A force field that can protect vehicles from the destructive blastwaves thrown out by explosions has been development by aircraft manufacturer Boeing.
The company has been granted a patent for a device that appears to work like the fictional shields seen in science fiction movies like Star Wars and Star Trek.
The system works by using an ‘arc generator’ to rapidly heat the air in front of a shockwave creating a cloud of electrically charged gas.
This, Boeing says, creates a buffer that can refract, deflect and absorb the energy contained within the shockwave.
They say the device could be mounted on vehicles such as tanks and armoured personnel carriers, buildings, aircraft, ships and submarines
They claim the device could work both in the air and underwater, helping to protect assets from rockets, landmines, torpedoes and Improvised Explosive Devices.
Writing in the patent, Boeing said: ‘The majority of the damage caused by explosive devices results from shrapnel and shockwaves.
‘Damage from shrapnel may be prevented by, for example, physical barriers. ‘Shockwaves are travelling discontinuities in pressure, temperature, density and other physical qualities through a medium such as the ambient atmosphere.
‘Shockwave damage is more difficult to prevent because shockwaves can traverse an intermediate medium including physical barriers.
‘Damage from shockwaves may be lessened or prevented by interposing an attenuating material between the shockwave source and the object to be protected.’
Blastwaves thrown out from explosions often cause more widespread damage than the immediate blast area, often structural damage to vehicles and buildings.
The high pressures and temperatures created by shockwaves can also cause secondary explosions.
Recent research has also shown that blastwaves can cause devastating internal injuries to soldiers, particularly when in the enclosed space of a vehicle.
Boeing’s patent proposes using sensors that can detect the light or other electromagentic radiation – such as microwaves or infrared light – thrown out by explosion.
This would then trigger an ‘arc generator’ to produce a temporary force field between the vehicle or building and the advancing shockwave.
It says this could be created using lasers or microwaves to rapidly heat the air in front of the vehicle to produce an area of electrically charged gas, or plasma.
This change in medium would interfere with the oncoming shockwave and help to deflect its force from hitting the vehicle, says Boeing.
It also claims that the arc generator could create a powerful electric current within just a few milliseconds to create an electric art through the air.
This would heat the gas and change its density to interfere with the path of the shockwave.
Boeing also proposes that the arc generator could be a gun that fires multiple pellets on converging paths, leaving a trail of ions in their wake like tracer bullets.
These would form conductive channels through the air through which a voltage could be traced.
It also says the arc generator could also fire projectiles training conductive wires that would also heat the air to create a medium that would remove energy from the shockwave.
The patent said: ‘When the shockwave created by an explosion reaches the arc, the shockwave deforms the arc in directions perpendicular to the conductive channels.
‘Specifically the shockwave pushes the ionised air created by or making up the arc inward and the current tends to flow where the air is ionised.
‘This movement by the shockwave may do mechanical work against the magentic field force and remove energy from the shockwave making it weaker.’
It also says that by forming the shield in the shape of a convex lens, it can deflect the energy from the shockwave.
As the density of the charged air in the forcefield is different from the surrounding air it would also cause the shockwave to be refracted.
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