Unless I am mistaken, the United States and its allies spend countless millions (billions?) of dollars a year developing weapons technology. For example, the stealth technology that is used in our most sophisticated warplanes, However the weapons we use to fight wars on the ground; guns, mortars and tanks, are not that different than what we used 10, 20, or even 30 years ago.
My guess is that most of that money went into space weapons, nuclear weapons, biological weapons, drones and surveillance satellites that the average soldier doesn’t use in every day combat situations, okay, they do use satellites for GPS and drones for remote targeting, but I had assumed that the laser weapons we heard about in the 1960s would exist in one form or another by now. I believe they even developed some kind of sonic weapon that can be used, but it’s not exactly lethal.
So where are the super advanced weapons that we have been spending all that money on?
The ones that panned out are in use today. Drones, cruise missiles, high tech ammunition, targeting systems, low light and infrared vision, light weight body armor.
The stuff that didn’t pan out … didn’t pan out.
Don’t neglect the fact that billions in R&D each year is simply spent on improving existing systems. For example, the budget for making improvements to the F-22 – like making its radar work better with new features, and so on – is about half a billion dollars per year.
If you look across the DoD’s R&D budget in any particular year, the purposes of the budget roughly break out thusly:
20% - science and technology activities, anything from basic scientific research on the nature of the universe to developing early prototypes of advanced capabilities;
20% - early development activities that move prototypes into mature engineered systems;
15% - refinement of those mature systems into readiness for production;
5% - maintaining the infrastructure to test weapons; and
40% - improvements to fielded systems.
Thanks fiddlesticks. I was thinking of a weapon that could shoot a high energy pulse that would disrupt a person’s heart rhythm leading to their death. It would be pretty gruesome to watch, but it would be immediately incapacitating.
Is it possible that such a weapon, or something similar, exists but hasn’t been deployed because we haven’t had to use it and don’t want to spill the beans to our enemies?
A secret weapon can’t be one used by your average grunts, because in short order it isn’t secret. A secret weapon is one you haven’t used in combat except on a few secret missions to field test it.
Drones are a perfect example of a weapons category that has only been in use in the last decade or so. Before they were in widespread use during the Iraq War/War on Terror they were a “secret” weapon because your average guy hadn’t heard about them and didn’t know what they were capable of. But now that we’re using them to bomb people they’re hard to keep secret.
So the problem is that if a weapon is really secret we don’t know about it, and if we know about it, it isn’t secret. So therefore asking what secret weapons we have in reserve is useless.
If you just mean “new types of weapons” then there are plenty of those. It is true that there hasn’t been a radical change in the design or operation or effectiveness of assault rifles or mortars in 40 years. But troops today have all sorts of sensors and communications equipment that they didn’t have 40 years ago.
For things like new tanks or vehicles or airplanes the development of them can’t be too secret since they have to be paid for, and then actually used. There is a small area for secret spyplanes, but even that has been mostly superseded by satellites and drones. Or you could count things like the NSA where it was kinda secret that they were tracking pretty much all electronic communication in the world, but most professional terrorists must have assumed that the US could read anyone’s email at will. Bin Ladin famously didn’t allow anyone carrying a phone to come near his secret hideout, he didn’t know exactly what the NSA could do with someone’s phone but he knew that phones were radically insecure to the NSA.
Yeah, we have such a weapon. It delivers the energy pulse in the form of kinetic energy which is capable of ripping the human heart apart. Or the human head, or arm, or spleen. Usually a high-speed chemical reaction powers the kinetic energy pulse, and the kinetic pulse itself is a coherent packet of high atomic-number isotopes.
But most of these things are showy and make for good press (invisible robo-soldiers?! Awesome!) rather than being practical on the field. That’s where the previously mentioned advanced intelligence gathering and more capable (traditional) weapons systems and radar-defeating technology and better vehicle armor and that sort of thing comes in.
Does anyone know what the mission objectives of the X-37 series are? It’s obviously hard to hide a launch into orbit, and the third mission has been up there for getting on two years, but the purpose remains murky. I suggest there has been some secret spend here.
There is a vast array of weapons being developed and improved that doesn’t always make the news. It’s there all the same. Some of them are actually decades old, but they don’t get a lot of publicity. Sometimes, I suspect, the military wants to keep them something of a secret. But if you look, you can find lots of unusual and non-obvious weapons. A few examples:
Flechette guns – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Needlegun
Non-nuclear EMP (NNEMP) weapons were secret, until deployed against Iraq; and technically for some time after, since there wasn’t much more than rumor about them IIRC.
“Van Eck phreaking” (reading computers via their emitted electromagnetic radiation) is an odd case I understand. It was both secret and widely known for some time; the NSA officially denied it was possible for years, even to other government agencies; while at the same time there were books available in public libraries that talked about it. So, it was more secret the more “in the know” you supposedly were; companies and criminals used it to spy on companies and government agencies who thought it was impossible, because they thought they knew better than to believe in it. Meanwhile there were people like me who had no idea it was supposedly a secret; after all, if it was secret I wouldn’t be reading about it in those public library books, right?
Obviously, regular people don’t hear about the super-secret programs, but a lot of the formerly secret programs become unclassified developmental prototypes that are fun to watch. Just off the top of my head, there have been some big name programs that have been cancelled or significantly modified in the last few decades or so:
The stealth helicopter Comanche
Sea Shadow stealth ship
The Land Warrior program for networked cyber-soldier and the OICW weapon that was supposed to go with them enabling battlefield tracking for allies, the ability to shoot from behind cover, air-burst munitions that’d explode over enemies hiding behind cover, etc. (or its also-cancelled derivative the XM8 space marine rifle)
There are also technologies that are still seeing gradual development and adoption:
The aforementioned drones, exoskeletons, and the active denial system heat ray
“Next-gen” aircraft like the F-22 and F-35, and their successors
Acoustic/laser sniper triangulation sensors
Osprey tilt-rotor troop transports
Robots like the “big dog” for transporting equipment, little ground drones for taking care of bombs, flying insects or small person-launched drones for scouting
Unmanned turrets used on vehicles like the Stryker (instead of a person behind a machine gun)
And those are just the ones you hear about from news articles and video games.
Keep in mind that the average US soldier is already better equipped, better trained, better nourished and better supported than almost any adversary he is likely to face. Our primary difficulty these days isn’t achieving technological superiority against an adversary, but “keeping the peace” and minimizing bad PR from civilian casualties and failed coups/nation-building.
The fancy futuristic stuff isn’t really to deal with the Middle East, whose decades-old Soviet (and donated modern American) tech still occupies most of our attention these days. The R&D continues to support our arms races with real or perceived threats from Russia and China, and you likely won’t hear much about those developments until one of those superpowers starts strutting their stuff more and we feel a need to puff up in response.
Nobody seems to have mentioned the successor to the SR-71 Blackbird, which was retired in 1998. I know there’s supposed to be an SR-72 flying by 2023, (according to press releases) but surely there’s something in use now?
If there is a successor aircraft, it is a well-kept secret. When the Blackbird was retired it was said that satellite recon did the same job for less money. Aurora was the long-rumored “next-gen” Blackbird. Hard to imagine “Aurora” actually exists at this point.
The mysterious Air Force X-37 mentioned by Baron Greenback may be a combo satellite/Blackbird-like asset. There’s nothing publicly acknowledged about its capabilities.