The Military Use of Solar Energy And Solar–Powered Weapons
In a recent editorial in Britain’s Daily Telegraph (16 August 2013), Ambrose Evans-Pritchard called attention to the expanding use of solar energy by the U.S. Department of Defence. This has included the installation of enormous solar panel arrays at key military installations to provide clean, cheap and reliable electrical power as well as the miniaturisation of these solar panels for the use of troops in the field for heating, lighting, communications and electrical power. These small solar panel arrays are hand-held or embedded in their rucksacks, efficient enough to recharge lithium-ion batteries for radios, communication equipment and computers as well as in ultra-lightweight solar blankets. Solar panels of many sizes are becoming an integral part of the military kit.
The reasons for the use of solar power for the supply of energy are very clear. In May 2013 the Solar Energy Institute (‘SEIA&rsquo issued a report Enlisting the Sun: Powering the U.S. Military with Solar Energy[i] which examines the military use of solar energy in depth. The U.S military is committed to building the capacity for generating three gigawatts of renewable energy by 2025. Under Title 10, USC 2911 Section 173- Energy Security, there is an obligation made on all the services to introduce a wide variety of renewable energy into the matrix; most of which is reliant on solar power.[ii]
To date, the Navy has installed more solar than either the Army or Air Force, with more than 58 MW at or near bases in 12 states and DC. The Air Force follows the Navy with 38 MW of installed solar capacity, while the Army has deployed more than 36 MW.
Having this capability to generate its own power through the use of solar arrays solves a wide variety of problems for the military and, with the steep decline in the costs of generating solar power it represents a major cost-saving to the military budget. By being capable of on-site solar generation the military becomes less reliant on aging transmission infrastructures and remote power plants. A solar energy system, coupled with battery backup, a diesel generator or thermal energy storage, can also operate in island mode. This allows the solar project to continue to provide power independent from the grid, which provides an extra layer of redundancy and reduces the risk posed by blackouts and potential cyber-attacks. This last point is crucial. With self-sustaining solar-power generation the risk of a cyber-attack on the grid will not materially affect the ability of the military to respond to such attacks.
As the military shifts to solar and away from traditional generation sources, its energy supply will also be less dependent on fossil fuels and less susceptible to global supply and price disruptions. Solar provides the military with locally generated energy that is insulated from natural or man-made instability that could put missions at risk.
In recent years the U.S. Department of Defence consumed about 5 billion gallons of oil annually. In 2012 it spent a total of $20 billion on energy. In fiscal year 2011, the United States Air Force spent $8.3 billion on jet fuel. This is far and away the largest energy cost for the Air Force today, representing 85.5% of the entire energy budget. The increase in shale oil and gas supply has helped make the U.S. more self-sufficient in energy domestically but the critical logistics problem for the military has always been supplying fuel to units deployed across the globe and whose supply lines are not always secure.
In 2010, the U.S. was shipping as much as 40 million gallons of diesel fuel a month into Afghanistan, and it cost lives. An Army review of the Iraqi conflict noted that one of every eight casualties in Iraq resulted from protecting fuel convoys delivering diesel for generators at forward operating bases. Through small, portable solar generators, the military is able to reduce diesel consumption at these facilities by more than 90%. According to the Office of Naval Research, alternative power solutions in the field result in fewer shipments, fewer casualties, and fewer fuel costs.[iii]
One of the most critical problems for the logistics systems in Afghanistan was the interdiction by the Pakistanis of fuel tanker deliveries to Afghanistan Since the problems with Pakistan and its blockade of fuel trucks the logistics shift moved towards the Northern Distribution Network. The Pakistan route was never easy. The road north from the port of Karachi is a hazardous trip of nearly 1,000 miles, finally passing through the difficult and often-hostile terrain of the Hindu Kush and then over the treacherous Khyber Pass before finally dropping down into Afghanistan.
Largely unnoticed by the public by mid-2008 in what the U.S. military arranged with the Russians the “Northern Distribution Network (NDN).” In fact, the NDN comprises several itineraries, commencing at one of two “western hubs” in Latvia and Georgia. From these secure jumping-off points, the cargo goes by combinations of trains, trucks and ferries across Russian territory and the adjacent ex-Soviet “stans” to enter Afghanistan from the north. All of the new routes share the same attraction of altogether avoiding Pakistan. Taken together, these new routes in the NDN provide redundant paths for overland supplies that, however expensively, make it logistically sustainable for the U.S. and its allies to wage their Afghan campaign[iv].
However the NDN relies on the goodwill of the Russians and those with whom they have close relationships. It is far better for the forces in Afghanistan to be self-sufficient in energy through solar power than to rely on transportation of fuels into and through that difficult terrain. By the time the fuel reached the units on the ground the cost was around several hundred dollars a gallon. A solar array takes the energy price down to pennies. Moreover it dramatically reduces the vulnerability of the troops to IEDs as they do not have to leave their perimeter for the purpose of protecting fuel trucks.
One of the earliest programs used to engage high-tech companies with the supply of solar power equipment to the U.S. forward positions was the U.S. Army Rapid Equipping Force and its "Energy to the Edge" initiative. It was formed in mid-2011 under the aegis of the Defence Technical Information Centre’s Weapon Systems Technology Information Analysis Centre to address growing energy demands among troops in theatre and in distant, hard-to-reach locations, referred to as the “tactical edge.” The initiative also sought decreased reliance on JP-8 diesel fuel for military vehicles and equipment. They began testing and using solar power arrays as a source of energy for water purification equipment, improved telecoms and communication equipment.
An important use of this technology was the creation of an effective system to suppress enemy sniper fire. They combined a number of systems which could be powered by a solar array and developed the “Firefly” - the Hostile Fire Detection Sensor. This is a 360-degree surveillance system that uses acoustics fused with Short Wave Infrared detectors to locate enemy shooters for more accurate return fire. Firefly detects line-of-sight and non-line-of-sight hostile fire and classifies these as small arms, heavy machine gun or rocket/mortar. It calculates geo-location of the shot and provides self-position and heading in a standard cursor-on-target format. The Firefly can be either a mobile or fixed system, attached to the soldier's backpack while on patrol, or mounted at forward operating bases.
Systems similar to the Firefly had already existed but were inefficient because of the need to deliver power to the units during enemy attacks when the troops had to replace the batteries. They used solar panels inside the perimeter with a cable to the Firefly, producing 1.2 KW of continuous energy to run the Firefly system. There still was some maintenance but this was not dangerous because solar panels were within the walls, so troops were not exposed to enemy fire.
It is clear that the military has firmly committed itself to an expanded program of solar energy, both to save large sums of money in sourcing energy for bases within the U.S. and as a strategic improvement on the energy supply to bases located in forward areas where the logistics of fuel supplies are critical factors in security and cost.
The key to this growth has been the technological development of very thin-layer solar panels; some of which can be folded up and carried by troops in their pack. The development of a new generation of geranium-based sheets married to microchips to produce ultra-thin solar batteries. Researchers say that electrons conduct through their germanium-based material ten times faster than through silicon and five times faster than in traditional germanium. The military have agreed on the configuration of a Universal Battery Charger, or UBC, as a soldier-portable charging system, weighing six pounds and smaller than the size of a shoe box. The soldier can quickly connect to any power source, at any time: a generator, a fuel cell, a solar panel, a wind turbine or even a vehicle cigarette. The UBC comes with its own folding flexible solar panels.
There is a new research direction of the design of solar panels which uses grapheme instead of germanium. A team of scientists has announced that they may have found a way to create a compact, grapheme-based super capacitor that lasts as long as a battery. Grapheme, which is a single layer of carbon molecules, could lead to lightweight super capacitors for electric cars and supplement traditional batteries both in electronic devices and renewable power systems. An Israeli company has developed an everlasting solar battery which will be able to recharge itself even in low-light environments.
However, these developments are only a small part of the value of solar energy. The use of solar energy has enabled the military to create a wide range of weapons which can dramatically affect the lethality of its offensive and defensive system.
The simplest of these is the solar mirror. This started as a project of the Nazis in World War II based on the principle first described by Archimedes in his design for setting Roman ships on fire. The Nazis failed for a lack of necessary technology. The November 1945 issue of Life magazine ran an article called “The German Space Mirror: Nazi Men of Science Seriously Planned to use a Man-Made Satellite as A Weapon For Conquest”. It explains that, under the direction of Dr. Hermann Oberth, the Nazis tried to build a manned satellite with a giant solar mirror which would orbit at 22,236 miles above the Earth and used to direct a concentrated stream of solar power to any area on Earth.
The Nazis were hoping to use a "sun-gun" to burn an enemy city or boil part of an ocean. It was Oberth who later hit upon the military applications of the mirror; he called it the "ultimate weapon". They described the “sun-gun” as a man being able to use a powerful telescope from the space station to see the entire combat area spread out before him like a giant plan showing even the smallest details, including the staging areas and the enemy's hinterland with all his access routes by land and sea. The mirror would be used to focus the sun’s rays to detonate the enemy's munitions dumps, to ignite his war material storage area, to melt cannons, tank turrets, iron bridges, the tracks of important train stations, and similar metal objects. Moving trains, important war factories, entire industrial areas and large cities could be set ablaze. Marching troops or ones in camp would simply be charred when the beams of this concentrated solar light were passed over them. Nothing would be able to protect the enemy's ships from being destroyed or burned out, like bugs are exterminated in their hiding place with a torch, regardless of how powerful the ships may be, even if they sought refuge in the strongest sea fortifications. Fortunately the Nazis lacked the technology to station a satellite in orbit.
However, the failed notion of a solar mirror used for focussing solar energy to the earth for military purposes did not disappear. It reappeared in James Bond films and in the imaginary war games of the internet. However, although the notion of being able channel the sun’s rays into a coherent beam to earth to destroy things has yet to be perfected, the notion of such mirrors were very important in the development of laser-based weaponry. To channel the sun’s rays into a beam is difficult because the rules of optics state that LIGHT can’t be channelled into a sharp, pointed beam whatever lens or mirror is used unless the source of the light is also a sharp, pointed beam. Since the sun appears in the sky as a disk, not a point, at large focal lengths the image projected on the ground would be too big to do much damage. That meant that these sky-guns would have to wait for the development of the laser.
In the 1980s, U.S. President Ronald Reagan proposed the Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI) program, which was nicknamed Star Wars. It suggested that lasers, perhaps space-based X-ray lasers, could destroy ICBMs in flight. Though the strategic missile defence concept has continued to the present under the Missile Defence Agency, many of the directed-energy weapon concepts were shelved. However, Boeing has been successful with the Boeing YAL-1 and Boeing NC-135, the first of which destroyed two missiles in February 2010. The raid expansion of laser technology has renewed the efforts on the SDI program. The development of lasers and the concomitant electrical power sourcing derived from solar energy has opened the door to an impressive list of terrifying weapons; to be more precise, directed-energy weapons (‘DEW&rsquo.
A directed-energy weapon emits energy in an aimed direction without the means of a projectile. It transfers energy to a target. That means there has to be a source of energy and a method of directing the energy on a target. There are many such sophisticated weapons now deployed. One of these is the FIRESTRIKE, produced by Northrop-Grumman. FIRESTRIKE, first delivered in 2008 is a family of high-energy, solid-state lasers capable of emitting a light which will cut through the skin and critical components of anti-ship cruise missiles or aircraft. The laser, called Gamma, uses “slab” architecture similar to previous Northrop Grumman high-power lasers. It operates at 13.3 kilowatts for a number of shots over a total of 1.5 hours with stable performance and a coherent beam quality the Gamma demonstrator is a single “chain” or building block that is designed to be combined with other chains to create laser systems of greater power.
This chaining is a big leap in laser weapons because, until now, the only effective way to get laser weapons to work with enough lethal power was using chemicals. These were extremely heavy and the whole firing process was extremely hazardous. The solid-state laser in Firestrike is solid and very easy to manage, as it only requires electricity and has no by-products. The electricity can be supplied from a solar power array or by an electro-mechanical pulse. This has been coupled together with the technology garnered in earlier “killer ray” projects and there is now an operating laser so powerful that it can destroy nuclear-tipped missiles shortly after launch. This can be mounted on an aircraft or also mounted on a satellite which can be powered by a solar array or by an electromechanical pulse from the ground which powers the satellite-mounted laser. These can be augmented by satellite-mounted mirrors which can assist in focusing and targeting the pulse laser destroying nuclear missiles at their launch.
Directed energy weapons are mounted on ships, planes, jeeps, helicopters and, even individual soldiers. The larger directed energy weapons operate in the terawatt range, and are mounted on ships. However, with the development of modern solar energy these new super weapons have been miniaturized. A terawatt-level electric discharge would be equivalent to hundreds of lightning strikes
This DEW microwave capability has been augmented by a new anti-personnel weapon, the Active Denial System, a heat ray that sends out a high-frequency electromagnetic ray. People hit with the ray feel an intense, unbearable heat. With a range of about the length of seven football pitches this weapon is ideal for perimeter security, crowd control, entry control points and destroying enemy formations on the ground and invading concealed spaces. The device comes in various sizes including attached to a Humvee.
The Vigilant Eagle is an airport defence system that directs high-frequency microwaves towards any projectile that is fired at an aircraft. The system consists of a missile-detecting and tracking subsystem (MDT), a command and control system, and a scanning array. The MDT is a fixed grid of passive infrared (IR) cameras. The command and control system determines the missile launch point. The scanning array projects microwaves that disrupt the surface-to-air missile's guidance system, deflecting it from the aircraft.
These microwave DEW systems have been supplemented by the introduction of laser weapons. Lasing is the process that gets light particles excited enough to emit a particular wavelength. On their most basic level, lasers work by getting photons stimulated, concentrating them using something -- in this case a solid like a prism -- and then directing them into a beam. This beam is directed at a target and causes intense heat. The early lasers relied on chemicals to produce the pulse but modern laser systems are primarily sold-state. The biggest leaps in solid-state laser technology have been made through the U.S. military's Joint High Power Solid-State Laser (JHPSSL) program.
The Defence Department established a Robust Electric Laser Initiative (RELI) which fosters the growth of next-generation lightweight, compact laser weapons and takes advantage of the increase in power available through new techniques of solar energy. Weaponised lasers allow for nearly instant, extremely precise strikes to the battlefield. With the provision of unlimited quantities of solar power, they remove the worry of running out of ammunition. Additionally lasers can be calibrated to the scale of the threat, ranging from a non-lethal blow through to taking out a missile.
Laser weapons have several main advantages over conventional weaponry:
Laser beams travel at the speed of light, so there is no need (except over extremely long distances) to compensate for target movement. Consequently, evading an accurately aimed laser after it has been fired is impossible.
Because of its extremely high speed, light is only slightly affected by gravity, so that long-range projection requires little compensation or adjustments for trajectory.
Because light has a practically zero ratio of momentum to energy, lasers produce negligible recoil
Laser beams do not generate sound or light that would be detected by human senses when emitted, so the weapon would not betray its user's position when fired.
On the 14th of August 2013 Boing announced that it had produced its “Thin Disk Laser” system. This surpassed the DoD’s requirements for the RELI system. It takes a series of commercial solid-state lasers and integrates them to produce one concentrated high-energy beam. Leveraging commercially available lasers provides a number of benefits like keeping costs down and ensuring they need minimal support and maintenance. Boeing said blasts from its Thin Disk Laser surpassed 30 kilowatts in power, more than 30 per cent over DOD standards and enough to do some serious damage to a battlefield threat. It is a high-power, solid-state, DEW with pinpoint accuracy to precisely destroy or disable a target with little or no collateral damage. Directed energy weapons such as the Thin Disk Laser system provides military customers with precision targeting for a variety of tactical missions.[v]
One of the most interesting of this system is the MK38 Tactical Laser System which is a fibre laser used to attack air and surface targets, built by BAE. In June weapons designers integrated a fibre laser with an MK 38 25-mm machine gun which the Navy has used since Desert Storm. There are 150 of these systems installed worldwide. The gun can deliver 180 rounds per minute at a range of 2000 yards. The addition of the laser means has meant more effective detection, tracking and classification of targets. During the summer test, the laser was able to distinguish friend from foe in a swarm of fast-moving small boats; much as those used by the Iranian Navy.
Perhaps the most interesting, and lethal, are the anti-satellite weapons (ASATs). Initially the U.S. and the Russians built their ASATs by sending a small nuclear device into the sky which would be triggered near a satellite. These were crude devices and troubled by the appearance at the time of detonation of a powerful electro-mechanical pulse which destroyed many more things in the sky than the target. Nuclear weapons in the sky were abandoned in the ABM Treaty of 1972. They were replaced by targeted missiles with homing devices which would search out and destroy satellites. These, too, were phased out as too expensive an inefficient. However, the memory of the electro-pulse activity after the nuclear devices led to the development of a program using particle beams and lasers as part of the DEW arsenal.
There are several types of lasers that are used for ASAT weapons but all are devices that deliver highly focused energy as the mechanism that destroys. A wide spectrum of energy sources is generated and directed to the target at the speed of light, carrying the destructive force. A LASER is an acronym for the phrase-Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. A MASER (like a laser but generated by a microwave is an acronym for Microwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Directed energy weapons are streams of elementary particles, atoms, electrons, ions, light, microwaves, x-rays, gamma rays and even high powered plasmas that are accelerated to very high velocities that can ruin or destroy satellites.
There is a separate class of DEWS that, as a group, are actually based in space, fitted to satellites and powered by the latest solar energy devices. Initially these were fitted with nuclear devices which could be triggered from Earth but they are now largely replaced by ASATs fitted with large mirrors which can be controlled from Earth. These mirrors can be positioned to reflect a powerful laser emission from Earth to any point on the globe, just as if the satellite itself had emitted the energy ray. This can come from lasers or from an electro-mechanical pulse (EMP). They can also be directed at other satellites to destroy them. So, in a way, Archimedes was right; only he didn’t have a DEW to use powered by solar energy.
So the concomitant development of solar energy by the U.S. military and the development of high-energy DEWs systems have created many new opportunities to project U.S. power in many theatres of war and to dramatically save money and logistics snarls at the same time. Most importantly, like the development of the unmanned drones (UAV) systems (some of which are now powered by solar cells), it allows the battles to be fought at a greater distance from the troops or even remotely, without putting troops in danger. These developments will save many U.S. lives and will save the taxpayers a lot of money while providing a new level of security. As one military commentator said “Well all the world has the same access to the sun, but we have learned how to use it efficiently.”
[i]Enlisting the Sun: Powering the U.S. Military with Solar Energy 2013, SEAI 5/13
[ii]US Code 2010, Title 10, Subtitle A, Part IV, Chapter 173, Subchapter 2911, page 1759
[iii] Tyler Crowe, Weapons May Not Be Our Ultimate Military Advantage, The Motley Fool 11/8/13
[iv]New Supply ‘Front’ for Afghan War Runs Across Russia, Georgia and the ‘Stans, Bill Marmon, There are no sunglasses 10/3/10
Re: The Military Use of Solar Energy And Solar'Powered Weapons
The key to this growth has been the technological development of very thin-layer solar panels; some of which can be folded up and carried by troops in their pack. The development of a new generation of geranium-based sheets married to microchips to produce ultra-thin solar batteries. Researchers say that electrons conduct through their germanium-based material ten times faster than through silicon and five times faster than in traditional germanium.
As far as I Know, the speed of electron travel shouldn't have much impact on the amount of power generated. In fact thin cells in theory should generate less power than conventional cells because there are less electrons and holes that can be knocked into motion.... unless of course the work function (an energy related property of cells that has to be overcome) is less for the thin cell. But this won't be the case if the thin cell is made of similar material to a conventional cell. Just a reduction in thickness is not an advantage. And God forbid that you use dye base for your thin cells. Dyes are notoriously inefficient, ....but they are cheap. The main advantage of thin layer cells is really in the cost reduction vis conventional cells.
The simplest of these is the solar mirror. This started as a project of the Nazis in World War II based on the principle first described by Archimedes in his design for setting Roman ships on fire. The Nazis failed for a lack of necessary technology. The November 1945 issue of Life magazine ran an article called "The German Space Mirror: Nazi Men of Science Seriously Planned to use a Man-Made Satellite as A Weapon For Conquest". It explains that, under the direction of Dr. Hermann Oberth, the Nazis tried to build a manned satellite with a giant solar mirror which would orbit at 22,236 miles above the Earth and used to direct a concentrated stream of solar power to any area on Earth.
Lots of reasons for a person like me to thank God the Germans lost the war, I suppose. The only problem is that we are more or less guranteed to have a reoccurence of Nazi-like behavior soon enough. Power always drives people mad and the Americans are already quite close to being on the threshold.We can only hope other countries manage to narrow the technology/power gap, otherwise we'll be in for some very sad times shortly.
Anyway the main reason for the push for development of energy weapons is because the Americans want to weaponize space. No one has yet found a way round Newton's third law and conventional weapons don't work well in space because of the thrust generated by the reaction you get from say a gun. It really doesn't matter how big your spacecraft is, since in theory, it has no mass, so if I'm correct, the recoil/thrust from a projectile weapon should be the same on an ant as you would get on a space shuttle 10 times the size of the titanic.
Cutting through the clutter and going to the main point, the lesson in all these for Nigeria (if at all we have the capacity to learn):
1. The days of oil are numbered. Its just a question of time before hydrocarbon based economy goes the way of the whale oil based economy.
2. Science and technology holds the key to the future. While we are busy chasing ourselves around with "sophisticated weapons", people who actually know what they are doing look at us as cavemen on the brink of extinction ....and don't even know it. We might as well still be using bows and arrows.
3. The future of mankind lies not on Earth but is in actually in Space. Serious nations and people know this and are developing the tools to (sadly) weaponize space. Eventually the earth itself will be abandoned as part of mankind moves to space.
And while serious human beings are looking towards a post human future, where will Africans be in all these?
Oh well, we have our great tribes to comfort us. Well, the Baboon or is it the Gorrilla is the king of monkeys , not so? And the fly is the king of maggots.
As long as my tribe is superior to all the other tribes, I'm O.K jor. Why shouldn't my tribe be the king or maggots and the giant amongst the baboons?