Sci-fi in the theater of war: Boeing patents plasma force field
Boeing (NYSE: BA), has obtained a patent for a plasma force field. Actually, the patent is for something called a “method and system for shockwave attenuation via electromagnetic arc,” so the term “force field” is perhaps being used a bit loosely. Nevertheless, the force field is intended to envelop and shield military vehicles from the shock waves caused by detonated improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and missiles. The system, which is still in the nascent stage of development, is expected to rely on a combination of microwaves, electricity and lasers.
While this may sound like something straight out of a sci-fi blockbuster, it doesn’t appear to be on par with anything George Lucas could envision. The company said the plasma force-field is unable to deflect precision-guided missile strikes and direct attacks, nor will it be effective in stopping bullets or shrapnel.
Instead, the force field system is expected to function like this:
To provide advance warning of an attack, computers and sensors installed on a building or vehicle could detect the shape and velocity of incoming projectiles, while also predicting the size and force of the blast and subsequently forming the necessary shield.
To create the shield, the microwave/electricity/laser combo is supposed to rapidly heat the air surrounding the vehicle, then the hot air transforms into a plasma barrier that is of a thicker consistency than the surrounding air, thus allowing it to absorb or deflect the impact of a nearby shockwave. Boeing’s engineers are contemplating the possibility of heating only the air between the vehicle and the explosion in order to reduce energy consumption.
Though the force field isn’t expected to be bullet proof, it could still prove valuable on the battlefield. The shock wave that radiates outward from the site of a bomb blast can inflict nearly as much damage on surrounding infrastructure as the bomb itself. Aside from protecting vehicles, the force field could also be applied to infrastructure, particularly high risk areas such as nuclear power facilities and missile silos.
According to Boeing, there is no deadline for the manufacturing and delivery of its force field system, however the company has outlined various deployment scenarios. The force field is not expected to serve any domestic purposes at this time.
The company acknowledged that it intends to design and construct defense systems that are capable of holding their own against highly advanced and increasingly fatal weapon technologies, some of which now boast enough firepower to penetrate armored military vehicles.
Boeing comprises two business units, Boeing Commercial Airplanes and Boeing Defense, Space and Security. The two units are supported by Boeing Capital Corporation, Shared Services Group and Boeing Engineering, Operations and Technology.
The company, headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, has over 165,000 employees scattered across more than 65 countries, and serves both commercial and government clients in 150 countries. According to Boeing, it offers commercial and military aircraft, weapons, launch systems, electronic and defense systems, satellites, advanced information and communication systems and performance-based logistics and training.