5 Experimental Weapon Systems That Could Have Made Star Wars A Reality
Few works of fiction can claim to have had such an impact on not just movie-goers but western culture itself as Star Wars. Even if you have never seen the movies, chances are you know who Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader are (and by the same token their connection to one another). While the setting seems like your typical futuristic sci-fi fare we are told before every movie that it all happened “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” which gives the Star Wars universe a sense of wonder and even mysticism more normally associated with fantasy epics such as Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.
But while we the audience are in awe of this exciting, new universe its easy to forget the dangers that lurk there. The clue, after all, is in the name – Star WARS. This is a universe filled with deadly weapons and machines tailored to the art of destruction. Some of these weapons have even broken the realm of fiction and appeared (in some form or another) in the real world. In the 1980s the US began research into a space-based weapon system and appropriately nicknamed it Star Wars.
So, with that in mind here are five experimental weapon systems that could have made Star Wars a reality.
STAR WARS: The T-65B X-Wing starfighter would come to symbolise the Rebel Alliance’s struggle against the Empire. So-named because of the distinctive shape their S-foils (wings) resembled when locked into attack formation, they were heavily armed and highly manoeuvrable. The standard T-65B X-Wing was more than a match for the Empire’s TIE fighter although there were often far more of the latter to make up for this shortfall. Over time the X-Wing evolved to the T-70 model made famous by Poe Dameron of the Resistance who used a specially marked black and red example in the fight against the First Order. Externally, the T-70 differs in that the intakes for the four engines are now arranged in semi-circles so that when the S-foils are in flight mode, it looks from the front as though it has two large engines. Just like the T-65B before it, the T-70 has become yet another symbol of the fight against tyranny and oppression throughout the galaxy.
REALITY: There are a number of real aircraft designs that change the shape of their wings such as the famed F-14 Tomcat from the movie Top Gun. These are known as variable geometry wings, and they sweep forward or back to improve performance depending on the speed that is required. However, the closest thing the real world has had to an X-Wing is probably the Nikitin-Shevchenko IS-series of experimental polymorphic fighters. Developed in the Soviet Union during the late 1930s, this incredible fighter was designed to have a lower wing fold up into the upper wing. The lower wing would be extended to improve lift and agility at slow speeds but when high speed was needed it would extend up into the wing thus reducing drag. Unfortunately, the weight of the mechanism to do this imposed severe penalties on the aircraft’s performance, and when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, the project was abandoned in favour of more conventional aircraft.
STAR WARS: The All-Terrain Scout Transport or AT-ST was a bipedal combat vehicle used by the Empire to conduct reconnaissance and to support ground troops against Rebel infantry. Often referred to as the “Chicken Walker” by Rebel troops because of the ungainly way it moves, the AT-ST is nonetheless a deadly adversary for Rebel infantry lacking anything heavier than a blaster. Providing the ground can support their weight, their narrow width can allow them to manoeuvre in tight confines making them ideal for jungle or urban combat. AT-STs were present at the Battle of Hoth (Empire Strikes Back) where they protected the flanks of the much larger All-Terrain Armoured Transports (AT-ATs) and also participated in the ground phase of the Battle of Endor (Return of the Jedi). In the latter battle, at least one was captured by the Rebel forces and used against its former masters. An upgraded version was later adopted by the First Order.
REALITY: Walking tanks have been the subject of research and debate for over 30 years with supporters noting that they have the potential to have even greater off-road performance than the tracked tank. A tank is a very long, wide and heavy vehicle but a walker, especially a bipedal one, would take up less space and be able to traverse uneven terrain more effectively. Unfortunately, such machines are still in the prototype stage although in recent years great strides have been taken towards that goal thanks largely to the research into robots. In 2005, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in the US developed the BigDog robot as a mechanical pack mule for use by the US Army. The project was discontinued because it proved extremely noisy which would give away the soldier’s position in a combat zone but at first glance, it does look like a scaled down AT-AT. In 2015, researchers at Oregon State University developed ATRIAS, a fully fledged bipedal robot that moved in a manner similar to the chicken walk of the AT-ST. This robot is so stable that researchers could even kick it and it would automatically correct itself. It would not take much to imagine a much larger version with a crew compartment and a gun although if/when walking tanks do so the light of day then chances are they will be unmanned drones.
Speaking of which…
STAR WARS: What better way to wage a war than with thousands, maybe even millions, of completely expendable and easily replaced soldiers? That was the thinking behind the Trade Federation’s droid army that fought against the Republic’s clone army during the so-called Clone War the culmination of which saw the Jedi massacred and the victorious Republic morph into the Galactic Empire. Droid armies fought in every major engagement of the war, and while they were considered generally inferior to the Republic’s cloned soldiers, they were easier to manufacture and were considered more obedient. After the rise of the Empire, both the droid and clone armies were disbanded, but a smaller number of droids continued in supporting roles such as K-2SO; an imperial KX-series droid reprogrammed to support the rebels.
REALITY: We are already in the early days of what could eventually be an entirely unmanned military. Flying drones such as the US Predator-series are firmly embedded in several western air forces, but these are essentially big remote-controlled planes. Even more advanced drones are currently in development such as the British TARANIS which is a semi-autonomous weapon system. Essentially, instead of directly controlling the drone the operator instead gives it an objective such as “bomb any tanks” and the drone would carry out the mission on its own. Drone warships have been in use for quite some time now to being used primarily to clear minefields while in 2015 the US Army announced it had actually tested a drone tank, the Ripsaw. While walking and talking robot infantry maybe many years away yet, the Human factor in battle is already slowly being eroded by these machines which has led some to question whether they will actually encourage wars in the future after all it is now theoretically possible to invade another country and capture it without risking a single one of your own people.
2Death Star Laser
STAR WARS: Construction of the Empire’s Death Star was a remarkable achievement in the galaxy’s history. An immense mobile battle fortress the size of a small moon, it was equipped with an awesomely powerful superlaser weapon that worked by channelling energy from a series of hypermatter reactors through huge kyber crystals (the same crystals used in lightsabers). When firing, the energy was directed through eight beam shafts located within the “crater” of the Death Star which impacted one another to form one large beam powerful enough to destroy a planet. An early demonstration of the power of the Death Star was seen when it was used to destroy Jeddah City from where many of the Kyber crystals used in the weapon had been looted. The weapon was not at full power, and so the blast was reminiscent of a meteorite impact, but the true power of the Death Star was seen a short while later when the Empire used it to destroy Alderaan. After that the galaxy learned to truly fear Grand Moff Tarkin uttering the words, “You may fire when ready.”
REALITY: Obviously, we don’t have a weapon nearly as powerful as the Death Star’s laser but weaponizing laser technology has been the goal of many a military project since the 1960s with both the US and the former Soviet Union conducting research in to their use for the anti-ballistic missile role or to destroy spy satellites from Earth. The word “laser” is actually an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation and works by channelling photons (light particles) into a coherent, narrow beam. Unlike the lasers of science fiction which are often depicted exploding on impact like a projectile with a warhead, real laser weapons destroy their targets by generating thermal energy (heat) on the target until it is destroyed. The US Navy is now fielding the first operational laser systems designed to destroy small drones or speedboats that would likely be used by terrorists to attack their ships but it was the YAL-1 airborne laser system that it was thought would give the US military its own (albeit smaller) Death Star. Installed in a modified Boeing 747 airliner, the airborne laser was intended to destroy ballistic missiles as they launched from their own country while the aircraft cruised safely outside enemy defences. On February 11th, 2010 the YAL-1 destroyed a ballistic missile in flight over the Point Mugu Naval Air Warfare Center weapon range off the Californian coast. During the test, the weapon utilised the equivalent electricity used to power the average US home for a whole hour in just a few seconds. Despite this success, the project was terminated the following year.
STAR WARS: As Obi-Wan Kenobi once told Luke Skywalker, “[The lightsaber] is the weapon of a Jedi Knight. Not as clumsy or random as a blaster. An elegant weapon for a more civilized age.” Sometimes referred to as a laser sword, lightsabers consist of a plasma blade that is powered by a kyber crystal and emitted from a handle containing its key components. This plasma blade is extraordinarily powerful being able to deflect blaster fire and cut through all but the densest of metals. Even in untrained hands, it is a powerful weapon, but in the hands of a force sensitive individual, it makes them all but unstoppable. When Emperor Palpatine destroyed the Jedi before creating the Empire he had to use huge numbers of clone soldiers to overwhelm them. Although used by both the Jedi and the Sith, it is with the former that the weapon is most associated. While all lightsabers work in generally the same way, there have been a few variations on their use with Darth Maul’s double-ended lightsabre being perhaps the most notable.
REALITY: Believe it or not, a lightsaber is theoretically possible to construct. In 2015, particle physicist Don Lincoln stated his belief that it is possible to contain a plasma blade using magnetic fields and thereby create a concentrated beam to use as a weapon. However, in order to power such a weapon, it would have to be able to generate the equivalent energy that would be required to power a staggering 14,000 homes! However, he does point out that if one blade were to meet another then rather than impacting with each other, they would actually pass straight through – so no lightsaber fights then, I am afraid. A less powerful option would be Wicked Laser’s S3 Spyder which is effectively a lightsaber handle with a very powerful laser inside that can inflict damage on soft objects such as paper if held long enough on it. This so worried Lucasfilm that they publicly refused to endorse it. Another option would be engineer and YouTuber Allen Pan’s lightsaber which is effectively a giant gas lighter powered by butane that shoots out in a narrow, bright blue flame. Pan even included the relevant sound effects into his creation although again you can’t have a duel with one.
Thanks for reading and may the force be with you…
Submitted By Tony Wilkins