Did you know that the Internet was originally invented for military purposes? It’s true. So too were cell phones and the Humvee. In fact, many of society’s biggest technology breakthroughs have been adapted for civilian use from their original military application. And when it comes to military technology, particularly weapons, there is no end to imagination and creativity. In fact, many of the weapons being developed or in use by the U.S. military today seem straight out of science fiction. However, despite how crazy they seem, these weapons and technology have actually been invented, or are close to being deployed in combat zones around the world.
Developed by the U.S. Department of Defense, the Personnel Halting and Stimulation Response Rifle (PHASR) is a non-lethal weapon designed to disorient and stun enemies rather than kill them. A light-based gun, the PHASR has been designed for use by both soldiers and U.S. law enforcement officials (police). The gun temporarily blinds enemies with focused laser beams. The laser lights, which operate at alternating wavelengths, serve to disorient people who look at them, rendering them unable to stand let alone fight. The good news is that the laser light used in this weapon does not inflict any permanent damage to people’s eyesight.
9. Golf Ball Grenade
Although not in use any longer, the V40 fragmentation grenade was used by the U.S. military from the 1960s through the mid-1980s and was distinguished by its compact size; the grenade was no bigger than a golf ball. In fact, soldiers used to refer to it as a “mini frag.” The grenade measured 2.5 inches high and 1.5 inches in diameter. Yet despite its miniature size, the V-40 used a safety pin and lever just like a standard sized grenade. And it packed a deadly punch. The golf ball grenade was considered lethal up to a radius of five meters, and dangerous up to 300 meters from its point of impact. However, this weapon was eventually discontinued because the small size of the weapon made them dangerous for use by soldiers. The short fuse time and tiny pins made the mini frags difficult to handle and prone to going off without warning.
8. The CornerShot Rifle & Grenade Launcher
One of the biggest problems facing soldiers in combat has always been the ability to see and fire weapons around corners. This is especially tricky in modern warfare that often takes place in urban settings. However, there is now a weapon in use by U.S. soldiers that enables them to both see and fire around corners. Called the CornerShot, the weapon comes in two versions—a semi-automatic pistol and a grenade launcher. A hinge placed in the center of the weapon enables the barrel to pivot to the left or right while the handle and trigger remain fixed and stationary. A camera is affixed to the weapon as well, which allows soldiers to see what they are shooting at around corners. The CornerShot has proven to be so popular that militaries and law enforcement agencies in 15 countries are now using them.
7. The Active Denial System
Another non-lethal weapon developed to help disperse crowds, the Active Denial System transmits an invisible electromagnetic radiation beam that creates a burning sensation on people’s skin—sending them running. Called the “goodbye effect” by senior military officials and a “heat ray” by scientists, the Active Denial System can heat up water molecules on a person’s skin to 130 degrees Fahrenheit from a distance of 500 yards. Controversial in some circles and dubbed a form of torture by some people, the Active Denial System has proven extremely effective. Security experts expect that the system will eventually be used alongside other non-lethal crowd control methods such as tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets.
6. Digital Revolver
The Armatix Digital Revolver looks like something out of a science fiction movie, and a version of it was featured in a recent James Bond film. This futuristic pistol has a digital safety mechanism that can only be disabled if the operator is also wearing a special wristwatch that sends the unlock signal to the gun. The wristwatch itself only becomes active once the user unlocks it with their fingerprint. This means that the gun can only be fired by the owner—preventing the gun from being used by people who may steal it. It also means that the revolver cannot be used against its owner. Many gun experts claim that this approach is the way of the future and a great means of ensuring gun safety. How widespread this digital revolver gets used remains to be seen.
5. The Railgun
The U.S. Navy is developing an electromagnetic railgun that can fire a projectile faster than the speed of sound. Officially called the 8 Megajoule Electromagnetic Railgun, this shipboard weapon can shoot at Mach 8, which is eight times faster than the speed of sound, or 5,000 miles per hour. What could such a weapon possibly be used for, you ask? The Navy plans to use it to protect warships and as anti-aircraft and anti-missile weaponry. However, so powerful is the Railgun that is has the potential to also launch a spaceship into orbit. And the Railgun can also fire on an entire battlefield from offshore. Fun fact: the Railgun is powered internally by a device called a “Flux Capacitor,” which was the name of the device that powered the DeLorean time machine in the movie Back to the Future. A case of science meeting fiction.
4. Quantum Stealth
Remember the movie Predator? Remember how the Predator was able to use invisible stealth technology to blend into the jungle environment around him, and how when he moved it looked like the jungle itself was moving? Well, that technology is now in the advanced stages of development by the U.S. military. Called Quantum Stealth, this technology camouflages people by bending light around the object it is hiding. And the result is that people and objects literally turn invisible to the naked eye. The images of Quantum Stealth available on the Internet are downright freaky. The hope is that the invisible cloaks provided by the Quantum Stealth technology will enable soldiers to infiltrate enemy territory without being detected, as well as launch surprise attacks and carry out assassinations. Sounds pretty farfetched, but the future is here and this technology is real.
3. Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS)
With the help of several universities and high-tech companies, the U.S. Special Operations Command has developed a Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) for soldiers to wear in combat. It is essentially a robotic exoskeleton that soldiers wear when fighting in a combat zone. It enables soldiers to withstand bullets and fire, monitor their vital signs, and see in the dark. The Pentagon has dubbed the project the “Iron Man Suit.” There are even reports that the next generation combat suit will be made of liquid metal that can solidify into an impenetrable suit on command. The suits are also expected to increase each soldier’s strength and do pretty much everything but fly. Several prototypes of the suit have been developed, and a first-generation of the suit is expected to be operational with American soldiers in 2018. Where we go from here is anyone’s guess.
2. Sentient Unmanned Vehicles
In a page out of The Terminator, the U.S. military is now experimenting with sentient unmanned vehicles that literally think like their human creators. Over the past two decades, unmanned vehicles—or drones as they’re known—have become more commonplace with the military. From unmanned airplanes to bomb-removal buggies, undersea mini-submarines and surveillance robots. However, up until now, most of these unmanned vehicles—including the airplanes and helicopters—have been piloted by a soldier or technician that is based at a safe distance from harm. Now these unmanned vehicles are being developed so that they can think and operate on their own—without the guiding hand of a human being. In fact, artificial intelligence is being pushed farthest right now by military scientists, and the implications are that we will soon have robots and unmanned military vehicles that make their own life and death decisions. While military planners say this is in the interest of keeping soldiers safe in combat, critics claim it is like giving robots a license to kill.
1. Vomit Gun
Remember the “sick sticks” used by police in the movie Minority Report? The sticks would cause anyone they touched to instantly vomit. Believe it or not, a real life vomit gun has been invented. In 2007, the U.S. Navy signed a contract with a company called Invocon to develop a weapon that uses radio frequency to impact a person’s sense of hearing and equilibrium. Anyone hit by the vomit gun immediately experiences severe motion sickness and throws up. At the same time, The Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Department engaged a company called Intelligent Optical Systems to develop an LED Incapacitator that emits a rapid pulse of different colored lights to cause dizziness, headaches and vomiting as well. As with other weapons on this list, the Vomit Gun is viewed as a non-lethal means of subduing people and gaining the upper hand on enemy combatants. And, as with many weapons on this list, the Vomit Gun seems to be a case where science fiction has caught up to science fact.