When it comes to keeping secrets, governments from around the world can be a bit hit and miss. For every Area 51 and JFK assassination draped with a veil of mystery and that incite intrigue to millions around the world still to this day, there are blunders of leaked phone calls to fellow world premieres and USB sticks containing classified information left behind after a train journey.
And when it comes to war, the secrets, lies, and conspiracies come thick and fast. From accusations of ‘false flags’ to duplicitous undercover agents and highly top-secret weaponry, the leaders of the world are in a constant – and high-stakes – game of bluff and counterbluff.
When it comes to weaponry and weapon development, government activity is pored over with great enthusiasm and meticulousness. Advances in technology, particularly in the Western world, means we’re now closer than ever to having the kind of sci-fi caliber artillery we’ve always hoped would arrive in our lifetimes.
That's not to glorify war or make light of an undesirable yet inevitable part of life. But the fact of the matter is that war remains big business, war mongering will continue unabated, and the scientific minds behind the deadly innovations will continue in their global destruction one-upmanship.
Here’s a look at some of the cutting-edge tech you probably didn’t know were at the disposal of more than one leader with a questionable temperament. Unsurprisingly, a lot come from the US, but you may be surprised at some of the other countries pushing the boundaries in the never-ending arms race.
15 Fly-bot Developed By Harvard And DARPA - USA
As if from a true sci-fi novel, a top university in America has unveiled its work on a surveillance drone the size of a housefly. The drone was given a test flight in the summer of 2007 at Harvard University to display the characteristics of its flight. The movements are modeled precisely on the process of the actual insect movement. “Nature makes the world’s best fliers,” says Robert Wood, leader of the project. “You probably wouldn’t notice a fly in the room, but you certainly would notice a hawk,” he told MIT Technology Review. Weighing only 60 milligrams and with a wing span of 3cm, it's the smallest drone in existence, and its applications are limitless.
It's thought the fly-bot will be used in espionage and for the investigation of areas inaccessible to humans, such as contaminated power plants or inhospitable underground areas.
14 Pulsed Energy Projectile Gun - USA
Sci-fi programs from the 1960s and '70s may seem outmoded and clichéd, but much of the weaponry is now becoming a reality. The stun-ray in Star Trek, for instance, has now found its real-life applications in the PEP, or Pulsed Energy Projectile gun. Starting out as a kill laser weapon, the PEP is now being developed as a non-lethal crowd-control measure, but its capabilities are far-reaching.
The PEP fires a single deuterium fluoride laser pulse at a target; the plasma produced by the early stage of the pulse explodes on impact because it absorbs electrons from the later part of the pulse. On explosion, the plasma produces a shock wave that propels the target away and causes a burning sensation. The laser was previously strong enough to induce paralysis and death, but due to legislation, its use as a killing weapon was prohibited.
13 ADAPTIV - SWEDEN
In 2013, a tank was unveiled that was fitted with a cloaking device, making it invisible to radar arrays. The Swedish Defence Materiel Administration commissioned BAE Systems to devise such a system to enable tanks and other armored vehicles to roam undetected in enemy territory. BAE Systems designed a tank that was covered in a special honeycomb-type material, which would enable to it take on the shape of an object relevant to the field of the war. On trials, when the tank’s cloak was switched on, it would show up on radars as a small car or an animal.
In fact, the device acts almost like a chameleon skin to the tank, enabling it to take on any object relevant to its surroundings. It can also mimic the heat of its surroundings, for example, either in rain-forest or temperature environments.
12 Iron Man Suit (Exoskeleton Armour) - USA
Exoskeleton armor is big business at the moment. In direct correlation to the fantasy world of films like Iron Man, the US is researching similar types of body armor that can be worn by combatants. We’ve already seen what the Brits are doing with synthetic biology. The US is looking at other non-natural materials in an effort to find an armor that doesn’t just repel bullets and shrapnel but also remains lightweight.
A major advancement in this field is in a system of liquid armor. This is a suit comprised of a material called “Shear-Thickening Fluid” (Futurism, 2016), which is a special type of fluid armor that reacts physically to the impact of a shock wave. “It remains soft and malleable during normal operations but hardens instantaneously at the point of contact—deflecting and dispersing the immense destructive energy produced by a hit from an enemy round or shrapnel” (Polish design company, Moratex, 2016).
11 3M22 Hypersonic Weapon - RUSSIA
As we know, the Russians have been developing nuclear missiles ever since the '50s. But it was allegedly with the help of an American family called the Rosenbergs that they received most of their intelligence. Now, they’re taking things one step further in the arms race. It was reported earlier this year that a missile called the "3M22 Zircon" was being trialed using scramjet technology. In other words, rather than carrying an oxidizer to mix with the propulsion fluid, the missile uses atmospheric oxygen – making it far lighter.
When launched, it can reach a speed of over Mach5 – five times the speed of sound – and is capable of traveling far greater distances than conventional weapons. The benefits of a hypersonic weapon are that its speed renders it undetectable on missile defense systems and also allows no time for evacuation of target areas.
10 PHASR Rifle - USA
The Air Force Research Laboratory's Directed Energy Directorate headed up by the U.S. Department of Defense is in the process of developing a gun that shoots a laser at its target. Thanks to legislation passed in 1995, though, the use of such weaponry to permanently damage personnel or even kill was outlawed. The US, amid their development, abided by the prohibition and began to develop a non-lethal ray gun called the "PHASR."
"PHASR" stands for "personnel halting and stimulation response rifle," and it's a handheld gun capable of firing dazzling laser light at its target. The respondent would suffer only temporary blindness, which allows the PHASR to be passed through law. The new laser gun uses lasers of lower intensity, but some still argue that prolonged exposure to the condensed light or even its activation at close quarters could still cause permanent damage.
9 SVU-200 - CHINA
In an unusual show of openness, the Chinese unveiled their SVU200 unmanned helicopter at an air show in Washington DC in 2013. The Sunward Tech Star-lite SVU200 handles almost identically to a conventional manned helicopter. Its chief designer, Dennis Fetters, who lives in China, told Flight Global, “The demonstration included multiple take-offs, landings, turns, sideways manoeuvres, quick-stops, backward flying and forward-cruise flights.” The maneuverability of the drone is a leap forward in drone technology and allows the vehicle to be used in versatile settings.
The helicopter drone is also capable of straight and level flight at 177kph and can carry loads of up to 244kg. Although its primary use was designated as an engineer facilitator “designed to monitor power lines,” (Flight Global, 2012) some promotional material shows the drone complete with surface-to-air missiles, a contingent of ordnance and a chin-mounted electro optical/infrared sensor.
8 YJ-12 - CHINA
The YJ-12 is a supersonic anti-ship missile in development and being trialed by the Chinese military. The missile has warhead capable of 205kg high-explosive impact and, according to the United States Naval War College Review in 2011, can reach a target as far away as 400km. When compared to the range of a Harpoon anti-ship missile, which is just 130 km, the improvement is staggering. It poses a significant threat to allied shipping since it can be launched a considerable distance away and from multiple platforms.
Robert Haddick, writing in Hasty Ambush, warns of its deadly capability. “Once the wave of sea-skimming missiles appeared over the horizon and was detected by ships' own sensors, they would only have some 45 seconds to engage before impact, and if there were enough, short range defenses would be overwhelmed,” he said. Given that the YJ-12 can be carried by fighter jets as well, the potential strike range is in the region of 1,900km.
7 The Black Knight - USA
The United Nations was recently asked by leading scientists to consider an all-out ban on autonomous weapons in battle zones. Such a ban would include the use of drones, tanks, and automated machine guns. However, until a ban is enforced, the US and other nations will continue to develop proof-of-concept remote vehicles for combat. Engineered to be algorithmically precise and not requiring human controllers on-site, such remote machines offer a safe and effective measure in hostile zones. The Black Knight is one such development from the United States that looks set for deployment.
Looking like a tank, it is considerably lighter and therefore more maneuverable. It's armed with a turret-mounted gun and a machine gun and fitted with a 300-horsepower engine. If it makes it to the manufacturing phase, the Black Knight will also be fitted with GPS and wireless technology, which can be controlled from a console operator anywhere in the world.
6 Synthetic Biology - UK
Humans have, for years, tried to mimic nature by synthetic means. At a basic level, it might be said that the houses we live in are a development of cave systems, but so too have we engineered fake fur, skin, shells, scales, feathers, and wings. Innovation and imitation are part of our genetic tradition.
A recent development in synthetic biology along these lines could herald a new era of combat armor. Scientists working in the UK are developing body armor that can be more easily fitted to a combatant’s body and is more lightweight than and is as impenetrable as current designs. The research is being carried out at Porton Down, the UK's top secret Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, where much of the country’s top-secret military research is carried out and tested. It's here that recent developments in synthetic biology are said to have been made.
5 Type 10 MBT - JAPAN
Having had a poor reputation for building tanks, the Japanese army is now streets ahead of some of its closest adversaries. Since 2002, it's been secretly designing the Type-10 battle tank. The tank is exceptionally lightweight, which allows it to be far more maneuverable than many similar tanks with equal firepower. It has proven so effective in trials that it's now Japan’s leading tank, alongside the powerful and heavier Type-90. It's highly mobile and very fast, with a top speed of 43mph and, with a continuously variable transmission, can reverse at the same speed.
Japan being the world leader in robotics, it's hardly surprising that the Land of the Rising Sun is now improving its military hardware. In fact, they're showing themselves perfectly capable of producing first-rate tank technology, but because of a self-imposed military export ban, the world isn't yet privy to exactly what else they're developing. However, that's not to say they're particularly secretive – certainly not in comparison with the Chinese.
4 Kamov Ka-35 - RUSSIA
Even as the last battles were being fought in the streets of Berlin in April 1945, the Russians (then the Soviet Union), were intent on claiming what they could of a wrecked Germany. First came the annexation of the Eastern part of Germany, which drew a border at the westernmost point of the Soviet advance; then came Berlin and the Cold War. Sadly, from 1947 until 1991, East and West were enemies, and the Soviet Union saw a chance to develop secret weapons.
These days, despite the thawing of the Cold War, glasnost, democratization, and a largely westernized culture, the Russians are still developing secret weaponry along with the rest of the world. The Kamov Ka-35 helicopter is just a small part of this arsenal. It's the newest early-warning aircraft and is designed for espionage and radar protection of air and sea space.
3 Shenyang J-15 Flying Shark - CHINA
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army is famously wary of spilling any secrets about its techno programs, but in 2001, its development of the Shenyang J-15 – a semi-stealth variant of a carrier-based fighter aircraft – led to its plans for secrecy being dashed. The Chinese acquired a Russian Su-33 from the Ukraine in that year and, apparently, then based the design of the J-15 on the Shenyang J-15; this violated the intellectual property rights of the aircraft, according to the Russians.
True, the J-15 has a lot of similarities to the Su-33 but was, in the end, fitted with non-Russian indigenous engines, weapons, and radar. Arrested landings on a carrier were made in 2012 with the Chinese unveiling their new technology. The Shenyang J-15 is now much faster than anything the Russians currently have in service.
2 RQ-4 Global Hawk - USA
The RQ-4 Global Hawk was, for many years, a secret weapon in development. Details of its deployment to the Middle East were embargoed, and even today, scant details emerge of its technology or specs. It's known, however, to be able to loiter over target zones for long periods of time and scan up to 40,000 square miles of terrain each day (USAF, 2013). In terms of firepower, the drone is unarmed and serves purely as a hi-tech surveillance system, relaying ground movements back to control rooms in the US or at locales near war zones.
More recently, Global Hawk has been deployed as part of Operation Inherent Resolve – a war being waged against the self-styled Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The aircraft’s surveillance systems are able to capture real-time imagery of every detail of enemy movements and improve target focus and development for ground-based troop movements or airstrikes.
1 MQ9 Reaper Drone - USA
The US military began using drones at the time of the Gulf war, although their development precedes the conflict by some years. Primarily, they were used in a reconnaissance role and proved an effective and far safer way to acquire intelligence of ground movements of enemy forces. However, with recent developments in drone capability, technology, and engineering, the system has evolved to enable drones to carry ordnance.
In the case of the Reaper Drone, this vehicle can carry up to 15 times more ordnance than its predecessor, the MQ-1 (USAF, 2006). "We've moved from using UAVs primarily in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance roles before Operation Iraqi Freedom, to a true hunter-killer role with the Reaper" (USAF, 2006). The weaponry has been deployed in Middle East conflicts to devastating effect. The system continues to be evolved to include better range, accuracy, and speed.
Sources: popsci.com, express.co.uk, theguardian.com, military-today.com