In parts 1 and 2 of this entry we discussed future infantry weapons as represented by projectile weapons, explosive devices like grenades, a short sojourn into blade weapons, and then on to a staple of science fiction, the laser. In this entry I will discuss other energy weapons, such as particle beams, something already possible today in a somewhat weak form, and other, more fanciful weapons. The first thing to discuss is just what the hell is energy? In scifi movies it is colored light that flows like water. Creatures of great power are said to be made up of pure energy. In fact, except for photons, which are massless, and neutrinos, which may or my not have a tiny bit of mass, all other energy is made up of fast moving particles of matter. Remember the E=MC2 formula, which tells you how much energy you can get out of a given quantity of matter. Not colored light, and not really anything I can see a creature made out of, since fast moving particles, and we’re talking really fast, don’t really suit themselves to sitting around as a blob of color. A book I have recently read on particle physics seems to state, at least to my layman’s sensibilities, that anything that has no mass has to travel at the speed of light, and anything with mass can’t go that fast. So energy is photons or fast moving particles. Even an electromagnetic field is made up of something.
The first weapon I will talk about is the disintegration beam, a staple of science fiction. You know, you fire the beam, the person glows for a moment, and then they are gone, as in there is nothing left of them. Or, if the effects budget is low, they simply disappear. Problem is, there is a thing called the conservation of mass and energy, meaning the stuff just can’t go away, like toxic waste dumped in a river. Unless you are using negative matter, which is really just hypothetical at this point, the mass has to go somewhere. Where it is likely to go is a mass of very fast moving particles, which results in a very big boom where the target once was. The original phaser was said to turn matter into energy, not a healthy proposition in close combat. In the original movie War of the Worlds, the alien rays suppressed the atomic forces holding matter together. Again, very pretty in the movie, but very bad in reality. Now maybe a beam that converted a tiny amount of matter to energy could be used as a close in weapon, blowing apart the target. Lary Niven had a disintegration beam in his Known Space series that was kind of a gentle weapon. It turned off one of the charges and left dust in the aftermath. He had some scenes where someone being hit by the beam had time to get under cover with the loss of some skin.
There was a lightning gun in District 9 that was some kind of electron beam, taking us into the realm of particle beam weaponry. Electrons, in my opinion, are not the best particles, and I think there are too many ways to defeat that beam through insulation or channeling of energy. In the movie it caused bodies to explode, but the fluids should have been superhot, burning everyone they touched, another thing we will get into later on. I don’t think this kind of weapon can penetrate the combat armor of the future, and so is a non-starter.
Sonic weapons are the next entry. Sound can be used to stun, and to cause people to lose control of their bowels, and in some applications may actually cut through hard surfaces. Sound could be the weapon of choice for police operation in atmosphere, when stunning the target is the objective. In vacuum it does not work, and against armored suits I see little utility for this kind of weapon. So maybe as a good non lethal to handle riots and other civil disturbances, to bring down criminals, but not as a standard infantry weapon.
Which brings us to particle beams. Today we can generate beams of protons that have sufficient energy to knock down a missile. But they are big clunky things, too large to be carried. That may not always be the case, and eventually we may have heavy particle beam rifles, and even pistols, if the accelerators can be made small enough. In The Deep Dark Well and its sequel, To Well And Back, the heroes use a particle beam which does not contain the accelerator. The accelerator is at another location, and the matter is transferred to the weapon through a wormhole. Now, unless making wormholes becomes an efficient and energy cheap process, I don’t see this becoming a standard infantry weapon.
So what kind of particles can we use? Protons would seem to be the best, as they can be accelerated in a magnetic field and are heavy enough to pack a lot of energy. The problem with protons is they repel each other, causing the beam to widen over short distance (say kilometers to thousands of kilometers). This would not really be a problem in close in infantry combat. But they can also be repelled by a sufficiently strong positive magnetic field. So we strip the charge off the proton at the last second and send a beam of neutrons at the target. They are slowed a bit but still pack a punch. Or we could just send fewer neutrons into the target and short circuit their nervous system. I had read years ago that it took the same amount of energy as what propels a forty-five slug to propel sufficient neutrons to kill a person. And it’s a really messy way to go. But I feel that the armored suits of the future will be able to handle a low dose of neutrons, and anything that gets through can have their damage repaired by nanotech. So a high dose of neutrons, enough to burn through armor, seems to be the way to go. Antimatter is another possibility, antiprotons. Not a lot of them, that is a prescription for suicide. But a small amount, as long as the action is not in a realy thick or particle filled atmosphere. And there is the possibility of negative matter, if such really exists. It could burn through matter, even really tough superhard matter. I see negative matter more used for cutting through things that are in the way and need to be breached. The last problem I see with particle beams is the recoil. They are shooting a beam with mass at extreme velocity, which means there is recoil the other way. So the beam would have to be limited in how much mass it puts out or its velocity, if being used by someone without a suit, or have to depend on the armored suit to absorb the recoil, unless some other method can be developed to absorb the force. Of course use for personal combat, the lower powered weapon would be fine, while, if used for heavy combat with other suits, of course the user will have a suit as well.
What about vaporizing the target, something that the newer Trek has opted for, since even they have realized that turning a hundred kilo body into energy was a bad idea? Enough energy could vaporize a body. I’ve done the math, and reasonable sized weapon could turn a human body to vapor without shooting the user to the moon. Of course, there is all that pesky superheated steam that used to be the body to deal with. Not a good idea in a closed room and if the weapon bearer is not wearing some protective gear. Bad burns at least, and burned to death as a distinct possibility. The other question would be, why bother? A lot of energy might be needed to burn through a suit, but whatever was left when it got through would surely char broil the occupant. And an unarmored opponent with a big hole in him and the flesh around if cooked is just as dead as one converted to vapor. In Exodus I use a particle beam (in one killing) and a laser (in the other) to vaporize bodies, not even leaving the DNA, because the murderer didn’t want the police to know who the victims were, at least not for sure. Otherwise, vaporization is just a waste of energy, and does not leave a clean murder scene.
Next segment will talk about the protection the warriors of the future are sure to want. Protection that give them at least the same chance of survival against the high energy weaponry of the future as current infantrymen, with Kevlar helmets and ballistic plates in their vests, have against current weapons. Or enough to allow most of the infantry to survive long enough to fulfull the mission.