New Military Tech Borrows from Superman, Star Wars

Advances in military technology may soon have soldiers leaping like Superman and pilots fighting like Han Solo.

New machine allows soldiers to hurdle buildings (AP)

A device that allows people to scale tall buildings in if not a single, then at least two bounds, has been developed for the U.S. military. The PowerQuick personal lifting device can raise or lower a load of up to 145 kg (320 lb) at the rate of one meter (yard) per second, enabling special forces, rescue services or even construction workers to quickly ascend or escape buildings.

New Scientist magazine said on Wednesday the operator would shoot a rope attached to a grappling hook to the top of the building and then attach the rope to a harness-like device which hauls them up. It said one battery charge would be sufficient to climb 250 metres — the equivalent of five times the height of the Statue of Liberty.

Quoin International, the Nevada-based company that developed the device for the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, said on its Web site the solid fuel military version was designed for hostage rescue and urban warfare.
However, the battery-powered civilian version had been designed with commercial applications such as building repair, logging or window washing in mind.

Airborne laser brings Star Wars one step closer (Reuters)

A U.S. Pentagon invention could make air combat resemble a battle scene from Star Wars, with a laser so small it can fit on a fighter jet, yet powerful enough to knock down an enemy missile in flight. The High Energy Laser Area Defense System (HELLADS), being designed by the Pentagon’s central research and development agency, will weigh just 750 kg (1,650 lb) and measures the size of a large fridge.

To date, such lasers have been so bulky because of the need for huge cooling systems to stop them overheating, that they had to be fitted to large aircraft such as jumbo jets, New Scientist magazine reported on Wednesday. But the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency reckons it has solved the problem by merging liquid and solid state lasers to cut the size and weight by “an order of magnitude,” according to its Web site. Liquid lasers can fire a continuous beam but need large cooling systems, while solid state laser beams are more intense but have to be fired in pulses to stop them overheating. “We’ve combined the high energy density of the solid state laser with the thermal management of the liquid laser,” New Scientist quoted project manager Don Woodbury as saying.

Dubbed the “HEL weapon” by its developers, a prototype capable of firing a mild one kilowatt (kW) beam has already been produced and there are plans to build a stronger 15-kW version by the end of the year. If everything goes according to plan, an even more powerful weapon producing a 150-kW beam and capable of knocking down a missile will be ready by 2007 for fitting onto aircraft.

DARPA, the folks who gave us the Internet, strikes again. Of course, if history is any guide, we’ll soon be selling these technologies off to our enemies and thus lose most of the advantage we gain.

For more, see US on course for shrink-to-fit laser and PowerQuick personal lifting device allows people to quickly scale buildings, both in the 25 August New Scientist.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.