation MBT that is essentially a modernization of the T-72B and incorporating many of the features of the T-80U, the T-90 is the mainstay of the Russian armed forces. Proposed as a way of creating a single design that would cost less than employing tanks at once, the T-90 sought to marry the mass-production-friendly aspects of the T-72B with the modern amenities of the T-80U. Production began in 1992 and has continued unabated since.
The T-90’s main armament is a 125 mm smoothbore cannon that is capable of firing APFSDS rounds, high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT-FS), and high explosive fragmentation (HE-FRAG) rounds, as well as the Refleks anti-tank guided missile. It also comes with a 12.7mm remotely controlled anti-aircraft heavy machine gun above the commanders hatch and a coaxial 7.62 mm machine gun.
The T-90 is fitted with a “three-tiered” protection system, the first of which is composite armor in the turret that consists of a basic armor shell with an insert of alternating layers of aluminum and plastics and a controlled deformation section. The second tier is third generation Kontakt-5 ERA blocks which, along with sandwiching steel plates and composite filler, make up the turret’s forward armor package.
The third tier is a Shtora-1 (“curtain”) countermeasures suite that includes two electro-optical/IR “dazzlers” on the front of the turret (the distinct Red Eyes), four Laser warning receivers, two 3D6 aerosol grenade discharging systems and a computerized control system. The Shtora-1 warns the tank’s crew when the tank has been ‘painted’ and infrared jammer jams the guidance system of some anti-tank guided missiles.
The tank is powered by a 12-cylinder diesel engine that comes in the 618 kW (840 hp), 746 kW (950 hp), and 930 kW (1250 hp) varieties. Depending on the type of engine, the T-90 has an operational range of 550-700 kms (340-430 mi) and a top speed of 60–65 km/h (37–40 mph).
Type 10 Hitomaru:
Designed to replace Japan’s aging Type 90, the Type 10 is a fourth-generation MBT and the second to be entirely developed by Japan for use by the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force. Development began in the 1990’s, the first prototypes being showcased at the 2008 Technology Research and Development Institute (TRDI), and the tank officially entered service with the armed forces by 2012.
In terms of armaments, the Type 10 is believed to use a 120 mm smoothbore gun developed by Japan Steel Works, similar to the L/44, L/50, and L/55 guns licensed by Rheinmetall. The gun is capable of firing all standard 120 mm NATO ammunition, including the newly developed APFSDS round. It also has a roof-mounted 12.7 mm machine gun and a coaxial 7.62 mm machine gun.
The vehicle’s armor consists of modular sections, composed of nano-crystal steel (or Triple Hardness Steel) and modular ceramic composite armor. The tank also has an auto loader which reduces the crew size to three, and comes with day and night sights as standard features. It also has the C4I (Command, Control, Communication, Computer & Intelligence) system which can be incorporated into the JGSDF network to enable sharing of information among units.
The tanks is powered by a 883 kW (12oo hp) V8 Diesel engine that is capable of acheiving speeds of up to 70 km/h (43 mph) in both forward and reverse, and has an operational range of 440 km (273 mi).
Also known as ZTZ-99 and WZ-123, and developed from the Type 98, the Type 99 is a third generation main battle tank (MBT) fielded by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Much like its predecessor, the T-99 is designed to compete with both contemporary Russian and western designs. Development began in 2001 and a prototype was unveiled at the China People’s Revolution Military Museum in Beijing during the 2007 Our troops towards the sun exhibition.
The main armament is the 125 mm smoothbore gun which is capable of firing sabot APFSDS, HEAT, and HE-FRAG projectiles, as well as the Soviet AT-11 laser-guided anti-tank missiles and a specially-developed depleted uranium round. It also comes with a remotely operated 12.7 mm machine gun, a commander’s 12.7 mm machine gun, and coaxially-mounted 7.62 mm machine gun.
Though the nature of the Type 99’s armor protection remains classified, it is assumed to be of comparable RHA strength to other third-generation designs, as well as an experimental composite armor known as transparent ceramic. There is also observational evidence that the armor includes modular composite armor that comes in block form, or the addition of ERA blocks.
The Type 99 is powered by a 1100 kW (1500 hp) liquid-cooled diesel engine, with a special (2100 hp) engine for the
Type 99KM model. The tank has a maximum speed of 80 km/h (50 mph) with an operational range of 600 km (373 mi).
When looking at the full spectrum of third-generation and fourth-generation tank designs, a few common features become clear. Tanks that were conceived and designed during and after the 1970’s were all intended to take advantage of the latest in tank and anti-tank systems, and for good reason. Since their inception in the second decade of the 20th century, tanks grew in speed, lethality and versatility. Hence, countless systems were devised to knock them out.
In addition to anti-tank rifles and guns that were used throughout the 1920’s and 30’s, these ensuing decades added rockets and rocket-propelled grenades. At the same time, tanks themselves began to sport larger caliber guns with increased range, velocity and more sophisticated warheads. By the 1960’s, optically-tracked and computer-guided missiles were introduced and led to more rounds of innovation.
This led to the introduction of composite armor, which included aluminum alloy, ceramics, depleted uranium, and rolled homogenous steel. This was developed simultaneously with the advent of depleted uranium sabot rounds, shaped charge plasma rounds, and guided missiles that could be fired from a tank gun. Basically, third-generation tanks would combined the ultimate in tank protection and anti-tank weaponry.
Stabilization systems were also introduced along the way which had a revolutionary impact. Prior to their use, tanks were forced to stop driving in order to fire a shot at the enemy, which made them temporarily vulnerable. But with the new stabilizers – as well as targeting computers, night vision, and laser range finders – tanks were now extremely accurate, could fire while on the move, and could engage the enemy day or night.
Today’s fourth-generation tanks take advantage of all of this, and add to it with networking capabilities, more sophisticated computers, and defensive systems that let the crew know when they are being targeted by laser-guided munitions. Armor is also becoming increasingly modular and component-based so tanks can add to their protection or strip down to lighten their loads and increase their speeds.
When it comes to the future of tank warfare, the same forces appear to be at work. Basically, tank systems need to be smarter, stealthier, and more adaptable rather than simply heavier and more lethal. As such, there are numerous projects being developed by DARPA and other defense agencies around the world to create “stealth tanks”, vehicles that would be invisible to thermal imagine and could take advantage of adaptive camouflage to avoid being spotted.
At the same time, there are efforts to create universal combat systems, such as a heavy military vehicle platform that can be fitted to serve in a number of roles. A perfect example of this is Russia’s Armata Universal Combat Platform, a tracked platform will be the basis for a main battle tank, a heavy infantry fighting vehicle, a combat engineering vehicle, an armored recovery vehicle, a heavy armored personnel carrier, a tank support combat vehicle or a self-propelled artillery gun.
With such a system, combat engineers would be able to mount whatever turret or additional components they need to create a vehicle of their choice, one which is suited to the combat role or mission it is expected to perform. This sort of adaptability and versatility also informs ideas for a new class of AFVs (Armored Fighting Vehicles) that would be lighter, more mobile, and could be retrofitted to act as a tank, APC, IFV, command vehicle, or anything else needed.
There are even plans to develop a whole new race of warmachines that would rely on a combination of avoidance, stealth, speed and maneuverability rather than heavy, modular armor for protection. Who can tell which will bear fruit ultimately? At this point though, one thing is clear: in the coming years, tanks will continue to get smarter and become increasingly networked, turning each one into a mobile command and combat platform.
As armies continue to modernize, the challenge of creating new fighting vehicles that withstand the latest in battlefield conditions, and at the same time be more cost-effective, is a constant. And, as the latest announcements made by DARPA and General Dynamics over the course of the summer can attest, its been known to produce some pretty interesting and innovate design concepts.
Known as the Ground X-Vehicle Technology (or GXV-T for short) the aim of this DARPA-funded program is to develop a lighter, more agile successors to the tank. Whereas tanks in the past have always responded to the development of more and better anti-tank weapons with heavier more elaborate armor, the focus of the GXV-T will be on protection that does not result in yet another bigger, badder, and way more expensive tank.
Beginning in 1917, the development of the tank led to a revolution is modern warfare, which has led to an ongoing arms race ever since. In just the last half-century, the guns used to take out tanks have been joined by rockets, guided missiles, and high-tech rounds designed to penetrate the thickest steel. Tank designers have responded with composite armor, reactive armor, and even electric countermeasures to detonate warheads before they make contact.
The result of this is a spiral of larger weapons, leading to larger tanks, leading to larger weapons until the mainline tanks of today have become behemoths so large that they are difficult to deploy, very expensive and can only be used in certain environments. To prevent this, DARPA wants to not just produce a more advanced tank, but one that moves away from relying so heavily on armor for survival.
The GXV-T is intended to pursue technologies that move away from armor with the goal of making tanks 50 percent smaller, with crews half their present size, able to move at double the present speed, make them capable of operating over 95 percent of the terrain, and make them harder to detect and engage. As Kevin Massey, DARPA program manager, explained:
GXV-T’s goal is not just to improve or replace one particular vehicle – it’s about breaking the ‘more armor’ paradigm and revolutionizing protection for all armored fighting vehicles. Inspired by how X-plane programs have improved aircraft capabilities over the past 60 years, we plan to pursue groundbreaking fundamental research and development to help make future armored fighting vehicles significantly more mobile, effective, safe and affordable.
What this amounts to is finding ways to build tanks that can move around the battlefield like off-road vehicles, can dodge incoming fire rather than taking it, reposition its armor to its most effective angle, provide the crews with full situational awareness similar to that afforded fighter pilots, and make them stealthy against both infrared and electromagnetic detection.
To achieve this, DARPA is soliciting new concepts and new technologies for designers. As you can see from the concept art above, some ideas have already been floated, but they remain very much in the design stage for now. The agency says that it hopes to see new GVX-T technologies emerge two years after the first contracts – which are slated to be awarded in April next year – with the hopes that the new technologies can be fast-tracked into demonstrators.
Meanwhile, General Dynamics is busy producing what will amount to the next-generation of armored vehicles. As part of a contract with the British Ministry of Defence (MoD), the company has been contracted to deliver 589 light-armor Scout Specialist Vehicles (SV) to the Army between 2017 and 2024. The tracked, medium-weight armored vehicle is designed to provide state-of-the-art, best-in-class protection for its crews.
The Scout SV is intended to fill an important role in the British Army’s Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) capability. The Scout comes in six variants based on a common platform with shared mobility, electronics, and survivability systems, has an open electronic architecture, a modular armor system, and places emphasis on the ability to upgrade in order to incorporate new technology and meet new threats.
The Scout variants include Reconnaissance, Protected Mobility Reconnaissance Support (PMRS), Command and Control, Engineering Reconnaissance, Repair, and Recovery. According to General Dynamics, these are designed to provide the basics of protection, survivability, reliability, mobility and all-weather ISTAR capabilities for a wide range of extended military operations at a reduced cost.
The Scout’s main armament in its turret-mounted 40-mm cannon, but it also comes equipped with acoustic detectors, a laser warning system, a local situational awareness system, an electronic countermeasure system, a route-marking system, and a high-performance power pack. The announced contract also includes the provision of support and training by General Dynamics for the delivered vehicles.
The deal represents the single biggest contract for armored vehicles that the British Army has signed since the 1980s. It also comes on the eve of a NATO Summit, and at a time when Britain is contemplating the future of its forces as it prepares for future operations similar to what it experienced in Afghanistan and Iraq. In these cases, the warfare was unconventional and prolonged, requiring a whole set of strategies.
With the second largest defence budget in NATO, meeting NATO’s two per cent of GDP spending target and investing in new capabilities to deal with the emerging threats we are ensuring Britain’s national security, staying at the forefront of the global race and providing leadership within NATO.
As the saying goes: “necessity is the mother of invention”. Well, there is nothing more necessary in war than making machines that are practical, effective, and not cost the taxpayers an arm and a leg. Between dwindling budgets, improved technology, and the fact that future operations are likely to take place in war-torn and impoverished areas, the race to build a weapon-system that can handle it all is sure to be both interesting and productive!
Researchers in China are reporting that they’ve taken a big step towards creating a truly revolutionary submarine. For years, the nation has been dedicated to the expansion of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Submarine Force. That latest announcement in this plan is the intended development of supersonic submarines. And if feasible, it could a sub to travel from Shanghai to San Francisco – a distance of about 9650 km (6,000 miles) – in just 100 minutes.
The research behind this proposed development comes from the Harbin Institute of Technology’s Complex Flow and Heat Transfer Lab, where researchers are applying a concept known as supercavitation. Originally conceived by the Soviets in the ’60s to create high-speed torpedoes, the Harbin researchers are looking to take things to the next level by applying it to a much larger sea-faring vessel.
As is commonly known, objects moving through water have a harder time than those moving through air. While automobiles are only able to travel so fast before succumbing to wind resistance (aka. drag), surface ships and submarines must content with fluid-dynamics, which are much more tricky. Compared to air, water is far more dense and viscous, which means more energy is required to get up to a certain speed.
Even the most modern and advanced nuclear submarine cannot travel much faster than 40 knots (74 kph/46 mph), and the same applies to torpedoes. Higher speeds are possible, but would require so much power to make it impractical. That’s where supercavitation comes into play, a technique devised with the explicit purpose of creating high-speed torpedoes during the Cold War.
This technique gets around the drag of water by creating a bubble of gas for the object to travel through. In the hands of the Soviet’s, the research resulted in the Shkval torpedo, which uses a special nose cone to create the supercavitation envelope that allows it to travel through the water at speeds of up to 200 knots (370 kph/230 mph) – much, much faster than the standard torpedoes fielded by the US.
The only other countries with supercavitational weapons are Iran – which most likely reverse-engineered the Russian Shkval – and Germany, the creators of the Superkavitierender Unterwasserlaufkörper (“supercavitating underwater running body”). The US is researching its own supercavitational torpedo, but there’s very little public information available. Meanwhile, China is not only looking to create supercavitating torpedoes, but an underwater vessel.
Unlike previous designs, which had to be launched at speeds of 95 km (60 mph) to create a supercavitation bubble, the method described by the Harbin researchers uses a “special liquid membrane” to reduce friction at low speeds. This liquid is showered over the object to replenish the membrane as it’s worn off by the passage of water, and once the object gets up to speed, it would theoretically use the same nose-cone technique to achieve supercavitation.
In theory, supercavitation could allow for speeds up to the speed of sound — which underwater is 5343 kph (3,320 mph) – which would allow a sub to go from Shanghai to San Francisco in well under two hours. For any nation with a nuclear arsenal – i.e. China, Russia, France, the UK, the US – the ability to deploy nuclear missile subs speedily around the world is certainly desirable.
But of course, there are some challenges posed by the concept and any ship that is equipped to run on it. For one, it is very difficult to steer a supercavitating vessel and conventional methods (like rudders) don’t work without water contact. Second, developing an underwater engine that’s capable of high velocity over long distances is very difficult. Jet engines do not work underwater and generally, rockets only have enough fuel to burn for a few minutes.
Nuclear power might be a possibility as far as supersonic submarines go, but that’s strictly academic at this point. Li Fengchen, a professor at the Harbin Institute, says their technology isn’t limited to military use. While supersonic submarines and torpedoes are at top of the list, the same technology could also boost civilian transport, or even boost the speed of swimmers. As Li put it:
If a swimsuit can create and hold many tiny bubbles in water, it can significantly reduce the water drag; swimming in water could be as effortless as flying in the sky.
As always with such advanced (and potentially weaponized) technology, it’s hard to say how far away it is from real-world application. Given that this is primarily a military research project within China, one can expect that it will remain shrouded in secrecy until it is ready. And if civilian researchers are making good progress, then it’s a fairly safe bet that the military is even further along.
While the future of transit is already exciting – what with hyperloops, aerospace travel, robotaxis and robot cars – the idea that people could travel under the waves as fast as on they could on the Concorde is pretty cool! At the same time, the idea that subs equipped with nuclear missiles could reach our shores within two hours is pretty scary. But futuristic military technology has never been known to inspire warm and fuzzy feelings, has it?
Given the advances in medical technology, it is quite surprising when it comes to gunshot wounds and battlefield injuries, old-world methods are still be used. For example, if a soldier is wounded in an extremity such as the the arm of leg, bandages and/or tourniquets should suffice. But for wounds that occur center mass, or at the junction of an extremity (neck, groin, or shoulder), stopping the flow of blood usually involves simply packing the wound with gauze.
However, in recent months, new and improved solutions have been developed. The first was the XStat, a new type of syringe that contains hundreds of injectable sponges that was developed by a former Special Ops medic and his Oregon-based startup, RevMedX. Similarly, former military and trauma surgeons at Massachusetts General Hospital have been working on Wound Stasis Technology, an injectable foam that is fed into the stomach to stop internal bleeding.
And now, a group of students from Johns Hopkins University are working on a hardening foam that can be injected directly into flesh wounds to stop the bleeding. Combining the best of both worlds, the concept involves using a plastic syringe that contains two liquids – polyol and a diisocyanatein – that form a polyurethane foam that expands to fill the wound cavity and then hardens.
This hardened foam not only seals the wound shut, but applies pressure to stop the bleeding. Additionally, while still in its liquid state, the foam is able to run deep and thoroughly into the cavity. This is important, as it’s often difficult to find the sources of blood loss in such injuries, and then apply clotting agents to them. And once the soldier is evacuated to a hospital, the foam is easily removed.
As Sydney Rooney, the student team leader of the John Hopkins research team, said in an interview with Gizmag:
Since the wound will have to be debrided extensively anyway [have its damaged tissue removed], we are not anticipating any issue in that regard. We are still testing it so we don’t know the final answer, but our physicians aren’t anticipating for it to be a problem. Ideally, most of the block will be removed in one chunk.
When addressing the army’s Wound Stasis Technology, which is currently being developed with the help of DARPA, Rooney claimed that there system is different. Whereas the DARPA system is designed for internal bleeding, applying the same methodology to surface wounds would be impractical. Hence their particular brand of injectable foam, which expands to a degree to stop “junctional bleeds”.
Their foam expands to a way larger size and more aggressively than many a junctional bleed permits. Since the stomach expands, their foam expands by 30 times and it doesn’t matter, whereas if you put it in, say, a junctional neck wound, it could apply too much pressure.
The Johns Hopkins device has so far been tested on flesh-simulating gel containing artificial blood vessels, with animal trials planned to take place next. By the time it comes to market, it will be well positioned alongside DARPA’s WST foam for treating battlefield wounds. It may come up against the XStat for treating flesh wounds, but room certainly exists from similar products given the sheer number of wounds on the battlefield.
And given the amount of gun-related violence in the United States and around the world, these inventions will certainly be welcomed by trauma surgeons and police forces once they trickle down to the civilian market. And in the meantime, be sure to check out this cool video from John Hopkins University, where Rooney and her team present their new invention:
Improvised explosive devices (IEDs), landmines and other kinds of roadside bombs are a major threat to Coalition troops serving overseas. And even though combat operations in Afghanistan are coming to a close in the near future, military planners and developers are still looking for ways to address the kinds of threats that are all too common in these fields of engagement.
One such developer is U.S. defense contractor Oshkosh Defense, which recently unveiled its new M-ATV, an armored vehicle specially designed to resist blasts from IEDs and mines. This specialized, high-tech troop transport detects explosives using special ground penetrating radar and a 12-wheeled mineroller which attaches to the front. But now, the company is going a step further.
Oshkosh now claims it wants to move soldiers even further from the danger zone by putting them in another vehicle entirely and making the minesweeping truck drive itself. For the past decade, the company has been developing an autonomous driving technology called TerraMax. This self-driving system can be applied to vehicles already on the road, and was unveiled during the 2004 DARPA Grand Challenge.
It’s now equipped with radar and LIDAR, which uses lasers to detect nearby objects, along with a drive-by-wire system that electronically controls engine speed, transmission, braking, and steering. The system does more than steer and hit the throttle and brakes. It can intelligently control a central tire inflation system and driveline locks to navigate deep sand or mud, all without any input from the operator.
Similar to the technology that powers Google’s self-driving cars, TerraMax is adapted for use in much tougher conditions. But whereas Google and big auto manufacturers can carefully map roads, lane markings, and speed limit signs before its vehicles are even on the road, Oshkosh doesn’t have those advantages. It’s vehicles must navigate hostile terrain in territories that have not been thoroughly mapped and imaged.
So it made TerraMax capable of combining overhead imagery from satellites and planes with standard military maps generated through geographic information systems. That lets soldiers define roads and other obstacles, much like with a commercial GPS system. Once given a defined course, the vehicles can navigate themselves while operators set things like vehicle speed and following distance.
Granted, these aren’t entirely autonomous vehicles. Whenever a convoy reaches an impasse of some kind, the M-ATV will need to alert an operator and ask what to do. However, it is still an impressive system that achieves two key objectives. One, it allows the military to move more cargo with fewer personnel; and two, it makes a convoy look like it’s carrying more personnel than it really is, which is likely to deter attacks.
Oshkosh’s unmanned vehicle technology is still in testing, but the company has spent the last three years working with the Marine Corp Warfighting Lab and the Office of Naval Research to get it ready for the battlefield. And while the technology is currently being developed for combat vehicles, it could also be used in civilian settings – like autonomous snow clearing at airports or police bomb disposal units.
Though Coaltion forces are drawing down their presence in Afghanistan, Oshkosh’s and other unmanned ground vehicle concepts will likely be used in conflicts around the world in the years to come. Company representatives gave demonstrations of the technology at Eurosatory 2014, a defense industry trade show, and say they received positive feedback from other nations as well.
And it is only one of several military-grade autonomous technology project currently in development. Lockheed Martin is also working on the Autonomous Mobility Appliqué System (AMAS), which also allows for autonomous or semi-autonomous driving. With the development of unmanned systems showing no signs of slowing down, autonomous-vehicle technology is likely to advance considerably in the coming years.
And be sure to check out this video of Oshkosh showcasing the M-ATV and TerraMax system at Eurosatory 2014:
Sources: wired.com, oshkoshdefense.com, humanisticrobotics.com
Medicine may be advancing by leaps and bounds in certain fields – mind-controlled prosthetics and bioprinting come to mind. But in some respects, we are still very much in the dark ages. Considering gunshot wounds, for example. When it comes to modern warfare, uncontrolled hemorrhaging caused by a bullet is the biggest cause of death. In fact, “bleeding out” is responsible for 80% of deaths caused in battle, more than headshots, chest wounds, or IEDs combined.
This startling statistic doesn’t just apply to soldiers who are wounded in the field, as about the same proportion of those who sustain bullet wounds die after being evacuated to a medical treatment facility as a result of hemorrhaging. In the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, about 5,000 US troops have been killed, and some 50,000 injured, while combined military and civilian losses are estimated to have been some 500,000 people killed.
The immediate cause of death in most of these cases was bleeding out, which is usually associated with deep arterial wounds that simply cannot be treated using tourniquets. As a result, combat medics pack these wound with a special gauze coated with a material that stimulates the clotting process, then applies strong direct pressure over the wound in the hopes that a clot will seal off the artery. If the bleeding is not controlled, the medic has to remove the gauze and try again.
This process is so painful that, according to John Steinbaugh, a former Special Ops medic, the patient’s gun is first taken away so that he will not try to kill the medic or himself to stop the agony. And in the end, people still die, and all because medical science has yet to find an effective way to plug a hole. Luckily, RevMedX, a small Oregon startup, has developed an alternative approach to treat such potentially survivable injuries.
That’s Revmedx and its new invention, the XStat, comes into play. Contained within this simple plastic syringe are hundreds of small sponges (1 cm, or 0.4 inches, in diameter) made from wood pulp and coated with chitosan, a derivative of crustacean shells that triggers clot formation and has antimicrobial properties. When they are injected into a deep wound, the sponges expand to fill the cavity, and apply enough pressure to stop arterial bleeding.
And since they adhere to wet surfaces, the sponges counter any tendency for the pressure to push them out of the wound. After conducting tests of early prototypes, the final development was carried under a US$5 million U.S. Army contract. In most cases, an arterial wound treated using XStat stops bleeding within about 15 seconds. The sponges are also marked with an x-ray absorbing material so they can be located and removed from the wound once surgical treatment is available.
XStat is currently awaiting FDA approval, bolstered by a request from the US Army for expedited consideration. Combined with a new Wound Stasis Technology (aka. a medical foam) that earned its inventors a $15.5 million from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) back in Dec of 2012, army medics will likely be able to save a good many lives which in the past would have been written off as “casualties of war” or the all-too-common “collateral damage”.
Similar to the XStat, the idea for this injectable foam – which consists of two liquids that, when combined, form a solid barrier to stop bleeding – the inspiration for this idea comes from direct experience. As a military doctor in Iraq and Afghanistan, David King – a co-investigator of the foam project and a trauma surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital – saw a great many deaths that were caused by uncontrolled internal bleeding.
Located in Watertown, Massachusetts, Arsenal Medical designed this substance that consists of two liquids to fill the abdominal cavity and form a solid foam that does not interact with blood. This is key, since the hardened foam needs to remain separate and stop the blood from flowing. Comprised of polyurethane molecules, this foam belongs to a family of materials that is already used in bone cement, vascular grafts, and other medical applications.
The team began by testing the foam in pigs that were subjected to an internal injury that cut the liver and a large vein. With the treatment, nearly three-quarters of the pigs were still alive three hours later. Afterward, the team began monitoring how the pigs fared once the foam was removed. In 2013, the company began working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to determine how to test the technology on the battlefield (though no dates as to when that might have been available yet).
As always, developments in the armed forces have a way of trickling down to the civilian world. And given the nature and prevalence of gun violence in the US and other parts of the world, a device that allows EMTs the ability to seal wounds quickly and effectively would be seen as nothing short of a godsend. Between saving young people for gang violence and innocent victims from mass shootings, NGOs and medical organizations could also save countless lives in war-torn regions of the world.
In their quest to “unman the front the lines”, and maintain drone superiority over other states, the US armed forces have been working on a series of designs that will one day replace their air fleet of Raptors and Predators. Given that potential rivals, like Iran and China, are actively imitating aspects of these designs in an added incentive, forcing military planners to think bigger and bolder.
Consider the MQ-4C Triton Unmanned Aerial System (UAS), a jet-powered drone that is the size of a Boeing 757 passenger jet. Developed by Northrop Grumman and measuring some 40 meters (130 feet) from wingtip to wingtip, this “super drone” is intended to replace the US Navy’s fleet of RQ-4 Global Hawks, a series of unmanned aerial vehicles that have been in service since the late 90’s.
Thanks to a sensor suite that supplies a 360-degree view at a radius of over 3700 kms (2,300 miles), the Triton can provide high-altitude, real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) at heights and distances in excess of any of its competitors. In addition, the drone possess unique de-icing and lightning protection capabilities, allowing to plunge through the clouds to get a closer view at surface ships.
And although Triton has a higher degree of autonomy than the most autonomous drones, operators on the ground are still relied upon to obtain high-resolution imagery, use radar for target detection and provide information-sharing capabilities to other military units. Thus far, Triton has completed flights up to 9.4 hours at altitudes of 15,250 meters (50,000 feet) at the company’s manufacturing facility in Palmdale, California.
During surveillance missions using Triton, Navy operators may spot a target of interest and order the aircraft to a lower altitude to make positive identification. The wing’s strength allows the aircraft to safely descend, sometimes through weather patterns, to complete this maneuver.
Under an initial contract of $1.16 billion in 2008, the Navy has ordered 68 of the MQ-4C Triton drones with expected delivery in 2017. Check out the video of the Triton during its most recent test flight below:
But of course, this jetliner-sized customer is just one of many enhancements the US armed forces is planning on making to its drone army. Another is the jet-powered, long-range attack drone that is a planned replacement for the aging MQ-1 Predator system. It’s known as the Avenger (alternately the MQ-1 Predator C), a next-generation unmanned aerial vehicle that has a range of close to 3000 kms (1800 miles).
Designed by General Atomics, the Avenger is designed with Afghanistan in mind; or rather, the planned US withdrawal by the end 0f 2014. Given the ongoing CIA anti-terrorism operations in neighboring Pakistan are expected to continue, and airstrips in Afghanistan will no longer be available, the drones they use will need to have significant range.
The Avenger prototype made its first test flight in 2009, and after a new round of tests completed last month, is now operationally ready. Based on the company’s more well-known MQ-9 Reaper drone, Avenger is designed to perform high-speed, long-endurance surveillance or strike missions, flying up to 800 kms (500 mph) at a maximum of 15,250 meters (50,000 feet) for as long as 18 hours.
Compared to its earlier prototype, the Avenger’s fuselage has been increased by four feet to accommodate larger payloads and more fuel, allowing for extended missions. It can carry up to 1000 kilograms (3,500 pounds) internally, and its wingspan is capable of carrying weapons as large as a 2,000-pound Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) and a full-compliment of Hellfire missiles.
Switching from propeller-driven drones to jets will allow the CIA to continue its Pakistan strikes from a more distant base if the U.S. is forced to withdraw entirely from neighboring Afghanistan. And according to a recent Los Angeles Times report, the Obama administration is actively making contingency plans to maintain surveillance and attacks in northwest Pakistan as part of its security agreement with Afghanistan.
The opportunity to close the gap between the need to act quickly and operating from a further distance with technology isn’t lost on the US military, or the company behind the Avenger. Frank Pace, president of the Aircraft Systems Group at General Atomics, said in a recent statement:
Avenger provides the right capabilities for the right cost at the right time and is operationally ready today. This aircraft offers unique advantages in terms of performance, cost, timescale, and adaptability that are unmatched by any other UAS in its class.
What’s more, one can tell by simply looking at the streamlined fuselage and softer contours that stealth is part of the package. By reducing the drone’s radar cross-section (RCS) and applying radar-absorbing materials, next-generation drone fleets will also be mimicking fifth-generation fighter craft. Perhaps we can expect aerial duels between remotely-controlled fighters to follow not long after…
And of course, there’s the General Atomic’s Avenger concept video to enjoy:
According to a report filed last Tuesday by the US Navy’s top SEAL, the ambitious plan to build a high-tech armored suit for elite commandos has entered a new phase. After years of development, the military is preparing to analyze three new design concepts, and will begin receiving prototypes of these “Iron Man” suits by the summer.
Adm. William McRaven, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, said the military will receive the prototypes by June. This project, which was started last year, aims to revolutionize the capabilities and protection of Navy SEALs, U.S. Army Special Forces, and other elite commandos who perform some of the U.S.’s most dangerous and violent missions.
Officially known as the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) – named after the Greek automaton made by Zeus to protect Europa – the designs have already been nicknamed the “Iron Man” suit. Obviously, the name is a nod to all the futuristic technology that powers the suit, including a powered exoskeleton, liquid armor, built-in computers and night vision, and the ability to monitor vital signs and apply wound-sealing foam.
However, there’s a catch with the prototypes. According to McRaven, who addressed reporters at a special operations conference in Washington. the prototypes will be unpowered. As it stands, no known means exists to provide a powered armor suit with the kind of electricity it would need without resorting to a gas-powered generator, or connecting the suit to the local grid.
Obviously if you’re going to put a man in a suit – or a woman in a suit – and be able to walk with that exoskeleton… you’ve got to have power. You can’t have power hooked up to some giant generator.
Essentially, this means that the days of a genuine “Iron Man” suit are still years away. Best-case scenario, the admiral wants the suit to be used in combat situations by August 2018. Still, he also emphasized the “astounding results” that has been observed in the project so far. The prototypes in assembly now will be evaluated, with the results incorporated into the suits the U.S. will eventually deploy to the battlefield.
It’s unclear what the total price of the project may be, but McRaven said he would like to offer a $10 million prize to the winner in a competition. That hasn’t happened yet, but it’s likely the cost of developing the suit would be many times that, most likely ranging into the billion-dollar bracket. But of course, McRaven thinks it will be worth every penny:
That suit, if done correctly, will yield a revolutionary improvement to survivability and capability for U.S. special operators… If we do TALOS right, it will be a huge comparative advantage over our enemies and give the warriors the protection they need in a very demanding environment.
The admiral said the project was inspired by a U.S. special operator who was grieving the loss of a comrade in combat. Despite more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. still doesn’t have a way to adequately protect commandos who “take a door,” a reference to the controversial raids that kill and capture insurgents all over the globe.
Already, SOCOM has predicted the suit will include futuristic liquid body armor that hardens when a magnetic field or electrical current is applied. This is the most futuristic aspect of the suit, giving the soldier flexibility, mobility, and providing superior protection against ballistic objects. It also will include wearable computers, communications antennae, and a variety of sensors that link it to its wearer’s brain.
By merging digital technology, wireless access to army communications, GPS satellites and databases, and upgraded targeting and protection into one package, a single commando unit will likely have the combat effectiveness of an entire platoon. And from all indications, it’s only a few years away. I imagine the US Special Forces will see a serious boost in recruitment once the suits are available.
And of course, there’s a concept video provided by the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM) showing what TALOS has to offer:
A current obsession of military planners is keeping up with the latest in battlefield challenges while also dealing with troop reductions and tightened budgets. Video games are one solution, providing soldiers with training that does not involve real munitions or loss of equipment. Unfortunately, most of these games do not provide a real-world immersive feel, coming as close to the real thing as possible while still being safe.
Hence why the the Army Contracting Command enlisted the help of Northrop Grumman this past January to integrate their Virtual Immersive Portable Environment (VIPE) “Holodeck” into the US Army’s training program. Much like the CAVE2, a VR platform created by the Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL) at the University of Illinois, this latest holodeck is a step towards fully-realized VR environments.
Using commercial, off-the-shelf hardware combined with gaming technology, the VIPE Holodeck virtual training system provides users with a 360 degree, high-fidelity immersive environment with a variety of mission-centric applications. It can support live, virtual and constructive simulation and training exercises including team training, cultural and language training and support for ground, air and remote platform training.
Last year, the VIPE Holodeck took first place in the Federal Virtual Challenge – an annual competition led by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory’s Simulation and Training Technology Center – for the system’s Kinect integration navigation sensor, which gives users the ability to crawl, walk, run, stop, jump, and move side to side in the virtual environment.
According to Northrop, the VIPE Holodeck moves ahead of other virtual simulators thanks to its advanced situational training, where service members can walk through an area in the replicated virtual environment and prepare for what they may encounter in real life. This works not only for infantry and target practice, but for vehicle drivers and police officers looking to simulate various situations they are likely to encounter.
To enhance that training, operators can drop threats into the environment, including IEDs and enemy shooters, as well as signals that should tip them off to potential threats and see how they respond before they actually find themselves in that situation. This sort of versatile, multi-situational complexity is precisely what the Army is looking for.
For us to be able to execute realistic training — good training — we have to be able to bring that operational environment [into the virtual world]. We want to get away from having multiple environments, virtual gaming and instruction, and go to one synthetic environment, get to a lower overhead and integrate the full operations process … according to the common operating picture.
But looking ahead, the applications for this type of technology are virtually (no pun!) limitless, never mind the fact that we are realizing something directly out of Star Trek. Northrop says it’s also exploring options for VIPE as a stepping stone to live-training within the medical field, as well as law enforcement and first responders for situations such as live-shooter or hostage scenarios.
Immersive virtual reality also figures quite prominently in NASA’s and other space agencies plans for future exploration. Given that manned missions are expensive, time-consuming, and potentially dangerous, mission planners are investigating Telexploration as a possible alternative. Here, orbiters and rovers would transmit visual information in real-time, while VR decks would be used to give the appearance of being on location.
As Ryan Frost, Northrop’s program manager for the VIPE Holodeck, put it:
The great thing about virtual reality and gaming technology [is that] it’s moving so rapidly that really it has endless possibilities that we can do. If you can think it, we can create it, eventually.
And be sure to check out this video from Northrop Grumman showing the VIPE Holodeck in action: