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newscientist - Weapons Technology glossary
Category: Military and Defence > Weapons
Date & country: 14/12/2007, UK
Anti-tank rounds which contain extremely dense materials to help penetrate armour plating. Typically the dense material is depleted uranium (DU), a by-product of the nuclear industry, which is nearly twice as dense than lead. But the use of DU has prompted concerns that such weapons leave the environment contaminated with radioactive waste.
The term used to describe any technology to repel an incoming threat. For example aircraft now eject chaff - bits of foil - to confuse radar seeking missiles, while flares can distract heat-seekers. Another example is protecting helicopters from ground-based attackers by dazzling them with a low-powered laser.
Directed energy weapons
About the closest thing you get to a ray gun. This class of weapon directs electromagnetic energy at the target. The purpose of some is to make enemies feel â€œuncomfortableâ€? enough to surrender or retreat, without actually harming them. For example the Pentagon`s Active Denial System uses millimetre waves to induce a slight burning sensation on the skin. But concerns have been raised that it might also be capable of cooking the target.
This is the concept of launching missiles that cannot be re-directed afterwards. But after countless examples of these missiles hitting the wrong target, the military is developing missiles with communications technologies built in. Missiles like the US Navy`s SLAMER can now be steered into the target, even if it moves, or detonated in mid-air if the target is in some way compromised.
An experimental technology which aims to deflect armour piercing (or anti-tank) rounds. These munitions fragment on impact with armoured vehicles, creating clouds of superheated metal dust which helps pentrate the surface. 'Force field' coils beneath a tank's armour would induce huge electromagnetic fields just as an incoming shells hit, disrupting this dust.
Full spectrum dominance
A US military term. It means to be best at â€` or have the upper hand â€` with every aspect of a military operation. It is the stated ambition of US forces, operating unilaterally or in combination with allies, to defeat any adversary, and control any situation, across the full range of air, land and sea military operations.
Hafnium gamma bomb
This is still very much a theoretical nuclear weapon. But, if successfully developed, it would lead to near nuclear scale detonations but with little of the radioactive fallout. Such a weapon would release energy by prompting the unstable element hafnium to switch from one isomer to another. And it would bypass the Non-Proliferation Treaty on nuclear weapons, because it does not involve splitting the atom.
See non-lethal weapons.
Any weapon that uses magnetic fields, as opposed to chemical explosions, to accelerate projectiles or to focus a beam of charged particles at a target.
As the name states, a gun which fires a million-rounds-a-minute. Dubbed Metal Storm, it works by stacking hundreds of bullets nose-to-tail, each triggered electronically rather than by traditional mechanical means. Through careful design and by having tens of barrels firing simultaneously, the bullets are fired so rapidly, that they are separated by only a few centimetres. This creates a 'wall of metal' that could literally cut a target in half.
The steady introduction of water cannons, rubber bullets and Taser stun guns into civilian security forces has led to the term non-lethal weapons. However, although such weapons are designed not to kill people, they sometimes do, leading to the alternative term less-lethal weapons.
Pulsed energy projectiles
These are laser pulses that generate a burst of expanding plasma when they hit something solid â€` like a person. The weapon, destined for US military use in 2007, could literally knock rioters off their feet. PEPs produce temporary and severe pain, but supposedly leave victims otherwise unharmed.
Remote explosive scent-tracing
Any means of sniffing out landmines, or other explosive devices. For example, sniffer dogs or artificial noses.
A headset-mounted system for soldiers that will automatically work out where a sniper is by using microphones to track a bullet`s supersonic shock wave.
A broad range of weapons. From an acoustic laser designed to cause irritation, nausea or deafen the target, to a pulse of infrasound â€` low frequency noise â€` reported to induce involuntary loss of bowel control.
An as yet unapproved type of landmine which links up to 84 different unattended munitions by a network of tripwires which can be monitored by a remote operator. Having a controller, or 'man-in-the-loop', aims to reduce the chances of civilian casualties.
Nickname for the US Strategic Defense Initiative, a network of ground and space-based weapons systems designed to protect the US from a nuclear strike. Proposed by President Ronald Reagan in 1983, the system was eventually scrapped but led to the anti-ballistic missile systems now currently employed.
The name given to an extremely fast type of torpedo capable of travelling at speeds in excess of or 360 kilometres per hour, or 195 knots. Such speeds are only possible by massively reducing drag. This is done by enveloping the torpedo in a bubble generated at its tip, a phenomenon known as supercavitation. The Russian military are widely reported to have developed a torpedo, called the VA-111 Shkval, using this technology. In April 2006, the Iranian Navy claimed to have demonstrated such a weapon.
Taser area denial device
Conventional landmines are banned by the Ottawa Treaty, although several countries have refused to sign up, including the USA, China and Russia. New types of non-lethal landmine such as a Taser-style, electric-shock-based system incapacitate trespassers without explosives.
UCAV, UCGV and UCUV
Standing for uncrewed combat aerial-, uncrewed combat ground- or uncrewed combat underwater vehicles, these are the robotic fighting forces of the future. Remotely or autonomously operated vehicles equipped with a variety of weapons and no fear for their own safety.
US National Missile Defense
Also known as Son of Star Wars, this is the US military strategy to shield the entire country against any incoming intercontinental ballistic missiles, using a network of interceptor missiles and lasers. But critics say it does not â€` and probably will not â€` work.