Boeing is developing a force field which could revolutionize warfare, protecting soldiers on the ground. The aerospace company recently received a patent for its work, titled "Method and system for shock wave attenuation via electromagnetic arc."

The energy field will be able to deflect shock waves from nearby explosions, as well as reduce the damage done by projectiles.

Several sensors are used to detect a nearby explosion or incoming projectile. This activates lasers in the device that ionize the air, creating a layer of plasma with a different temperature, density, and chemical makeup than the surrounding area.

It may be possible to use the device to protect soldiers in vehicles from being injured by improvised explosive devices (IED's) in the field of battle.

The sensors are able to determine the distance and direction of an incoming shock wave and form a field to absorb some of the impact. It will be possible to install the device on military vehicles and in buildings, to provide some protection for people housed within.

"Explosive devices are being used increasingly in asymmetric warfare to cause damage and destruction to equipment and loss of life. The majority of the damage caused by explosive devices results from shrapnel and shock waves... Shock wave damage is more difficult to prevent because shock waves can traverse an intermediate medium, including physical barriers," the patent for the force field states.

University of Leicester researchers were able to show, in 2014, how force fields could protect people and equipment on the ground during attacks. That earlier system also employed ionized air to absorb the impact of shock waves from explosions, or electromagnetic forces such as lasers. These impacts can be made to bounce off the force field in a manner similar to radio waves reflecting off the ionosphere. This paper was published in the Journal of Special Physics Topics.

Unlike force fields in Star Trek, Star Wars and other science fiction stories, this new invention from Boeing will not be able to directly deflect physical objects, such as bullets. However, absorbing shock waves could reduce the amount of damage sustained during attacks.

Due to the vast amount of energy required to form the force field, such protection would likely only last a short time, and probably would not protect the entire object. This would prevent the energy barrier from continually protecting a building or vehicle. It is also possible that the sudden ionization of the air could cause occupants of a building or vehicle to fall unconscious, reducing the likely use of the device, except under emergency conditions.

Shock waves can cause as much damage as shrapnel during battle conditions, a problem that could be reduced by the new device.

Photo: U.S. Army Europe Images | Flickr

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