Quote: "There's a certain entity within the Pentagon that's quite (in)famous for developing terrifying robots, advanced weapons and futuristic tech. It's called the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or, as most people know it, DARPA: the Department of Defense's "mad science" division. While all the machines coming out of the agency make it seem like its sole purpose is to build a killer-robot army, DARPA has many, many other projects to speak of. In fact, DARPA's at the heart of some of the most significant technological advances of our time. Hell, there might not be an internet to read this article on if DARPA didn't create it.
HOW DID IT BEGIN?President Dwight Eisenhower founded DARPA way back in 1958 in order to develop cutting-edge technologies for the United States. Originally known as ARPA (same meaning, but without "Defense"), it was created as a response to the Soviet Union's successful launch of Sputnik, which, according to DARPA itself, signaled that "a fundamental change was needed in America's defense science and technology programs." Since then, it's been involved in several technological milestones; for instance, it developed an early networking system that went live in 1969 called the ARPANET. It's one of the networks that eventually led to creation of the internet, which, suffice it to say, changed the world. Love Siri or Cortana? You can thank DARPA for those virtual assistants, too, as its Speech Understanding Research (SUR) program in the 1970s played a key role in advancing speech recognition technology widely in use today.
HOW DOES IT OPERATE?Despite being part of the Pentagon, DARPA operates independently from the Defense Department's military research division. Its personnel are divided into groups led by a manager, with each one tackling a particular issue the agency wants to address. These teams are free to look for ideas that would solve the problems they're given both from within and outside the organization. DARPA then provides each group with anywhere from $10 to $40 million in funding. Some projects receive far less funding, but big projects could get up to $100 million. If you're wondering, the agency had a $2.78 billion budget for the 2014 fiscal year and is currently requesting $2.91 billion for fiscal year 2015.
So, what is DARPA doing with the people's money, exactly? Here are some of its most prominent, wackiest and latest projects:
ROBOTSOne of the first robotic projects DARPA has ever funded is Shakey the robot, which began development in 1966. Shakey was a multi-purpose machine on wheels that could perform menial tasks like switching lights on or off. These days, the agency's probably most known for its advanced machines, some of which look undeniably unnerving. These include a number of Boston Dynamics creations, such as the four-legged Cheetah, which later became known as WildCat, that can sprint faster than Usain Bolt. BigDog, one of the company's other DARPA-funded projects, is also a four-legged machine designed to traverse tricky terrains while carrying heavy supplies and equipment.
Other than those two quadrupeds, Boston Dynamics continues to refine its disaster-response humanoid machine, called Atlas, for the agency. It's even preparing the biped to walk without a tether before the year ends. When the company was acquired by Google last year, it promised that it would still fulfill its military contracts. But as Mountain View made it clear that it won't be pursuing government funding, it's likely that we won't be seeing a new DARPA-funded Boston Dynamics robot again. Don't worry -- it's not like the agency doesn't have other ways to look for outstanding ideas to add to its roster.
DARPA also hosts an annual Robotics Challenge, with the intention of funding the one that wins top honors. This year's ongoing contest is looking for a humanoid robot to serve as first responder in times of disaster. Sadly, the strongest contender just dropped out, because (surprise, surprise) Google bought SCHAFT, the Japanese company that designed it, last year. SCHAFT is now gearing up to produce the first retail Google robots, so the acquisition sounds like a good thing... unless you're worried that Mountain View's forming a robotic infantry of its own.
DARPA's bionic limbs have also been making headlines in recent years -- after all, the division has already sunk $150 million into its prosthetics program. Its earliest mind-controlled bionic arms have been serving their owners for years: The first woman and fourth patient to get one had hers attached back in 2006. Even so, the agency's not resting on its laurels and hasn't stopped trying to come up with better products. In 2013, DARPA took a project that's developing a low-cost, three-fingered artificial arm under its wing and also started working on a brain-controlled arm that can feel. Just this May, the FDA certified the DARPA-funded "Luke" arm, which can understand several commands at once and was developed by the same man who designed the Segway.
They're not as widely known as their robotic counterparts, but DARPA's also funding several projects that deal with medical technology. One, for instance, is working on a brain implant to help with psychological issues soldiers usually deal with, such as PTSD and extreme depression. Another one's attempting to conjure up a liquid-to-foam substance to stop bleeding instantly. In other words, the division's heavily investing in medicine for the military, which brings us to the next entry...
Hey, DARPA's part of the Pentagon, so it goes without saying that it plays a huge role in developing new military technologies. In 2011, the division tested a hypersonic weapon by flying it across the Pacific Ocean, while it signed a $6 million contract to develop highly accurate laser-equipped sniper scopes last year. More recently, the agency unveiled a head-mounted display that tracks friends and enemies alike and lets soldiers communicate with each other.
Of course, DARPA wouldn't be DARPA if it wasn't brewing something totally out of this world. Some of its crazier-than-usual projects include developing the technology to climb walls like Spider-Man, as well as designing stealthy hybrid bikes for covert operations. "Plan X" sounds like its wildest idea to date, though, as it ultimately aims to turn the real world into 3D that military personnel can access via an Oculus Rift. In this crazy virtual world right out of the movies, soldiers would be able to shoot down hackers like on the battlefield.
Drone initiatives are par for the course, as well. Apparently, DARPA's in the process of turning old surveillance drones into WiFi hotspots, conjuring up a design for drones that can transform into whatever the military needs and developing robotic sea pods that release drones on cue.
SPACEYou didn't think an agency as forward-thinking as DARPA would limit itself to Earthbound technologies, did you? One of its space programs, called XS-1, is working toward building an unmanned spacecraft that would be a lot cheaper to fly than current models. Then there's the Phoenix program, which aims not only to salvage working parts from dead satellites, but also to send robots to space to assemble satellites on the spot. Also, DARPA's been working on the Space Surveillance Telescope since 2002 in hopes of providing a means to capture images of small objects floating around, including space debris that could collide with and destroy military satellites.
As you'd expect, a military agency that receives billions in funding is bound to have its share of controversies. In 2011, it was discovered that DARPA signed a $1.7 million contract with a bomb-detection firm owned by the family of its then director, Regina Dugan. That even prompted the Pentagon to conduct an ethics probe on the agency, though it was later cleared of any wrongdoing. Still, controversy followed Dugan when she left DARPA for Google, especially since a Washington federal appeals court ruled that any Google-NSA relationship could remain a secret, just as she made the transfer. Needless to say, that development led people to wonder whether DARPA had anything to do with the NSA's efforts to snoop on Gmail accounts.
WANT TO KNOW MORE?Think of DARPA as a huge octopus, with too many tentacles to count -- you can't really tell what it's doing unless you focus on it. If you truly want to know the scope of its countless projects, you can follow the agency on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and YouTube, where it not only reports newly signed contracts, but also posts updates to older ones. [Image credit: DARPA (BigDog); DEKA (Prosthetic arm); AP Photo/Chitose Suzuki (Brain implant); Breaking Defense (Heads-up display)]
Go to: http://www.engadget.com/2014/07/07/darpa-explainer/?ncid=edpicks&google_editors_picks=true
Quote: "Super-EMP Weapons
for generating high-altitude E1 electromagnetic pulse
by Jerry Emanuelson
There are two possible classes of weapons that may be described as enhanced-EMP nuclear weapons. One is based on commonly known physics, and I will describe it briefly below. This first type, although never tested above ground, almost certainly exists now in the arsenals of several countries.
The second type is often claimed to exist, often by very reliable sources, but virtually nothing has been made publicly known about this novel type of weapon. This makes most of what can be said about this second type mostly speculative. What is written elsewhere on this site, including what is written below about the first type of enhanced EMP weapons, is based on known physics or on de-classified documents from military services or national laboratories.
We know about the first type of enhanced EMP weapons because the nuclear weapons tested before 1963, including those that caused significant EMP damage, may be considered to be suppressed-EMP weapons. If one were trying to minimize the EMP from those weapons, particularly the E1 component, they could hardly have done a better job. The E1 pulse arises from gamma rays, and from the effect of those gamma rays hitting the mid-stratosphere in the presence of a strong geomagnetic field.
If you wish to minimize the E1 component:
(1) Use a very thick and dense layer of chemical explosive around the nuclear material to trigger the reaction.
(2) Use a very thick and dense steel casing on the entire exterior of the weapon.
(3) Set off a very small fission explosion microseconds before the major (mostly fusion) thermonuclear explosion.
(4) Detonate the device where the geomagnetic field is relatively weak.
The numbers in parenthesis in the comments below refer to the numbered statements immediately above.
In above-ground nuclear testing, they did (1) because they had to with the technology that existed then. They did (2) because they were trying to maximize the explosive power of the weapon, so they had to have a thick steel casing that would hold things together for as many milliseconds as possible. What little they knew then about EMP was mostly regarded as a nuisance.
They did (3) whenever they were testing thermonuclear weapons (also known as "hydrogen bombs") because it was the only way to trigger the second (thermonuclear) stage. It didn't occur to anyone that this first fission explosion would ionize the upper half of the stratosphere, and minimize the EMP from high-altitude explosions. Even if they had known this, it is very unlikely that they would have done more single-stage testing since (at that time) they still regarded EMP as mostly a nuisance (but something possibly useful for detecting nuclear explosions in another country).
For the most part, they did (4) because much of the U.S. testing was in the near-equatorial regions of the mid-Pacific. (It was a convenient location for many reasons, and especially for doing tests of very large weapons.) Actually, 3 of the first 6 high-altitude nuclear tests of the United States were done in the South Atlantic Anomaly, where the geomagnetic field is at its very lowest. Although the majority of the United States tests were in Nevada, they were all smaller tests and none of them were done at high altitude. Except for the those Nevada tests and the very first test (which was done in New Mexico), all of the other tests on the U.S. mainland were done underground (including a 5 megaton underground test in Alaska).
Soviet high-altitude testing was done at higher latitudes, including one 40 kiloton high-altitude nuclear test (the Thunder test) in 1961 high above Stalingrad (now Volgograd) that would surely have produced a large EMP. This may be why the Soviets seemed to know about high-altitude EMP before the U.S. knew about its unusual intensity. (Soviet scientists have released details about their 1962 nuclear EMP tests, but nothing about the EMP from their earlier tests.)
So the simplest way of making an enhanced-EMP weapon is simply not to do (1), (2), (3) or (4). Simply using more modern materials to avoid (1) and (2), even if the casing has to be so thin that it sacrifices some of the explosive power of the weapon, could easily increase the number of gamma rays emitted from the weapon by a factor of 10. A huge increase.
To avoid (3), use only a single stage weapon, not a two-stage thermonuclear. To maximize the nuclear reaction, you probably would want to use a boosted fission method. In other words, use some of the lithium deuteride that is generally used as the "thermonuclear" part of the weapon, but use it only within the concentric shells of the single-stage weapon in order to get as much of the fissionable material to fission as possible. For the same reason, use a lot of precisely timed high-output neutron guns at the instant of detonation.
With some basic physics knowledge and our current knowledge of high-altitude EMP, a weapon could easily be made that generates dramatically more gamma radiation, and that is far more efficient in turning that gamma radiation into electromagnetic pulse. In other words, any nuclear weapons state could easily create a weapon that would produce more than 25,000 volts per meter across the entire continental United States if it is detonated 250 miles (400 kilometers) above the approximate center of the continental United States.
In addition, there are ways to generate an even larger amount of gamma rays with a two-stage thermonuclear weapon using a well-shielded primary (fission) stage and a carefully designed secondary. The design and deployment of an optimal weapon of this design is much more complicated than the single-stage weapon, but the knowledge necessary to design these more sophisicated weapons is becoming increasingly well known. One cannot keep the laws of physics a secret.
Now, we will leave the realm of commonly known physics and enter an area that is somewhat speculative. There have been many claims about the existence of what are called super-EMP nuclear weapons that can generate electric fields of 200,000 volts per meter. The open scientific literature only describes the operation of first or second generation nuclear weapons which are capable of producing a maximum EMP field strength of about 50,000 volts per meter on the ground (slightly to the equatorial side of the detonation point). Maximum field strengths near the horizon would be limited to about half of this value, or 25,000 volts per meter. The reason that the maximum field strength is slightly to the equatorial side of the detonation point (in other words, south of the detonation in the northern hemisphere) is that this is where the high-energy Compton electrons start to move through the Earth's magnetic field at nearly a 90 degree angle.
Obtaining field strengths that are higher than this is difficult due to saturation effects that completely ionize the mid-stratosphere where the electromagnetic pulse is generated. Basically, the process of generating the EMP in the middle of the stratosphere very quickly causes this region to become a fairly good electrical conductor, and therefore incapable of generating any additional EMP.
The E1 EMP from a nuclear weapon is generated from gamma rays emitted by the weapon within the first microsecond after the nuclear detonation. One way of enhancing the EMP is simply to make sure that the weapon is constructed so that as much of the gamma radiation as possible escapes from the weapon and is radiated into the upper atmosphere in a wide area below the detonation. This can be done as described in the first section above. The (relatively) gamma-ray-transparent casing only needs to be on the lower side of the weapon. The gamma radiation that is emitted upward into outer space is wasted.
The high-explosives on the earliest known nuclear weapons was quite thick, as was the very heavy outer casing. Even in the case of the 1952 super-oralloy fission weapon, which was quite sophisticated for its time, the chemical high-explosive surrounding the spherical shell of U-235 was 44 centimeters thick.
When most people talk about super-EMP weapons, though, they are generally talking about nuclear weapons that can generate field strengths of much more than 50,000 volts per meter. This would require a much different design than "ordinary" nuclear weapons. Staff members of the United States EMP Commission have stated that there are nuclear weapons in existence that can generate 200,000 volts per meter below the detonation and 100,000 volts per meter near the horizon. This would have to be done by generating gamma radiation with energy levels that are far in excess of the energy levels (of about 2 million electron volts) generated by nuclear weapons described in open publications -- and by also generating a pulse of these gamma rays very rapidly.
In first and second generation nuclear weapons, the prompt gamma radiation reaches its peak a few tens of nanoseconds after the nuclear detonation begins. In super-EMP weapons, it is likely that the gamma radiation would reach its peak output within a nanosecond or two of the beginning of the nuclear reaction. One consequence of this is that the frequency components in these super-EMP weapons would be much higher, making the problem of shielding and transient protection much more difficult than simply protecting against higher field strengths.
The references to open literature describing super-EMP weapons outside of the United States can be found in a publication called "The Emerging EMP Threat to the United States" by Dr. Mark Schneider of National Institute for Public Policy (November 2007). It can be downloaded at:
http://www.nipp.org/Publication/Downloads/Publication Archive PDF/EMP Paper Final November07.pdf
The problem with the important references in Dr. Schneider's paper is that they are available at the Open Source Center, at http://www.opensource.gov, which is only available to employees or contractors of the U.S. federal government who have a specific need to access these documents. The referenced documents are not secret or otherwise classified documents in the normal sense, but they are nevertheless very difficult for the average citizen to obtain.
Also available are a number of documents about the super-EMP weapons designed and built by the United States. The weapons produced by the United States are known as High-Power Radio Frequency (HPRF) nuclear weapons. (Adding to the confusion, though, the phrase "high-power radio frequency" weapons has also been used to describe certain kinds of non-nuclear weapons.) A number of documents about this nuclear HPRF program have actually been released; but, for obvious reasons, the bulk of the content has been deleted before the documents were released to the public. There is just enough content there to likely confirm the existence of super-EMP weapons produced by the United States, or at least a former program to produce such weapons. For example, see:
The most worrisome aspect of these super-EMP weapons is the possibility that the construction process might be rather straightforward. Beyond the rather complex industrial capacity that it takes to produce a basic nuclear weapon, it may be that the only additional thing required to produce a super-EMP weapon is the knowledge of how to do it. If this is the case, then any country with a nuclear weapons program may be able to produce a super-EMP weapon without too much additional difficulty.
Although no details about super-EMP weapons are given in open publications by anyone who knows about these weapons, there is a strong implication in the statements of those who have studied the reports about those weapons that the enhanced gamma radiation weapons would have a comparatively low total energy yield. This means that weapons with an unusually intense E1 output would not cause a large E3 output. If this is the case, then they would be very destructive to electronic devices, but would not produce the large DC-like currents that would be likely to destroy large numbers of the largest transformers in the electrical power grid.
There is a possibility of a separate class of advanced super-EMP weapons that can be made using multi-stage thermonuclear techniques. In 1987, a former highly-skilled Los Alamos nuclear weapons designer wrote an article in Scientific American in which he stated that some types of thermonuclear weapons can be designed where up to 20 percent of the weapon yield would be in the form of gamma radiation. (Theodore B. Taylor, "Third-Generation Nuclear Weapons", Scientific American. April 1987. Vol. 256, No. 4. pages 30-39.) This Scientific American article implies that it is possible to make weapons that are capable of causing both a very large E1 and and a very large E3 component of the EMP." Go to: http://www.futurescience.com/emp/super-EMP.html