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In this issue NanoNews-Now Editor Rocky Rawstern and contributing writers Galen Fous and Chris Phoenix cover nanotechnology and the military. Join us as we review nanotech at war.

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Nanotechnology and Warfare


Courtesy of and ©
US Army Natick Soldier Center
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Galen Fous, November 2003

Nanotech-enabled military hardware - from the combat soldier to ultra complex space-based nanobot arsenals - will make any current Weapons of Mass Destruction seem as primitive as the sticks and stones used by low-tech Neanderthal warriors.

In the short-term future of the next ten years, the US Army's Natick Soldier Center in Massachusetts is developing the next generation of super destructive/invincible warriors. Jean Louis D'gay of the Future Warrior Project states in a recent Small Times article, "We are redesigning the soldier from the skin out - an F-16 fighter aircraft on legs."

Comparisons to the Terminator will not be an exaggeration. A long list of new nanotechnologies are being applied to: impenetrable t-shirt weight fabrics; strong, lightweight materials for weapons; visioning systems attached to helmets or goggles that can see through walls; uniforms with built-in, wireless communication networks that link soldier's whispers and vision locally and to command centers anywhere on earth; smart bullets that are the equivalent of heat seeking missiles; nanobots in uniforms are also being designed to make the soldier physically stronger, faster, even invisible. "Nanotechnology in textiles will mean soldiers will only have to use 15 to 20% of their strength." Said D'gay. "If we were in the car industry, The Future Warrior would be our concept car."

In the nearby future, within 50 years as predicted by both critics and advocates alike, the Ultimate Fighting Machine becomes literal. Human soldiers may not even need to be at the kill/don't kill, friend/foe decision point. The accelerated advances in cyborg intelligence will allow fighting bots to make those decisions faster and more accurately than the relatively slow thinking human. At least that's the theory. The battlefields of the future will be so fast moving, that with equivalent capability by the "enemy," humans just can't be effective at this accelerated level of decision making.

A recent essay in the War College Quarterly speculates that "military systems (including weapons) now on the horizon will be too fast, too small, too numerous and too complex for humans to direct." (TK Adams, Future Warfare and the Decline of Human Decisionmaking)

It is now considered feasible by some researchers that self-replicating nanobots called universal assemblers can be programmed to "feed" on local materials in the field without human input. They will have the staggering ability to generate weaponry that can replicate at the exponential speed of bugs in a petri dish, out pacing the production of all weapons produced during the Cold-War in a few days. The cost? Next to nothing! In this context, even a small nation with the research initiative and talent could deploy arsenals of nuclear, biological and other weapons systems much larger in number and deadly power than the US has today. This scenario when applied to terrorist forces could become lethally disruptive not only to the US, but also to the world.

This version of the possible future raises the stakes exponentially when thought of in terms of the disruption of policy and laws for Homeland Security, Right to Privacy, National Defense, International Affairs, Weapons Treaties and International Trade and Environmental Balance.

Mark A. Gubrud, a physicist at U of Maryland remarks in a report titled Nanotechnology and the Military: Strategic Issues , "In approaching the development of nanotechnology for military applications, there is an urgent need to consider strategic issues as well as tactical opportunities. Expectations for the capabilities of nanosystems suggest that their development will affect the foundations of national security: deterrence, preparedness, balance-of-power relationships and alliance cohesion. Arms race and crisis stability, paths to escalation, novel opportunities for aggression, arms control, verification and world order are some of the issue areas that need to be addressed."

With the paradox of our invincible soldiers and bots ultimately fighting invincible soldiers and bots of the "enemy," or on the other hand equally destroying each other, who can win, or lose? What has the investment in the highest capabilities of intellect, science, and capital devoted to advanced weaponry and defense brought to bear to make the world a better, safer, place? The question seems to inevitably come down to what exactly are we defending against, what are we protecting, and why?

And what about the promise of nanotech and other advances to provide greater living capacity for all humanity?

In his book, Critical Path (pub. 1980) philosopher, architect and inventor Buckminster Fuller (for whom "buckyballs" were named) comments on the obsolescence of Malthus' theory of scarcity and Darwin's survival of the fittest - the ultimate basis of war: "Neither the great political and financial power structures of the world, nor the specialization-blinded professionals, nor the population in general realize that sum-totally, the omni-engineering-integratable, invisible revolution in the metallurgical, chemical, and electronic arts now makes it possible to do so much more with ever fewer pounds and volumes of material, ergs of energy, and seconds of time per given technological function that it is now highly feasible to take care of everybody on Earth at a 'higher standard of living than any have ever known.' It no longer has to be you or me. Selfishness is unnecessary and henceforth unrationalizable as mandated by survival. War is obsolete."

Let's hope he is right.


When asked about nanotech and the military by NanoNews-Now Editor Rocky Rawstern, Jeffrey R. Harrow had this to say:

Intensely pursuing the emerging field of Nanotechnology is, quite simply, a national [military | economic | medical | and more] 'life or death' imperative.

Imagine how today's world would look if, for example, the U.S. hadn't vigorously pursued aviation technology (WW II could well have had a very different outcome). Suppose we hadn't woken up after Sputnik and reached towards the stars, with all of its commercial and military and intelligence fallout? Suppose we had not pursued atomic research? Or semiconductor research? Or, now, nanotechnology?

"Nanotech" is not a magic bullet. But it is another, perhaps penultimate dive into the science of how the world around us, and "we," work. Yet caution is also in order -- as we've seen throughout history, each great advance in understanding also brings the potential for both great good and great evil (recall Nobel's dynamite). Especially in nanotech, the need for early significant ethical discussion and caution is imperative.

But NOT pursuing nanotechnology isn't a viable option, because even if one country doesn't, another will. And that country will then be the "big winner." Those who master nanotech's treasure trove of possibilities will be able to, literally, rebuild the world around us and even "us." While those who do not...

Jeff Harrow
Jeff Harrow, Principal The Harrow Group, author The Harrow Technology Report


When asked about nanotech and the military by NanoNews-Now Editor Rocky Rawstern, William Illsey Atkinson responded:

We may not like it, but it's true: Many existing technologies were advanced by war. Anyone taking antibiotics, or undergoing cranial surgery, must acknowledge WWII for his or her increased chance of survival. H. sapiens is a vermin species in every sense - fecundity, intelligence, adaptability, utter lack of morals - and one of the defining characteristics of us vermin is our propensity to devour one another. Like it or lump it, war seems here to stay.

So how will nanotech affect future conflict? Only in every conceivable way, and in many ways not yet conceivable. I'll let others address the direct stuff: weapons, surveillance, communications and the like. But since (pace von Clauswitz) war is merely the advancement of diplomacy by other means, let me take a minute for some informed speculation about the support activities without which elegantly blowing your opponents' brains out would be impossible.

Consider water. Currently, scouts or armored columns on "detached service" are anything but detached. They're tied to an umbilical cord of logistics for food, fuel, and above all water. The IP of Sciperio, a venture-capital firm based in Stillwater OK and with close ties to DARPA, includes a nanotechnologically modified surface that starts off hydrophilic and changes to hydrophobic at the flick of a switch. Consequence: leave this stuff in the air for an hour, even "dry" desert air, and it sucks up every water molecule in the vicinity. Trip your conversion switch, and the collected water runs into a container. Nanotech has thereby made both spies and flying columns independent of a water pipeline. Consequences for conflict are incalculable.

William Illsey Atkinson
William Illsey Atkinson, Author of Nanocosm [AMACOM]


On August 19, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) reported that the U.S. House of Representatives '04 budget would pump $126 billion into federal research, $8.4 billion over '03-90 percent of that increase is specifically earmarked for the Defense and Homeland Security departments. Moreover, with that many dollars chasing (and tempting) researchers in fields like robotics and nanotechnology, the perception is that it's almost impossible to forgo military support and still remain competitive. Make Robots Not War by Erik Baard for The Village Voice, September '03.


Simple cyborgs ... may be only the beginning of an even more fundamental revolution or, more precisely, the marriage of several ongoing technological revolutions. Lonnie D. Henley, for instance, argues that a melding of developments in molecular biology, nanotechnology, and information technology will stoke a second-generation revolution in military affairs. As Henley points out, combining nanotechnology with molecular biology and advances in information technology could, conceivably, lead to things like biological warfare weapons that are selective in targets and are triggered only by specific signals or circumstances. It could also lead to radically decentralized sensor nets, perhaps composed of millions of microscopic airborne sensors or, at least, a mesh of very small robots as envisioned by Libicki. And, Henley contends, it might eventually be possible to incorporate living neuron networks into silicone-based computers, thus greatly augmenting their "intelligence." In such a world, the Joint Vision 2010 future, or even that of advanced programs like the Army After Next project, will fade into obsolescence.


"Somewhere in the back of my mind I still have this picture of five smart guys from Somalia or some other nondeveloped nation who see the opportunity to change the world. To turn the world upside down. Military applications of molecular manufacturing have even greater potential than nuclear weapons to radically change the balance of power. In anticipation of that possibility the uniformed policymaker is likely to impose restrictions on the development of technology in such a way as to inhibit commercial development (ultimately beneficial to mankind) while permitting those operating outside of the restrictive bounds to gain an irrevocable advantage." Admiral David Jeremiah, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a paper titled "Nanotechnology and Global Security," presented at the Fourth Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology (Palo Alto, CA. November 9-11, 1995).


The bombed-out cities of the Second World War, and the nuclear holocausts of our imagination, have persuaded rational minds that there can be no expectation of a meaningful victory in total war between states armed with hundreds of deliverable nuclear weapons. From that point of view, war is obsolete, at least direct and open war between great powers.

Nanotechnology will carry this evolution to the next step: deterrence will become obsolete, as it will not be possible to maintain a stable armed peace between nanotechnically-armed rivals. The implications of this statement stand in sharp contradiction to the traditions of a warrior culture and to the assumptions that currently guide policy in the United States and in its potential rivals.

It was technology, not policy, that forced the doctrine of deterrence on us, just as it was technology that determined the outlines of the nuclear arms race, once the decision to pursue nuclear confrontation had been made. The logic of military technology produced a confrontation so complex and unmanageable, and with such short time lines for decision and action, that it threatened to explode in spite of "assured destruction." Again, people were intelligent enough to recognize realities, and to place restraints on the offensive arms race while shelving futile dreams of defense.

If technological realities now demand that we go further, and give up the warrior tradition, the illusion of independence and the vanity of sovereign self-defense, will we heed these demands, or will we try to preserve the institutions and attitudes of an earlier epoch, until we are surprised by a disaster beyond even our worst nuclear nightmares? If it is impossible to maintain an armed confrontation between nanotechnology-armed and hostile nations, then this is exactly our dilemma.

Mark Avrum Gubrud in a paper titled "Nanotechnology and International Security," presented at the Fifth Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology (Palo Alto, CA. November 5-8, 1997)

Chris Phoenix, Director of Research - Center for Responsible Nanotechnology crnano.org. November 2003

Molecular nanotechnology (MNT) will be an extremely flexible manufacturing technology, able to produce a broad array of weapons. It will be fast, cheap, self-contained, and automated. This means that it will allow very rapid design of new weapons, and even more rapid deployment. Our technical research has shown that once a basic limited MNT capability is developed, advanced manufacturing may be only a few months away. It will be a huge force multiplier - enough to make whoever controls it a world superpower.

There are several ways that military development of MNT could lead to disastrous war. For example, the U.S. has so far paid very little attention to this technology. If this does not change in the next few years, someone else - likely in Asia - will develop it first, and U.S. reaction may not be pleasant. But if any two countries get into an MNT arms race, it's hard to imagine a peaceful outcome. Nuclear weapons are clumsy, dirty, and hard to produce and deliver: easier to stockpile than to use. MNT-based weapons would be agile, precise, and quick to develop, but would become obsolete almost immediately. A temporary advantage in an MNT arms race would strongly tempt a first strike.

Preventing MNT-fueled war will not be easy. One possibility is international development and administration of MNT - not necessarily a full world government, but wielding a world-class military capability. This does not seem likely to work, since it would be hard to establish the required organization in the face of opposition from powerful nations unwilling to give up their current position. An unpleasant alternative is for the first developer to establish a worldwide dictatorship or empire oppressive enough to prevent all competing MNT development. A country with even a modest lead in developing MNT would find this a compelling option.

In theory, competition could shift to an economic or creative basis: once MNT is developed, people may be too busy inventing and selling products to engage in something as archaic and unproductive as war. This is a nice thought, but many wars have been fought for economic reasons. Cheap advanced manufacturing using locally available chemicals would bypass the international web of trade that makes war economically unattractive today. When blueprints are the main commodity, it's not hard to imagine a nation invading another to force it to "respect intellectual property rights" - that is, to pay royalties on products.

At this point, we don't know any reliable way to avoid war. We still have some time before MNT can be developed, though it might be less than a decade. It should be an urgent priority at national levels to study the implications of MNT development, identify suicidal policies and safe alternatives, and act accordingly.


Interview 1

NanoNews-Now (NN) Editor Rocky Rawstern interviews Professor Ned Thomas (bio), Director of the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies (ISN).

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NN: Why "Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies?" What role do you expect nanoscale science and engineering to play in the development of the 21st Century soldier?

NT: The military spends a lot of money, and they spend it typically on big systems - aircraft carriers, tanks and submarines and whatnot - but they've not spent that much money on the individual soldier. ISN an attempt to focus on the dismounted infantry soldier, or somebody who is Special Operations in the Air Force, or Navy SEALS, or whatever, but it's the individual. Whatever you do for these individuals - soldiers, sailors, marines - its same-needs for police, and fire and first-responders. And so developing protection and survivability for the individual is a mission that goes across not just the armed forces, but all kinds of things.

One of the grand requirements here is to make this person light - because this is somebody who is not on an aircraft carrier, or in a submarine, or has lots of power and can have a machine carry all this stuff - this is a guy who carries whatever he has by himself. So being able to make things very lightweight, very small, compact, and take very little power, is required.

So how do you do that? Well, people have been working on that for a long, long time. But recently the focus on nanotechnology has been "Wow, we can get lots of functions - many would call it 'multi-functionality' - into a small space, and presumably make it very light weight, and give it lots of capabilities, and still not burden this soldier or sailor or policeman with all kinds of stuff that's heavy."

The soldier has been treated as a Christmas tree. People come up with great ideas to help the soldier and they say "Here, carry this! And oh, by the way, here's the battery that goes with it. And here, carry that, and here's the battery that goes with that." So at the end of the day, you look at these guys and they're just burdened down like mules, with all kinds of stuff. It's all cool, good stuff, but it's all big, all takes it's own battery, and all together weighs a lot. What we should be doing is giving this guy a single thing, which is a compass, binoculars, telephone, and it cooks his meal, and so on. And it's all in this little tiny package, which takes two AA batteries. That would be a real integration of multi-functionality for the soldier, rather than to say "OK, here's a pair of binoculars, and here's a range-finder, and here's this and here's that" and when you get done you have all this stuff that weighs 120 pounds, which is what the average load is that these guys are carrying. 120 pounds, man!

NN: I take it that weight is one of the greatest challenges?

NT: There are some interesting things about how a soldier performs: think about when you get really tired, your ability to make decisions, to understand, and to judge and perform your mission goes down. So if you burden these guys, by the time they finally get to what they're supposed to be doing, they're cognitive processes aren't going well. Also if you're really, really, fatigued, how well can you fire a weapon or run a computer?

Then there is always the question "What do you take and what do you leave behind?" I like to make an analogy to a car: when you get in your car, you don't make decisions about whether you're going to bring the airbags or not, they're built in, they're there all the time. You don't need them but once in a blue moon, but boy, you want them, right? So we would like to have this multi-functionality - all these nice functions, the chemical protection, the biological, the ballistic, to be built in, and not have to make a conscious choice "Do I or don't I." It's built in and nobody worries about it because it doesn't weight that much. And it's integrated - in fact you probably can't get rid of it, it's right there, and its woven in so that you would never think "Oh, I'll leave my chemical protection behind" - you don't have to, its with you all the time. Now this isn't tomorrow, this is five, ten, twenty years from now. But, if you don't start now, you'll never get there.

NN: What are the greatest challenges facing the creation of the products necessary for the "soldier system of the future?"

NT: Basic research is the forte of universities, and I think MIT is a pretty good one to do basic science and engineering, and to come up with breakthrough discoveries. But that isn't something a soldier can use - that's a discovery, it's a proof-of-concept. So we have industrial partners, and the way that ISN is structured is that we have a number of industry partners that were chosen because of their portfolio of technical abilities and manufacturing capabilities which complement our basic research capabilities.

The customer is the Army - really the individual soldier. So how do you get this guy something that he can wear and break, and come back and tell you "I like it, but make it do this, and make it less that." So you need to be able to make some prototypes and so forth. Universities don't build prototypes and we don't manufacture anything - that's industry stuff. So we have a number of industrial partners - Raytheon and DuPont are two of the big ones who know how to make stuff. Raytheon, for example, is a systems-integrator, so if you think about the soldier as a system, that's the right way to do it, not to think of them as a Christmas tree, where each thing you give them is a separate system. When you hand them this radio and it weighs 20 pounds, nobody thinks much about "How does that affect the rest of what he takes?"

If you're working on an airplane, and you come up with a new design for a landing gear, and you change the weight of the plane by 20 pounds, everybody cares. The avionics guys, the hydraulics guys, the power guys, the fuel guys, all of those guys say "Whoa, whoa, whoa! A 20 pound change in the weight of the plane - why are you doing that? It's affecting me!" So they see it as an integrated system, where any change, anywhere, affects everything. So of course that happens to the soldier too - the guy is affected by whatever you do to him, but nobody much thought about it that way. They would say "Here's a cool thing, carry this," and actually the guy has to carry either this, or he drops something else - he has to make choices. So integrating it, and trying to make all these different capabilities work together, can (help them to) take advantage of one another - they're synergistic rather than antagonistic. This is kind of the over-arching big view of how you pull this all together, and that's a huge challenge, because people like to go off and do their thing, and come up with a great new tool, like a medical monitor. And medical monitoring would be wonderful if you think of the civilian-side uses. When Grandma gets old, she doesn't have to go into the nursing home, she can stay at home, and her bodily functions and physiological conditions are monitored and wirelessly communicated back to some monitoring station that says "Glucose levels too low - Grandma needs to take her medication." So you send her an email to remind her. Or maybe if she's incapacitated you send a nurse to her home and to take care of her. So having an ability to monitor physiological status would be terrific.

Imagine all those guys that went into the World Trade Center, and knew where every one of them was all the time and what condition they were in. Then you know which guys you can rescue, which guys are still alive, etc. That's unbelievably valuable for fire and police and first-responders. Now, at the same time that you are doing this, supposing that all this wireless cool stuff is giving away their position - if you're a soldier, you don't want to be broadcasting "I'm over here!" - it's not just about physiological monitoring, its all these other things that have to be optimized at the same time." So it's back to the airplane-metaphor - yeah it's a great new landing gear, but how does that help us with our fuel and other issues relating to flying the plane?

NN: What research discipline synergies are you the experiencing?

NT: Actually the ISN is kind of an experiment at MIT in that way. Universities are set up by department - chemistry in this building, mechanical engineers in another building, and so on. When we hire a faculty member, we say "Here's your lab, you have your students, most of your students are from one department - your home department." That's the standard model. At The Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies we've got 33,000 square feet on two floors, and we have 37 faculty from eight different departments. The teams are problem-oriented, and the problems are hard, so no one discipline can solve them. I'm on a team with a guy from mechanical engineering and a guy from chemistry. We're working on mechanical actuators. The chemist makes the polymers, I process them, and the mechanical engineer designs the devices. And none of us could do this without the other two guys. And we have a bunch of students and post-docs that we're sharing, so there's like six people on this team, involving three different disciplines. We're promoting this multi-disciplinary approach to tackling very hard problems. These are pretty challenging things that you need expertise from all sorts of different directions.

In a way I think the Army stands up a whole bunch of really tough, highly challenging problems. At a place like MIT, this attracts talent because these guys don't want to go climb a hill, they want to climb Mt. Everest - "what's the hardest problem? I'll go work on it." These problems, you can't solve them if you're a chemist or if you're a physicist or an engineer, you've got have those other disciplines involved. And importantly, you need some industry guys who are going to say, "You know, if you succeed, this is actually doable in terms of manufacturing and it won't cost the gross national product to do it." And then, of course, you need the Army - and we do have good connections with the Army - because ultimately if the customer doesn't want it, then you haven't done anything. Is this something that they will want more of, and clamor for? Or is it going be something that they try once, and say "Oh forget that, I'm not going to be bothered by that junk."

"The Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies (ISN) is an interdepartmental research center at MIT. See Army selects MIT for details. Established in 2002 by a five-year, $50 million contract from the U.S. Army, the ISN's research mission is to use nanotechnology to dramatically improve the survival of soldiers. The ultimate goal is to create a 21st century battlesuit that combines high-tech capabilities with light weight and comfort. Imagine a bullet-proof jumpsuit, no thicker than ordinary spandex, that monitors health, eases injuries, communicates automatically, and maybe even lends superhuman abilities. It's a long-range vision for how technology can make soldiers less vulnerable to enemy and environmental threats."

The Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies: Taking Nanotechnology from the Laboratory to the Soldier, 45 minute video from MIT World with ISN Director Ned Thomas. June 7, 2003.
Ned Thomas ISN

Edwin (Ned) Thomas, Morris Cohen Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, Director, Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies

Ned Thomas' research interests include polymer physics and engineering of the mechanical and optical properties of block copolymers, liquid crystalline polymers, and hybrid organic-inorganic nanocomposites. He has served as associate head of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and as director of MIT's Program in Polymer Science and Technology. He and others from MIT co-founded OmniGuide Communications Inc., in Cambridge.

Before coming to MIT, he founded and served as co-director of the Institute for Interface Science and was head of the Department of Polymer Science and Engineering at the University of Massachusetts. Thomas is the recipient of the 1991 High Polymer Physics Prize of the American Physical Society, the 1985 American Chemical Society Creative Polymer Chemist Award, and was elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society in 1986.

Thomas has been a visiting professor and senior scientist at the Institut Charles Sadron at the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique for Macromolecules in Strasbourg, France; visiting professor in the Department of Physics at Bristol University; a Bye Fellow in the Department of Physics and Materials Science at Robinson College, Cambridge University; a visiting professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at the University of Minnesota, the Alexander von Humboldt Fellow at the Institute for Macromolecular Chemistry at the University of Freiburg; and assistant professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at the University of Minnesota. He has written the undergraduate textbook The Structure of Materials, has coauthored approximately 300 papers and holds six patents.


Interview 2

NanoNews-Now (NN) Editor Rocky Rawstern interviews S. Brad Squires, Chief Technology Officer, US Global Nanospace, Inc. (OTCBB:USGA).

Courtesy of and ©
US Army Natick Soldier Center
Click to enlarge.

Read more about the Objective Force Warrior Program

"MIT's Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies (ISN) is ground zero for warrior chic. Waterproof and germ-proof nanoparticle coatings for bulletproof vests already have been developed at the university. Also on the fabric front is dynamic armor that firms up at the sound of a bullet or transforms into an instant splint. The material is woven from hollow fibers filled with nanometer-scale magnetic particles. In the presence of a magnetic field generated by, say, a hand-held device, the beads line up, stiffening the fabric to 50 times its normal state. Even more sci-fi are ISN's designs for "exomuscle" uniforms that would provide soldiers with super strength, and reflective camouflage suits woven from high-performance mirror fabrics." David Pescovitz for Small Times magazine, September / October 2003.


Courtesy of and ©
US Army Natick Soldier Center
Click to enlarge.

"Imagine the psychological impact upon a foe when encountering squads of seemingly invincible warriors protected by armor and endowed with superhuman capabilities, such as the ability to leap over 20-foot walls," ISN director Ned Thomas


For defence the implications (of nanotechnology) could be enormous, both in terms of the opportunities it might offer to grow our own military capability, and the new threats it might lead to.

The list of possibilities is long but includes:

  • Completely secure messaging
  • Intelligent and completely autonomous short and long range highly accurate weapons
  • Improved stealth but also means to defeat current stealth techniques
  • Global information networks and local battlefield systems with "all-seeing" sensors
  • Miniature high energy batter and power supplies
  • Intelligent decision aids
  • Self-repairing military equipment
  • New vaccines and medical treatments
  • Highly sensitive miniature multiple biological and chemical sensors
  • Unethical use leading to new biological and chemical weapons

From Nanotechnology - Why Should Defence Take Notice? © The Organisation and Management of Defence in the United Kingdom

NN: What is the primary mission at USGN?

Our mission is to develop the materials and products needed to protect people and vital systems while also being useful for emergency response and incident management. We focus explicitly on nano- and bio-technologies that have broader commercial applications in addition to their value for countering terrorism.

NN: How do you personally participate within that mission? What qualifications, special talents, and experience do you bring to the mission?

My role with US Global Nanospace is that of chief technology officer. I work closely with our team of scientists to set goals and provide direction for current and future product development areas. As a result 80 percent of my time is spent doing research. My experience in the aerospace field has certainly prepared me for both the potential future technologies can hold, as well as the difficulties that the commercialization process can present. I do not believe there has been a time in recent history that can compare with the depth and breadth of technological innovation that is about to occur, and the magnitude of the impact it will have on every facet of daily life. It is a very exciting time, and I feel very fortunate to be a part of it.

NN: What are your long-range goals regarding the future of USGN and its connection to the military?

It is our goal to continue to work in concert with government, academia, and industry to identify, research, develop, and commercialize technologies that will contribute to the safety and security of our nation and its allies.

NN: What role does nanoscale-science and -technology play in the development of USGN's products?

Nanoscale-science and -technology plays an enormous role in everything we do. Nano-science is interesting not so much because of its scale, but rather because of the dominance of quantum effects at its scale. Large objects are subject to gravitational forces which overwhelm any quantum effects even though quantum behavior is still occurring. On the nanoscale it is the quantum effect that governs. By knowing and understanding how materials behave at this level, we are then able to exploit these unique properties to design and build structures far beyond that of currently accepted limits.

As an example, the size of the Nanofibers we use in our Nanofilter products are in the 50 nanometers range, and at this size the quantum effect of the fibers actually attracts submicron airborne particulates to the fiber. Traditional air filter materials use fibers 5000 nanometers or larger, and rely exclusively on the characteristics of the tightly woven fabric to sieve the airborne particulates from the air stream. This concept is not effective on sub-micron particulates such as SAR's and Anthrax, and traditional filters inherently restrictive nature makes them very energy inefficient. Quantum effect in our Nanofilters allow us to not only filter several orders of magnitude better than current HEPA filter technology, but also to do so using 35% less energy.

We utilize nano-material science to develop stronger and lighter antiballistic materials, most notably G-Lam, our proprietary antiballistic material. G-Lam is moldable, making it applicable for not only personal armor configurations but also for hard-shell applications such as radomes, floor armor and the S.A.G. Turret.

G-Lam is produced using a proprietary nano-fiber assembly, and consolidation process. The process is application specific , and uses a combination of analysis and testing protocols to optimize the product for a wide range of threat characterizations. Computational models are used to perform the analyses & to simulate projectile/fragment impact effects. These events are highly dynamic, with strong non-linear effects from impact, penetration, large deformation and failure of materials.

We explicitly model individual nanofibers to provide a thorough understanding of the mechanics responsible for the high ballistic resistance of the resultant product. This analysis also determines optimum variable fiber deniers, optimum stitch matrix and warp/fill path yarn placement necessary to minimize weight and maximize ballistic resistance.

We are also working to implement the recent developments coming from academia for the continuous spinning of carbon nanotubes into composite fibers to compose rolled-up sheets of graphite four times stronger than spider silk and ten times that of Kevlar, and on various polymer/carbon nanotube hybrids that have the potential for near immediate commercial introduction, and relatively low cost production.

NN: How do USGN's products support the Army's "Objective Force Warrior" program?

Primarily in the creation of a wide range of force protection. Our lightweight armor systems (G-Lam), and blast mitigation (Blast-X) products deliver enhanced protection at a reduced weight, and weight reduction is certainly high on the OFW want list. We are also developing a nanofiber that provides for chemical and biological agent decontamination on contact, yet is lightweight and breathable as well as several NanoFilter-based personal protection systems including respirators.

NN: What are the greatest challenges facing the creation of the products necessary for the "soldier system of the future?"

Developing antiballistic materials with the strength, lightness and flexibility to meet the parameters for range of motion and penetration resistance required to protect future soldiers, and anticipating the potential advancements in weapon systems in order to stay one step ahead of the threat.

NN: Considering the following three products, would you explain how nanotech played a role in its development, and what advantages each brings to its end-user?

Blast-X˘ Explosion Mitigation Material

Blast-X˘ is a lightweight blast mitigation material available in flat and conformable panels that integrates four distinct blast mitigation and containment technologies into a single product that is designed to reduce the risk of death and injury, preserve forensic evidence, increase safe working environments and reduce litigation exposure.

Blast-X˘ is comprised of four unique materials: a face sheet designed to quench hot gases instantly and attenuate shock waves; a honeycomb core to cushion impact and add structure to the assembly; a core medium filling the honeycomb devised to rapidly cool blast environments and extinguish flame fronts from burning gases, dust and mist; and a back panel made of US Global's G-Lam˘ anti-ballistic material to contain blast fragments and debris.

G-Lam is integral to making Blast-X a viable and effective blast containment solution because of its low weight and cost. Panels made of materials capable of similar levels of blast particle containment would weigh and cost as much as four to five times more than Blast-X. Blast-X Wallboard is designed for original installation and retrofit in building construction and is easily installed using customary wallboard installation techniques because of its light weight and minimized profile.

Save-A Gunner (SAG) Humvee Turret

Again, G-Lam played a central role in allowing us to develop a Humvee turret capable of protecting soldiers from up to .50 caliber threats and still weigh under the maximum roof turret load capability of the Humvee. The weight consideration has been a long-time issue for those seeking to protect personnel. In addition, we have developed G-Lam-based floor and side armor for retro-fitting Humvees in the field that allows the vehicle to maintain its performance envelope and provide levels of protection needed in patrol and combat environments.

NanoFilter ˘ Pathogen Air Filter Purification Systems

The core of our NanoFilter technology was initially developed for NASA for use during extended crewed space flight applications to provide ultra-fine particulate matter air filtration and purification. We further enhanced performance with the addition of nanofiber filter materials. Our porous nanofilter media is enveloped with an electronic field that causes the airborne particulate matter to move in a churning motion perpendicular to the airflow direction, thus significantly enhancing the London/Van der Waals force interaction.

The fine particulate capture capabilities of the nanofibers we have utilized results in a super-efficient air filtration and purification system to effectively capture bacteria, viruses, smoke, dust, odorants, and other sub-micron sized particulate matter. We have successfully tested our NanoFilter capability to contain both SARS virus and anthrax-sized particulate matter. Nanofibers actually provide for nearly unrestricted airflow, unlike traditional filter technology that relies on ever more restrictive filter elements and reduced flow rates in order to catch smaller particles. The free-flow aspect of the nanofibers utilized in our NanoFilters actually allows for reductions in energy consumption by up to 35%.

NN: Please tell our readers about how USGN performed at the Blackwater Shootout "Iron Versus Armor." How well did G-Lam˘ perform against some of the most exotic new armor-piercing ammunitions?

At the Annual Armed Forces Journal Blackwater Shootout, which is one of the toughest testing grounds for antiballistic materials, G-Lam defeated some of the most destructive ammunition in the world.

We tested G-Lam armor plate, the main component of our S.A.G. Turret, against both .50 caliber and exotic extreme-long range sniper ammunition like the supersonic .408 Armor Piercing CheyTac and LeMas .300 WinMag HAARP rounds. G-Lam plates successfully defeated three consecutive .50 caliber rounds fired from an FNN Hecate11 Sniper Rifle from only 100 yards away.

On the first day at the shootout, our panel was penetrated by the exotic rounds, which have a terminal effect much more devastating than NATO standard .50 caliber. Because of the application flexibility of G-Lam we were able to repair and reconfigure the G-Lam Panel in the field and then defeat the three consecutive .50 caliber rounds, and with further field reengineering a slightly thicker G-Lam˘ plate (1.4 inches thick) defeated the CheyTac 408.

NN: What is the status of USGN's reinforced cockpit doors (Guardian˘ Anti-Ballistic Panel Cockpit Security Door, also the "Guardian˘ Door")?

The development time for the Guardian door was only 8 months, which as G-Lam was already developed was primarily devoted to perfecting the passive venting and latching systems to address emergency decompression issues in case of bird strike or deliberate destructive activity. G-Lam allowed us to produce a door that weighed under 50 pounds - unlike the heavy doors produced by the major aircraft manufacturers which also required costly and time-consuming airframe structural enhancements to support them.

The real hanger was gaining FAA approval, which US Global took through the final phase 5 level over a period of a year. The clock was ticking on mandated replacement of all cockpit doors for aircraft flying in US airspace, and unlike the major aircraft manufacturers, who did not have to gain FAA approval for their solutions, we did. While the Guardian Door was the only cockpit security door to pass rigorous tests implemented by the Israeli Secret Service, the Guardian Door did not receive FAA certification in time to be available to the bulk of US air carriers. The superiority of our Guardian door was proven out not only by the Israeli Secret Service, but also at the Blackwater shootout, where it withstood without penetration or significant indentation twenty continuous rounds fired from an FNH P90 Automatic Submachine gun at 15 feet.

However, we are still working to obtain FAA approval for specific markets with custom doors for special aircraft, including military. In addition, the opportunity to supply the Guardian Door on a mass basis may reappear if other doors continue to fail. Many recent door failures have been reported, as evidenced by the FAA mandating in July of this year the replacement of the latches on all our competitors installed cockpit replacement doors due to numerous door latch failures and flight crew injuries. This is due to an inherent flaw in their door design - the lack of passive venting and/or equalization, which results in excessive pressure on their latch mechanisms. Our passive vent system provides access security and ballistic and decompression protection to the flight.

NN: From the time a potential client asks for specific and unique properties for which G-Lam is appropriate, how much time elapses till an actual product in their hands? With computer automation achieving increasingly less development-to-production times, in 10 years how short do you expect it to be?

It now takes from 2 to 3 weeks to model for specific threat characterizations and product strength, weight and design needs. In 10 years, given continuing advances in computational speed and efficiency, we could theoretically turn it around in under a day.

NN: To what extent do computers reduce the R&D and production times of USGN's products?

It would be impossible to do what we do without the benefit of computational modeling.

NN: Of the over 150,000 HMMWV's deployed around the world, how many currently employ the "Save A Gunner" (S.A.G.˘) Turret Armor System, and how many will there be 5 years?

We are negotiating now with the armed forces and security organizations and we anticipate we will have several dozen Turrets installed and in use in combat and patrol applications before our fiscal year end. We are confident that we can penetrate at least ten percent of the existing Humvee market over the next five years.

NN: What advantages do Blast-X˘ Explosion Containment and Mitigation Panels bring to the user?

Blast mitigation reduces the impact explosions have on people and property, making it applicable to environments at risk from potential terrorist or accidental explosion. Blast-X˘ is designed to be an environmentally safe, cost-effective technical yet passive solution for countering the threat of criminal and terrorist bombing incidents by dramatically reducing shock waves and blast impulse, suppressing fireballs and killing after-burn, thus significantly enhancing protection of facilities, structures and most importantly, their occupants.

NN: What are some of the other applications of nano-denier G-Lam˘ ultra light weight anti-ballistic material?

USGN also projects that G-Lam˘ will be used in a variety of other military applications including:

  • helmets
  • ground vehicles
  • helicopters
  • military shelters
  • fuel tanks
  • cargo containers
  • anti-ballistic radomes
  • light weight XO skeletal body armor
  • portable blast containment units
  • turbine engine containment systems
  • anti-ballistic enhanced aircraft thermal/acoustical insulation blankets

NN: Who developed the science behind these products, and what are their personal qualifications?

The science, and I.P. employed in USGN's products are the culmination of organic R&D conducted by our in house scientist, consulting PHD's, & our partners from both industry and academia. For security reasons we are not at liberty to provide further details on our staff, associates or partners, other than that which is otherwise publically available.

NN: What percent of the USGN budget goes towards R&D?

We currently and for the foreseeable future allocate 65% of our budget toward R&D.

NN: What synergies are you seeing among the USGN products? Did any of them surprise you?

G-Lam has been the foundation for developing many distinct threat solutions for the market - Blast-X, Armor, SAG turret and Antiballistic Aitrcraft Radomes. One of the most surprising synergies we have experienced to date was the applicability of our NanoFilter technology to producing very high flow carcinogen reducing cigarette filters - our recently announced NanoFilterCX. We are currently negotiating with manufacturers and tobacco companies for the licensing of this filter technology. The other is the enormous market potential for "All-Clear" our non-toxic chem./bio decon solution, which now appears to also be a very effective sterilant suitable for consumer, commercial , and industrial application. Could "All-Clear" be the next LYSOL?

NN: With an unlimited budget and ten years, what might the "21st century soldier" look like?

As to what the soldier will look like, with an unlimited budget and recent nanotech advances in phase, reflection and color-shifting attributes in materials, I think that in ten years you won't be able to see him, hear him, smell him, or taste him, and by the time you know he is there it will be too late. I'm glad they are on our side.


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In closing, these quotes:

"In approaching the development of nanotechnology for military applications, there is an urgent need to consider strategic issues as well as tactical opportunities. Expectations for the capabilities of nanosystems suggest that their development will affect the foundations of national security: deterrence, preparedness, balance-of-power relationships and alliance cohesion. Arms race and crisis stability, paths to escalation, novel opportunities for aggression, arms control, verification and world order are some of the issue areas that need to be addressed. It is argued that the capabilities following from advanced nanotechnology, in whatever form it may arrive, imply upheaval in military and international affairs, and the need for an evolving approach to national and international security in the 21st century." From Nanotechnology and the Military: Strategic Issues Mark A. Gubrud

"NT will have applications in energy storage and generation, propulsion, displays, sensors and sensor nets, combat information systems, logistics, maintenance, self-repair, smart materials, and more. Some more visionary concepts foresee systems implanted into soldiers' bodies, first for biomedical analysis and reaction, later for information exchange." From Risks from military uses of nanotechnology - the need for technology assessment and preventive control JŞrgen Altmann, Mark A. Gubrud

"If machines could be so improved and multiplied, then all of our corporeal necessities could be entirely gratified, without the intervention of human labor, there will be nothing to hinder all mankind from becoming philosophers and poets." Timothy Walker, essayist, 1831

"MNT development appears inevitable for two reasons. The first is the immense utility of MNT. Even if public pressure prevented it from being used in consumer goods, various militaries would not hesitate to develop it as a tremendous aid to military capability. In conventional conflicts, the improvements in logistics, miniaturization, development and cost would give an overwhelming advantage to the possessor of such technology, both in preparation and in actual combat." Chris Phoenix. From Molecular Manufacturing: Start Planning

"Nanotech opens a broad spectrum of possible military uses that both expand and extend existing systems and define radical new applications. A three-dimensional assembly of nanostructures can yield much better versions of most conventional weapons (for example, guns can be lighter, carry more ammunition, fire self-guided bullets, incorporate multispectral gunsights, or even fire themselves when an enemy is detected). In unconventional terms, bionanobots might be designed that, when ingested from the air by humans, would assay DNA codes and self-destruct in an appropriate place (probably the brain) in those persons whose codes had been programmed. Nanobots could attack certain kinds of metals, lubricants, or rubber, destroying conventional weaponry by literally consuming it." From Small Security: Nanotechnology and Future Defense John L. Petersen and Dennis M. Egan


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For further research, here are pages we found valuable:

Nanotechnology to revolutionize war Barnaby J. Feder NYT

Nanotechnology: Six Lessons from Sept. 11 from K. Eric Drexler, Chairman, Foresight Institute

Foresight Position Statement on Avoiding High-Tech Terrorism Foresight Institute

Nanotechnology and the Military: Strategic Issues Mark A. Gubrud

Risks from military uses of nanotechnology - the need for technology assessment and preventive control Jurgen Altmann, Mark A. Gubrud

U.S. Army plans new center to develop military nanotech Doug Brown, Small Times Correspondent

US Global Nanospace

Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies

Small Security: Nanotechnology and Future Defense John L. Petersen and Dennis M. Egan

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IN THE NEXT ISSUE

Issue #6 will cover molecular nanotechnology (MNT), and will feature a main article by Chris Phoenix, CRN. It will land in your mailbox December 1st, 2003.


Infamous Quotes:

"There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home." (Ken Olsen, Digital Equipment Corp, 1977)
"Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons." (Popular Mechanics, 1949)
"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." (IBM's Thomas Watson, 1943)
"This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us." (Western Union internal memo, 1876)

And the lesson is? It's a tough game to call.

Need advice? Check out NanoStrategies

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