March 23rd, 2010 17:45 EST
First reported in the summer of 2002, scientists at the British Ministry of Defence (MoD), with the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), announced the development of an electrical defensive shield to function as a light-weight mode of armor for military vehicles. Created with the intent of making armored vehicles-- such as tanks and armored personnel carriers (APCs)-- lighter and more protected against projectiles from anti-tank grenade launchers, artillery and tank shells, what is being referred to as electric armor decreases a reliance on the usual heavier metallic armor to protect military vehicles.
Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs) are commonly and frequently used by Al Qaeda forces to attack American soldiers, and could be capable of penetrating or destroying a tank, or a similarly armored transport, and killing the crew inside. The force field shielding could also serve to revitalize the tank as an effective and still practical military tool.
Activated at the flip of a switch, the new electric armor " which is charged with the vehicle`s own internal pulsed power " source " consists of a highly-charged capacitor attached to two separate metal plates around the outside surface of the vehicle. The outer plate is bullet-proof and grounded, while an insulated inner plate carries an electrical current. When a grenade launcher`s shaped-charge warhead detonates on the outer plate and pierces the insulation of the inner plate, a surge of thousands of amps of electricity is initiated and channeled through the inner plate to disintegrate most of the shrapnel into harmless debris, dissipating most of its explosive force. Although the hit punctures the outer plate and damages the inner plate`s layer of insulation, the electrical field causes the rest of the explosion to disperse along the exterior of that vehicle, leaving those inside relatively unharmed. The electrical output from the battery is reportedly no more taxing than when starting the engine on a cold morning.
In a demonstration of the electric armor on an APC vehicle, conducted by the British military for senior Army officers, the energy shield succeeded in protecting the vehicle through repeated attacks by rocket propelled grenades that would normally have destroyed it several times over. Firing at point blank range is said to have left only superficial damage on the APC`s hull, and the vehicle was still able to operate.
The catch, however, is that the electric force field system has limited utility and application-- this isn`t anything like the shields seen on Star Trek, but it`s a step in that direction. It is designed specifically to defend against impacts from grenade launchers and similar weapons, and is not meant to be an all-purpose shield. Also, the electric armor won`t protect vehicles from mines, or bombs dropped from above.
John Brown, the physicist at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory managing British electric armor research, has been working on this for six years, and noted that he anticipates this armor would be available for widespread implementation in less than ten more years.
Currently, few tank models are strong enough to carry the standard armor capable of withstanding most of the damage derived from grenade and mortar attacks, and the armor used to accomplish this weighs 10 to 20 tons-- way too much to be feasable for use on light armored vehicles " like personnel carriers and some tanks, which must consist of relatively light weight materials in order to maintain necessary mobility. Weighing anywhere from one to two tons, but offering the protection of 20 ton armor, this electric shielding would provide a substantial upgrade, significantly reducing the threat of RPGs on APCs.
Last year, under the direction of the Ministry of Defence, Atkins Aviation and Defense awarded Lockheed Martin UK-- a unit of Lockheed Martin Corporation " a contract for an 18 month Electric Architecture Technology Demonstrator Program (TDP). Lockheed will design, construct and demonstrate electric force field technology for integration with FRES (Future Rapid Effects System) vehicles-- a type of military land vehicle chassis. FRES models are expected to increasingly enter regular service by 2012, and would be capable of being reconfigured for various mission applications, to faze out aging conventional military armored transports. Atkins states that the Electric Armour TDP will look at the maturity of electric armour technology, defining and assessing constraints and determining the principles for integration of Electric Armour into FRES should it prove to be sufficiently mature. Promoted as the most significant armored vehicle project of the next decade, the FRES program is to consist of a fleet exceeding 3,500. They will provide UK Land Forces with the capability to conduct rapid intervention, war fighting and other operations through a network enabled family of medium weight platforms designed for rapid world-wide deployment and allowing supremacy in battlespace awareness, command and control, precision engagement, survivability, mobility and lethality. "
The Pentagon, of course, expressed interest in such technology, and the U.S. military-- through their Future Combat Systems Program-- is already independently pursuing an electric armor project. They are planning to spend more than $74 million on electromagnetic armor research and development in the next fiscal year, having already spent more than $110 million on light armor defense projects over the last two years. United Defense, an American defense contractor owned by BAE Systems that produces combat equipment used by the U.S. Department of Defense and allies worldwide, is also currently conducting similar tests with an Elecro-Magnetic Armor package " (EMA).
Through a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and the Army`s Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC), they have had promising results during successful live-fire demonstrations in 2005, equivelent to the effectiveness shown in the UK`s program.
It is unclear whether the UK would make this technology " if it proves viable and practical-- available to other countries; one might assume, since Lockheed is based in America, and given the cordial military partnership between America and Brittain, that a deal could be made for the UK to have this shield accessible to the USA, or vice versa. No word was available yet on when or if this electric shield technology can or would be adapted for aircraft.
Chris Martin, Media Contact at Lockheed Martin UK, tells me that, "The system could be adapted for aircraft, but there would be considerable research required to reduce weight."
He also revealed that, "There are equivalent research programmes in the US and Government to Government exchanges."
Another, unrelated, armor defense option on the market is the Trophy Active Defense System (ADS), which uses a special radar system that tracks incoming projectiles and activates an anti-missile cannon, forming a "beam" of buckshot-like fragments to intercept and destroy that projectile prior to impact. This system can engage several attacks simultaneously from various directions. Marketed by General Dynamics " an industry contractor of military armaments and defense systems, a version of the ADS could be available to the US Army and other global customers, announcing the successful completion of a firing test this year.