This war in Ukraine has shown us terrible things. Regardless of the two sides in the conflict, I feel so sad for those soldiers dying inside after their tank has been hit by a missile. Due to this I am wondering how nowadays tanks can still be considered safe for their crew?
Two methods are used to pierce the armor of a tank: a shaped charge and a kinetic penetrator. In the first case a conically shaped high-explosive charge, once it impacts the tank, generates a high-speed and high-temperature jet of channeled heat that perforates the armor and then expands inside by generating secondary explosions. In the second case a very high speed penetrator made of very hard material such as Tungsten or depleted Uranium is able to create a hole in the armor by generating shrapnel once inside plus mechanical energy turned into thermal energy. Only in the case of a shaped charge it is often possible to repel or neutralize the heat jet that is created by destroying it before it reaches the surface of the tank: this is obtained using so called “reactive armor”, made of many explosive elements that are all around the tank, one of which explodes outwards exactly at the point at which a heat jet is expected to impact; the exact position is given by electronic sensors which alert the tank about the exact direction of the threating attack.
Apart from some devices for defense it seems that with the anti-tank technology of today (and partly also of the past) there is no safe vehicle in the battlefield. Is there any possible solution to this problem? There would be one only if we assume the technology of today is able to realize it.
Let’s consider the physical parameter called pressure, and take three components of it into account: thermal pressure, kinetic pressure and magnetic pressure. The first two deal with the two described weapon systems able to pierce a tank’s armor, while the third would be the defense to this kind of attack. How?
The idea is to wrap the entire tank, or even a simpler armored vehicle, with a sort of magnetic barrier made of many spot-like actuators along the entire surface of the vehicle, and then to activate an exceptionally strong magnetic field at the spot of the impact that is predicted by the 360° sensors. What we want to obtain is this: develop a magnetic pressure per unit area that is greater than: a) the thermal pressure developed by a heat jet; b) the kinetic pressure developed by a high-speed solid penetrator. And we want to do this not all over the surface of the tank but only at the specific transiently activated spot where the impact is predicted.
Clearly the energy required to obtain such an enormous magnetic pressure, able to counteract the projectile coming from outside, can be obtained only if we are able to develop an enormous quantity of electric energy. We would need a gigantic dynamo able to accomplish all of this, and the tank’s weight would be at least 10 times greater than the standard 50 tons weight of a standard tank. We would have a vehicle that is at least 50 meters long, and with an almost zero maneuverability. Really an impossible task, and totally useless.
What if we avoid a dynamo to produce the necessary electric field in order to generate a super-concentrated magnetic field? What else could we use? There is nothing else than hoping to extract energy from the quantum vacuum – otherwise called “zero point energy” (ZPE). In spite of the fact that through experiments (Casimir’s one, in particular) and theoretical models we already know that the quantum vacuum at the Planck scale exerts a pressure on the “external world”, we do not know yet how to extract an enormous quantity of this energy in a very short time. If we were able (and maybe we well be able in the future) to do this, we wouldn’t need at all to use locally a heavy dynamo but rather only open a tap to an inexhaustible source of energy which is at the base of the Universe at a subatomic scale, and activate it transiently according to our needs. One of them would be, in fact, to find the energy source to produce an enormous magnetic pressure able to counteract thermal and kinetic pressure generated by an external threating projectile.
But we would have to solve another problem: the more electric energy we transmit to a conductor such as a metal is the more electrical resistance we would create, which would manifest as a sudden increase in temperature. This would destroy immediately our tank. Unless we use superconducting materials, or “metamaterials” (nowadays under experiment in labs), able to sustain enormous electric currents without heating considerably. In this case we would have the situation in full control.
If we were able to do so we would have a magnetically armored vehicle whose surface would be completely covered with superconducting material able to sustain an enormous quantity of electrical energy then converted into magnetic one obtained, on demand, by a device able to tap the zero point energy at will. Probably Nikola Tesla had intuited this a century ago, but strangely experiments stopped.
It would be nice to have at our disposal a vehicle whose weight is ten times less than a normal tank’s, extremely agile and fast in the battlefield, able to counteract every incoming and targeting projectile (heat-driven or mechanical). This kind of vehicle would be then virtually impenetrable, unless the technology of rail guns capable of shooting hypersonic projectiles (under testing now) is able to produce a kinetic pressure that is greater than the reacting magnetic pressure.
Most of the war of the future would be mainly electronic, aimed at jamming on the electronics of this kind of tanks in order to burn it using EM pulses of radiation. Therefore these tanks should be shielded also from EM pulses. The enemy would try to destroy the electronics that allows to extract the necessary energy to produce the magnetic shield so that destruction of the tanks using simple high-explosive projectiles would be easy. Or it could use hypersonic kinetic projectiles in order to break the magnetic barrier.
What is interesting here is that if such a technology can be realized then this would mean the end of the concept of an extremely heavy “armored tank”, to be replaced by extremely agile vehicles that are not much heavier than a heavy big truck. And the good news here is that the lighter is a vehicle the easier would be to make them able to fly. In fact also the fighters and bombers of the future would be shielded using the same technology, based on: a) the capability to extract energy from the ZPE to convert it into magnetic energy; b) the capability to sustain enormous electrically driven temperatures using superconductive materials.
The same kind of technology could be used to protect interplanetary and interstellar spacecrafts from the impact of little asteroids, stones or debris, and probably from the radiation pressure of high-energy particles too.
We know now what we would do, but we do not know yet how to do this, so far. Surely “others” are already doing this, maybe also on our planet if they occasionally visit it. And maybe the ability to tap the zero point energy would allow them to fly in space, being able to counteract the gravity force too.
A perfect and inexhaustible propulsion system coupled with a perfect magnetic super-shield.
We are now able to see where exactly the magic castle is: just there on the top of that far hill. We can see it very well using our binoculars. Between the castle and us there are many obstacles to overcome before arriving to it. And yet we want to arrive to it, and we also will reach the task, just like many others in the Universe before us.