As the global arms race drives on into the 21st century, many countries have turned their attention towards the research and development of Directed Energy Weapons. Directed Energy Weapons, or DEWs, are defined as any weapon that emits focused energy and can transfer said energy to inflict damage upon a target.
DEWs are broken up into two distinct classifications—lasers and microwave weapons. Lasers, the more well-known of the DEWs, work by using a super-heated plasma projectile that can inflict massive amounts of damage onto a target. Laser weapon systems can be currently found in limited numbers across all branches of the United States’ military. So far, even in their limited time on the battlefield, lasers have already proven themselves extremely effective and efficient.
High Powered Microwaves (HPMs) are the other form of DEW. Where lasers are primarily used for destroying single targets at great distances, HPMs are primarily designed to be non-lethal and can effect a rather large area. One of the main capabilities of HPMs is the disruption of enemy electronic equipment. Although electronic warfare may not have the same appeal as conventional warfare, one must realize how much militaries today rely on electronic equipment in order to operate. The average foot soldier is covered head to toe in electronics, from his GPS, to the optics on his rifle. If these systems were to fail, then the overall combat effectiveness of not just the individual, but entire unit, would be compromised. This is the primary reason for the interest behind HPMs; battles can be won without a single life being lost, hypothetically.
One of the first working HPMs was unveiled in Russia earlier this year. Named the “Ranets E”, this HPM is designed to disrupt enemy airborne threats such as drones, guided missiles, and even aircraft from distances of over twenty miles. Experts describe the Ranets E as a sort of “radio frequency cannon”; it possess a powerful directional beam of electromagnetic radiation and causes short circuits in electrical equipment, rendering them essentially useless. The entire system is self-propelled, based atop the chassis of a MZKT-7930, a Russian multipurpose transport vehicle. This ensures that the Ranets E is able to keep pace with other mechanized units on the battlefield (2).
The primary mission for the Ranets E will be to accompany mobile Surface to Air Missile (SAM) platforms. The Ranets E will theoretically protect the SAMs by disrupting and disabling guidance systems on precision guided munitions (PGMs).
Despite the promise behind the Ranets E, many experts in the west believe that Russia may be exaggerating its abilities. The data that accompanies reports from the Ranets E has been inconsistent, leading many to believe it to be Russian propaganda. Although the Ranets E may not be as effective as the Russian government may want us to believe, it has still influenced a handful of countries to start their own projects.
The United States’ Air Force is currently in the midst of developing their own HPM that could see limited service within the next decade (3).
As global politics, along with the modern battlefield, change expect countries to slowly turn to the use of High Powered Microwaves for use in their military. HPMs are an effective and non-lethal alternative to conventional weapons that could change the face of war for years to come.
(1) "27 Jul 2016 — Resurgence of High Power Microwave Weapons." - Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS). Web. 28 Aug. 2016.
(2) "Ranets E – High Power Microwave Directed Energy Weapon." Thai Military and Asian Region. 19 Aug. 2016. Web. 28 Aug. 2016.
(3) "Air Force Looking for Power Sources and Antennas for Future High-power Microwave Weapons." Air Force Looking for Power Sources and Antennas for Future High-power Microwave Weapons. 27 Apr. 2016. Web. 28 Aug. 2016.
Image: © Milan P. Mihajlovic | Dreamstime.com - Mobile military radar-3
Northern China has long been the center of Chinese population, industry, and agriculture. In order to sustain its numerous farms and massive cities, northern China consumes enormous amounts of water each year. However, due to the fact that the majority of China’s great rivers lie in the south, the north has been forced to rely primarily on groundwater. Over the last few decades, as the population and infrastructure of China has grown, it has become apparent that aquifers alone cannot meet the water needs of the north.
China has foreseen this problem for quite some time. Former Chairman Mao Zedong was one of the first to propose a river diversion project that would take water from the south and bring it to the north. In 2002, 50 years after Mao, the project was approved by the state and work was begun on it (1).
Named the “South-to-North River Diversion Project”, this project is the largest river diversion attempt the world has ever seen. Set to finish in the year 2050, this massive $62 billion project aims to move 44.8 billion cubic meters of water per year from the Yangtze River to the barren Yellow River Basin in northern China (2).
China hopes that this project will put an end to water shortages in the north; however, it is far from ideal. Many believe that this entire project is only a temporary solution to a major problem and will have major environmental consequences in the near future. Perhaps the greatest concern amongst environmentalists is the possibility for water pollution on an enormous scale. China has dealt with major water pollution issues ever since the construction of the Three Gorges Dam in 2012. Because this endeavor will require connecting multiple rivers, pollution could possibly become even more widespread, resulting in less drinkable water for millions of people.
Another issue this project faces is the relocation of millions of Chinese people. Similar to what happened during the construction of the Three Gorges Dam, an estimated 330,000 individuals have already been forcibly moved from their homes to make room for the Danjiangkou reservoir (2). This number will only rise over the coming decades as the project expands.
It seems China’s “Grow first, clean up later” mentality for much of last few decades may finally be coming around to bite them in the rear. Many agree that China will only hurt themselves in the long run, and that more internal changes need to occur. China must become more efficient with their water use if they plan on continuing to expand their population and industry even further.
Only time will tell whether or not the South-to-North River Diversion Project will be a success for China. In the best case scenario, China will be able to sustain its cities and agriculture in the north with the “new” water. Worst case could mean a giant environmental disaster that would leave China cleaning up the mess for years to come.
(1) "South-to-North Water Diversion Project." Water Technology, n.d. Web. 21 Aug. 2016.
(2) "South-North Water Transfer Project." International Rivers, n.d. Web. 21 Aug. 2016.
Image: © Wuwei1970 | Dreamstime.com - <a href="https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-images-dujiangyan-reservoir-city-sichuan-province-china-city-has-famous-water-conservancy-engineering-system-system-image34646764#res14972580">Dujiangyan Reservoir</a>
Even in this day and age, the earth’s water, carbon, and energy cycles are not fully understood by the scientific community. Although they might not seem particularly influential, these three natural cycles have a profound impact on the prosperity and survival of human civilization as a whole. To further understand these processes, NASA launched the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite in January of 2015 (1).
The primary purpose of SMAP is to measure soil moisture and freeze-thaw data on a global scale. This information garnered by SMAP directly benefits science, agriculture, and environmental management.
The first, and possibly most important, benefit provided by SMAP is the improved ability to predict crop yields. Soil moisture data from SMAP is able to help determine the expected quality and quantity of crops seasonally. This information is then used to adjust irrigation and improve crop yield predictions on a global scale. Humanitarian food assistance will likely benefit the most from the data collected by SMAP. The new information will allow for more accurate distribution of food to those in greatest need. This comes as good news because by the year 2080, the number of undernourished individuals worldwide is estimated to rise anywhere from 5% to 26% due to various factors (2).
SMAP also possesses the capability to help forecast weather along with natural occurrences such as droughts, floods, landslides and even famine. This works because the given soil moisture content of an area shows how much water is able to evaporate into the atmosphere, and therefore influence local weather. Knowing this information, meteorologists are then able to more accurately forecast weather than when using radar alone.
This same data can also allow for more accurate prediction of floods and drought. For example, if the soil in a given area is already highly saturated with water before a rainstorm, then the chances of flooding in said area will be relatively high. Flooding already accounts for 40% of all natural disasters worldwide, resulting in thousands of deaths and billions of dollars’ worth of damage each year (2). An improved early warning system in place, with the help of SMAP, could help save countless lives and millions of dollars from flooding.
Similarly, tracking the change in soil moisture over time can help predict the location and severity of a drought. Considering drought often leads to crop failure, livestock death, and sometimes the loss of human lives, this information will be crucial to many. Knowing when and where a drought is likely to occur will give people much needed time to prepare and possibly mitigate the effects of the drought; saving lives and money in the process.
Perhaps the greatest challenge humanity will face over the coming century is the changing environment. As the climate and temperature on earth changes, humans must adapt. Through soil moisture data, SMAP will allow scientists to further understand the link between the earth’s carbon, water, and energy cycles. These three cycles alone influence global temperatures and climate more than any other earthly event. As science learns more and more about these systems, changes to our civilization can be made. The changes to how we live will hopefully allow for humanity to prosper well into the future.
(1) "Soil Moisture Active Passive." Jpl.nasa.gov. Jet Propulsion Laboratory California Institute of Technology, n.d. Web. 12 Aug. 2016.
(2) "SMAP: Why It Matters." Smap.jpl.nasa.gov. Jet Propulsion Laboratory California Institute of Technology, n.d. Web. 12 Aug. 2016.
Image: © Chon Kit Leong | Dreamstime.com - <a href="https://www.dreamstime.com/editorial-stock-image-nasa-command-center-oct-california-oct-jpl-california-image72670039#res14972580">The Nasa command center</a>
The concept of a “space elevator” has existed since the beginning of the Space Age, some sixty years ago. The idea is rather simple; a vessel is transported to and from space via a cable attached to a satellite stationed outside of the atmosphere. The most important feature of this method of space travel is the absence of rocket engines. Rocket engines – the primary means by which materials are transported into space today – require immense amounts of fuel, time, and money. In theory, a tether that stretches all the way from earth to space would not suffer from these shortcomings. However, applying this theory to a working physical model is rather daunting.
Japanese researchers based out of Shizuoka University's Faculty of Engineering have taken the first step to make this dream a reality. Labeled by its creators, the STARS-C (Space Tethered Autonomous Robotic Satellite-Cube) experimental microsatellite is the first of its kind.
The STARS-C is rather small in size, weighing in at just 2.66 kilograms (5.86 pounds), and consisting of two 10 centimeter (3.9-inch) cubes that are connected by a 100 meter long (328-foot-long) tether made from Kevlar (1). The $98,000 orbiter will be sent into space from the Kibo module aboard the International Space Station. From there the STARS-C will be launched into orbit and the two cubes will separate in order to test the strength and durability of the tether (2).
The purpose of the test is to determine feasible materials and methods by which a tether for a future space elevator could be made from. If successful, this would mean that science is on the right track to making a working model.
Although an actual space elevator is decades away from becoming a reality, the STARS-C represents a significant leap forward in space tether technology, with major implications for the future.
(1) "University Orbiter Set to Lift Space Elevator Technology：The Asahi Shimbun." The Asahi Shimbun. N.p., 06 July 2016. Web. 02 Aug. 2016.
(2) Patel, Neel V. "Japanese Scientists Will Test Out." Inverse. N.p., 06 July 2016. Web. 02 Aug. 2016.
Image: © Tomas Griger | Dreamstime.com - <a href="https://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-morning-over-japan-early-japanese-islands-viewed-space-highly-detailed-planet-surface-clouds-city-lights-elements-image36777777#res14972580">Morning over Japan</a>