Everyone knows what you mean when you refer to a weapon of mass destruction these days. We typically categorize them in one of three ways: either nuclear, chemical, or biological. Essentially is any weapon that can cause mass death and destruction fairly quickly. The term dates back to 1937 when it was apparently coined by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
At the time, he was referring to aerial bombardments in Spain that used what today we would think of as standard ordinance. Obviously those weapons evolve to become bigger and more destructive. And in the future, we can look forward to those weapons evolving to be even worse.
10. Antimatter Weapons
The term antimatter brings to mind some kind of Star Trek science fiction imagery. It barely sounds like a real thing. Unfortunately, it is real and the potential for antimatter to cause serious damage is ripe for the picking.
Antimatter is any material composed of what you would call antiparticles. The theory behind antimatter is that every particle in the universe has kind of a mirror image of itself. It is the same thing with an opposite charge. The example most often given is that an electron has a negative charge but a positron has a positive charge. They both have the same mass but they are opposites. This is significant to the world of weapons of mass destruction because when matter and antimatter meet they can no longer exist together so they destroy each other in a spectacular way.
Antimatter was considered theoretical for a long time until evidence of its existence was discovered. When cosmic rays hit the Earth’s atmosphere they produce antimatter. Thunderstorms also seem to produce positrons sometimes. And the Large Hadron Collider is able to produce matter and antimatter as well.
When matter and antimatter meet the result is not just destructive, it’s bafflingly destructive. Particle physicist Frank Close has been quoted as saying that if you destroy a kilogram of antimatter it produces about 10 billion times the amount of energy that you get from destroying a kilogram of dynamite. That works out to 1,000 times more energy than nuclear fission. So if you were able to harness enough antimatter you could probably destroy the entire planet with not a lot of effort.
9. Genetic Weapons
Genetic weapons are what happens when you take biological weapons to the next, terrifying level. These are weapons that are targeted to specific genetics, which means that you could take a standard biological weapon (anthrax, for instance) and tailor it so that it would only infect people with certain genetic traits. That means if you wanted to only eliminate a certain ethnic group you would be able to do so.
The idea of genetic weapons was dismissed in the past as being something that was not feasible or realistic. Advances in genetic science has proven that to be incorrect. According to a report called Biotechnology, Weapons and Humanity II, our research into the development of vaccines and attempts to cure genetic conditions has enabled scientists to accurately map the human genome in a way that exposes certain genes that are specific to different ethnic groups. This information can then be exploited by rogue scientists to target those genes rather than use them to benefit mankind and cure diseases. The belief is that in the future, using this information, ethnic-specific biological weapons could be developed.
Other genetic weapons don’t have to use existing diseases; they can interfere with human RNA. By exploiting something called RNA interference, a genetic weapon could shut down important genes that are needed for you to live and function. This could be unleashed on an enemy population and have no effects on the attacking population. It wouldn’t be able to completely eliminate one side, but data suggests that as many as 20% of a population could be affected right away. And that certainly enough to cause some serious damage.
8. High-Powered Microwave
Star Trek made the word phaser part of everyday language. When you hear the word you know exactly what it means even though you’ve probably never seen such a thing before because what even is a phaser? Well, now PHASER is a real thing and the US military has it. It’s their name for a high-powered microwave weapon.
Looking like a satellite dish fixed atop a shipping container, the PHASER is a cannon that emits radio frequency in a cone-shaped beam. Rather than using heat to destroy a target it can disrupt circuits with a burst of energy.
Currently this technology is being used defensively, the idea is that you would use the PHASER to destroy enemy drones. It takes one single microsecond for a shot from the PHASER to disable a drone’s electronics and destroy it. It’s also able to take out multiple drones with a single shot because of the shape of the beam it produces.
The PHASER is the first direct energy defense weapon that has ever been fielded. The Air Force spent just over 16 million dollars producing it in, and testing was set to be finished by the end of 2020. If the technology is able to prove itself in the field and it’s scalable then the future could see mobile PHASERS being used with regularity. Aircraft can fly over a population and with just a few bursts effectively destroy every piece of technology below, sending any city back to the Stone Age.
7. Directed Energy
PHASER is not the only direct energy weapon that the military has in its arsenal these days. This umbrella term covers weapons including electro-magnetics, lasers, and microwave. Between 2017 and 2019 the US military doubled its spending on research into direct energy weapons. That went up to $1.1 billion. China and Russia are of course also investing heavily in these systems as well.
The benefits to using direct energy weapons over traditional munitions are fairly clear. To start with, they work at the speed of light. Unlike a traditional missile which could take some time to travel from source to target, a direct energy blast is going to hit a target almost immediately. As well they can be targeted far more precisely. You can use a laser to shoot somebody in the foot from space if you want to. The weapons are also scalable to take one small target or a much larger area as needed.
In May 2020, the US Navy released a video of USS Portland firing a high-energy class solid state laser at a drone, destroying it. The military is also developing what it calls the Indirect Fire Protection Capability High Energy Laser, which is said to be about 10 times more powerful than the one that the Navy uses. This kind of laser would be able to destroy incoming cruise missiles, disable boats and helicopters, and blind enemy combatants.
Because these weapons are powered by electricity they’re far more cost-effective in the long run than using bombs which can cost billions of dollars. It costs about $10 worth of energy to fire a laser. As long as you have electrical power, you always have ammunition. But it also means if you are on the attack with lasers, the enemy will never have that moment when you need to reload or you run out of ammunition.
6. Hypersonic Kinetic Energy
Back in 2004 the media called this weapon Rods from God. And for a long time nothing was heard about the hypersonic kinetic energy weapons system. However, it’s still in development and still poses an incredible destructive potential that rivals nuclear weapons.
Back in 1967, 107 countries signed the Outer Space Treaty. This treaty included a prohibition on using weapons of mass destruction from outer space. At the time, however, weapons of mass destruction were listed as nuclear, biological, and chemical. And a hypersonic kinetic energy weapon is none of those things. In fact, these weapons are just tungsten rods. Twenty feet long and 1 foot in diameter. If these were to be launched from ,by the time they hit the earth they would bring with them the power of an intercontinental ballistic missile, laying waste to anything below.
Known as Project Thor, this was inspired by Lazy Dog bombs used during the Vietnam War. Those were pieces of steel that were two inches long and dropped from airplanes. As they gained velocity they would hit the ground at about 500 miles per hour. No explosives needed and they could penetrate concrete nearly a foot deep.
Project Thor, or Rods from God, involves dropping tungsten rods the size of telephone poles from satellites in space. They can reach 10 times the speed of sound before they hit the ground. And when they hit the ground, they would go several hundred feet into it as well. That means if some target is hiding in a bunker they’re still not safe. Enough force would be released when the rods hit that it would rival a ground-penetrating nuclear weapon. And the added bonus is that there is no fallout from the blast.
5. Geophysical Weapons
The concept of geophysical weapons sounds a bit like the kind of stuff you might expect from a 1970s James Bond villain. These are the kind of weapons that are able to affect the climate and the environment, as well as the Earth itself in the form of seismic weapons.
It has long been believed that the US military has a facility located in Alaska known as HAARP which stands for the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program. Conspiracy theorists believe that this facility is researching high frequency radio waves and how they can affect the ionosphere in terms of being used as a geophysical weapon.
Beyond Alaska, China has been making strides with technology that many feel could be used as geophysical weapons. They just recently reported that they’ve had success controlling the local weather. So while it may sound a lot like fiction, it seems like China has at least had some success moving forward with these plans.
4. Cyber Weapons
In the modern world, mass destruction doesn’t have to take place in a way that can be described with explosions and rubble and big craters in the Earth. If you really want to cripple an enemy all you need to do is lay waste to their infrastructure. While destructive physical warfare with bombs and bullets will probably never go out of style, cyber warfare can cause more damage in a shorter period of time.
In theory, if you have the capability, launching a cyberattack can destroy an enemy from within. Communications systems, military systems, even a country’s power grid and financial infrastructure can all be either shut down or even erased. There’s just short of nothing in the modern world that is not run by computers and managed over a computer network. The ability to control an enemy’s weapon’s arsenals, to cripple their economy, to leave them literally in the dark can all be done from the other side of the world with a team of skilled cyber attack specialists.
3. Isomer Bombs
To understand what an isomer bomb might be you have to know a little bit about how nuclear works. Isomers are atomic nuclei that have the same mass and atomic number but different radioactive properties. If you were to design an isomer bomb, you would be able to rapidly change the state of these nuclear isomers. They call it triggering, because normally these nuclei decay very slowly but if you trigger them and If it works successfully you would be able to receive a massive burst of gamma and x-ray radiation. So essentially it would be stable enough until you needed it to blow up on demand. The resulting burst of energy would be incredible.
At present, the idea of an isomer bomb, typically linked to the nuclear isomer of hafnium, is thought to be at least one hundred thousand times more energetic than a chemical reaction. One gram of hafnium contains the equivalent energy of 660 pounds of TNT. The energy produced is a transition of energy between nucleons so it’s actually a different kind of nuclear energy than either fission or fusion. It’s also entirely theoretical at the moment.
There’s something called the hafnium controversy that occurred in the ’90s, in which a team of researchers claim to have actually been able to cause an isomer reaction. No other scientists were able to duplicate the results however and many scientists consider it impossible. That said, Russia has apparently been continuing research into the idea of an isomer bomb
2. Psychotronic Weapons
If you have weapons that can destroy buildings, control the weather, destroy a country’s infrastructure, and scramble electronics, what else might be left? The only thing you’re missing at this point is a weapon that can destroy your enemy from the inside. That’s where the field of psychotropic weapons comes in. These are weapons that are meant to affect the minds of soldiers in enemy combatants. Anything that’s meant to affect the consciousness and the brain of another person. Laid out like this it sounds utterly preposterous. What kind of weapon can control another person’s mind? Or make them see things that aren’t there?
In 2018, research conducted into unexplained injuries suffered by American diplomats in Cuba concluded that there was a possibility the diplomats had been subjected to psychotronic weapons. It was believed that a microwave device was used and the resulting effect was brain injuries. When you’re subject to one of these attacks you can hear noises that sound natural but are actually coming from inside your own head. Even deaf people can hear when they’re being attacked with a microwave device. Sounds and words can be beamed directly into someone’s head. The effects can be painful and debilitating, even to the point of rendering a victim incapacitated.
1. Brain Drones
Drones are fairly ubiquitous in warfare these days and have proven to be quite destructive. An unmanned aircraft flown from potentially the other side of the world capable of dropping bombs on any target is definitely something out of nightmares. The only thing that could make it worse is if that person on the other side of the world who is controlling it wasn’t actually there. And that’s what apparently DARPA has been working on for some time.
Autonomous drones powered by a neuromorphic chip are essentially artificial intelligence machines. This is all in the very early and rudimentary stages right now, and we’re not quite at the point of having Sentinels from the Matrix just yet. But the groundwork has been laid and the technology will continue to advance. The neuromorphic chips are hoped to be able to help these drones recognize their environment and respond accordingly. One extremely off-putting line from a 2014 article stated that there was hope that the chip would offer the potential ability for the drone to feel different levels of safety or affinity for different places. And while safety and an affinity for a place is good, it also implies that a drone might be able to feel the opposite at some point in time as well and potentially react defensively to that.
So while no one is promising the future of warfare is going to be emotional drones that know where they are and can react with fear to confrontation, it does seem like that is the road we’re heading down.