Out of the hundreds and hundreds of technologies, tactics, and political maneuvers Defense Tech highlighted, here are the twenty you guys clicked on the most in 2006. Thanks for another great year, everyone.
1) Clowns Sabotage Nuke Missile
On Tuesday morning, a retired Catholic priest and two veterans put on clown suits, busted into a nuclear missile launch facility, and began beating the silo cover with hammers, in an attempt to take the Minuteman III missile off-line. Seriously.
2) Look Out, Pyongyang? Rail Gun in the Works
One of the big selling points of the Navy’s new destroyer is that it can rain a whole lot of hell — 20 rocket-propelled artillery shells, in less than a minute — on targets up to 63 nautical miles away… But really, that’s the start. The ship’s real power will come when it moves away from chemical powders to shoot its projectiles — and starts relying on electromagnetic fields to shoot projectiles almost six kilometers/second, instead.
3) SEAL Ship: Silent But Deadly
Every shipbuilder in the Navy these days talks about how his hulking destroyer or Cold War sub is now going to sneak SEALs onto shore… Military.com overlord Chris Michel was down in San Diego, and saw a pretty cool new prototype ship that’s been designed from scratch to handle the mission.
4) Air Force Plan: Hack Your Nervous System
The brain has always been a battlefield. New weapons might be able to hack directly into your nerve cells and neural pathways.
5) Marines Quiet About Brutal New Weapon
War is hell. But its worse when the Marines bring out their new urban combat weapon, the SMAW-NE. Which may be why theyre not talking about it, much.
6) Urban Combat Skateboard!
7) Replacement Arm, Good as New
Thought-controlled robotic limbs were only the beginning.
8) Robotic Frisbees of Death
It ain’t easy, picking out evil-doers in the urban canyons of the Middle East; there are so many places to hide. Taking ‘em out can be even harder, what with all those noncombatants hanging nearby. But the Air Force thinks it might have an answer to this most vexing problem in counter-insurgency: frisbees. Not just any frisbees, mind you. Robotic frisbees. Heavily armed robotic frisbees.
9) David and the Inflatable Goliath
Inside the Darpa project to build a humongous blimp that can haul 500‑1000 tons’ worth of soldiers and gear halfway across the world in less than a week.
10) Falcon Fills Blackbird’s Shoes
A decade after the final retirement of Lockheed Martin’s Mach-3 SR-71 Blackbird spy plane, the Air Force is preparing to test a plane that flies more than three times as fast. Two Falcon Hypersonic Test Vehicles, built by Lockheed Martin with input from NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa), will take to the air in 2008. The $100-million program aims to field a Mach-10 unmanned aircraft that can spy on foreign powers, drop bombs or even lob satellites into orbit.
11) Giant Slingshot: New Way to Space?
All space projects get into orbit pretty much the same way by burning lots of rocket fuel, a spaceship powers itself past the sky. But what if there was a different approach? What if we could throw something so hard, it would wind up in space?
12) Facial Armor Rears Its Ugly Head
No matter how many times soldiers and marines say they’re not interested, there’s always someone trying to wrap them up in heavier, hotter, more uncomfortable armor. The latest culprit: MTek Weapon Systems, which is pushing Stormtrooper-esque “facial armor” for our troops.
13) Air Force’s Secret Drone Program Revealed
A new, $1.7 billion, “Penetrating High Altitude Endurance” drone is thought to be able to cruise at 70,000–80,000 ft,soaring high above defended territory.
14) CIA’s Wacky, Online ‘Personality Quiz’
These are tough times for the Central Intelligence Agency. But can things have grown so dire at Langley that the CIA has to resort to gimmicks like this wink-wink-trying-to-be-ironic-and-cool-but-instead-looking-even-more-dorky recruiting website?
15) Pain Ray, Sonic Blaster, Laser Dazzler — All in One
For a while, now, I’ve been hearing about the Defense Department’s plans to outfit a fighting vehicle with a pain ray, a sonic blaster, and a laser dazzler, too. I never figured they’d actually send the thing to Iraq, though. Project Sheriff, I assumed, would just be the military equivalent of a concept car — a chance to see if some whiz-bang gear really worked together. But the Pentagon may wind up deploying this straight-outta-sci-fi jalopy, after all.
16) Battle Ball for Sailor Training
Check out the Navy’s nine-foot plastic ball. It sits on wheels, enabling unlimited rotation in any direction — making virtual reality feel a whole lot more real.
17) Chinese Laser vs. U.S. Sats?
Was it just China Hawks’ hype? Or did Beijing really blind U.S. satellites by firing high-powered lasers at ‘em? And what does that mean for the future of America’s eyes and ears in the sky?
18) The Tech That Took Out Zarqawi
Ten years ago, taking out Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi with F-16s would have been an impossible task. Not any more.
19) ‘Invisible’ Boomerang ‘Bot
It’s nice to have a set of robotic eyes in the sky. But surveillance drones tend to be loud, and rather obvious, as they keep watch above a Middle Eastern city. That’s why a small company out of Minneapolis, VeraTech Areo, has built a hand-held spy drone that it says is practically invisible.
20) Area 51: Hype vs. Reality
A veteran aviation journo writes about secret airplanes he believes might be under development at the Air Force’s remote Groom Lake test facility in Nevada, a.k.a. Area 51. How much proof does he have?
(Big ups: Slate, and their surprising top ten stories of the year. And, and a note to Long Tailers: two of these posts were actually from ’05.)