by Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman

Cyborg Beetles : A New Defense Weapon?

Scientists at the Tokyo University of Agriculture & Technology have developed “cyborg beetles” that have a pre-programmed

remote controlled chip implanted in their brain or connected to their nerve cells. This allows the movement of these insects to be externally controlled. Tiny batteries are being developed, as a source to power the “stimulator chips”. Fitted with tiny microphones, these insects or small “cyborg rats” could become a new defense weapon to spy on important secret installations and listen in to secret conversations. 

So watch it when you are next having a confidential meeting — a cyborg fly may be listening and transmitting!


Insect Drones can Now See

Certain insect sized military drone aircraft developed in USA have now been successfully fitted with tiny eyes (mini-cameras) so that they can transmit both sound and photographs. These cameras are fitted on a single micro-chip and are very light, making these surveillance “insect drones” very effective for espionage purposes, since they can be controlled by a secure frequency signal from a distance of over  a kilometer. The device was developed by Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, and has been funded by NASA ( So if a fly is sitting on your wall, watch out — it may be a surveillance drone recording all that you say or do!

The Cyborgs are Coming!

Is it possible to enhance our mental capabilities by hooking our brains up to machines? The answer is yes — this is now beginning to happen. While enhancing brain power by genetic alterations is still many years away, bionic persons in which humans and machines are integrated to enhance human performance are under development. John Donoghue at Brown University in USA has developed “BrainGate” technology that allows paralysed persons to have computers interfaced with their brains, thereby making it possible to operate TV or light switches, move a cursor on the computer or to open emails. The US military (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) is spending US $50 million in a program to develop brain-controlled artificial limbs. Self-powered devices have been developed which will enhance the strength of arms or legs when worn. 

Smart Weapons!

A problem faced by security and defense personnel is to shoot down enemy soldiers or fugitives hiding in bunkers, around corners or in buildings. As they are not in the line of sight, they cannot be shot at directly. The US army has solved this problem by inventing an XM25 rifle that fires radio-controlled bullets. The rifle has a laser range finder which calculates the precise distance of the target, and the soldier can then adjust the distance within 3 meters of the obstruction, so that the bullet (an“airburst shell”), explodes beyond or above the target, killing him/her. This special rifle thus behaves as a grenade launcher, with the additional capability of being able to control the exact point of explosion of the high explosive round. The 25 mm round contains a chip to which a radio signal is sent from the rifle gunsight, with the exact distance at which the explosion is desired.

 Advances in microchip technologies are now making the development of such “smart” munitions possible.  This new weaponry will be available for large scale deployment in Afghanistan and Iraq within 2 years. 


New Stealth Weapon!

If a nuclear blast is carried out several miles above enemy territory, the resulting electromagnetic pulse can disable the surveillance and other electronic equipment of the enemy but also cause huge collateral damage. The US Air Force has now developed a weapon which uses gigawatt bursts of electromagnetic pulses, 10 nanosecond-long, which cause a power surge in unshielded wires, resulting in the destruction of radars, satellite dishes and other electronic equipment, thereby blinding the enemy. The weapon can be fired from the antenna of a stealth unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). Boeing has developed a special fitted stealth “Phantom Ray” UAV which can approach the enemy undetected for the purpose. Since the microwaves can travel through ventilation ducts and pipes leading to enemy bunkers, the electronic equipment concealed in bunkers is also destroyed. The US Air Force has allocated US$ 40 million for further development of even more powerful longer range weapons. 

The Pakistan armed forces need to involve our engineering universities to develop similar weapons as well as protective electronic devices against such attacks. 


Laser Warfare: “Star Wars”- Style!

On February 11, 2010 a ballistic missile was launched from a mobile launch platform on the sea. As the missile gained speed by firing rocket boosters, it was detected by on-board sensors on an aircraft equipped with a very powerful chemical oxide laser gun. The target was tracked by a low energy laser and then fired upon by the megawatt-class high energy laser, destroying the ballistic missile. This was the first demonstration of the destruction of a ballistic missile using high powered lasers from an air-borne platform, and has heralded the advent of a new generation of powerful weapons that may change the future course of warfare.

The program to develop these weapons was initiated by Ronald Reagan in 1983. Ground-based laser systems were developed to knock down incoming missiles, but it suffers from the disadvantage that they can protect only a limited ground area. The second more ambitious programme was to develop a mobile air-borne laser gun system that could be deployed anywhere rapidly. A B-747 aircraft was modified in 2004 to house the high-powered laser gun.

The technology involves the deployment of Free Electron Lasers (FEL).These are different from conventional lasers which are limited by the wavelength of light that they emit (since that is dependent on the source of the electrons, gas or crystal, in the lasers. In FEL devices, the atoms are stripped of the electrons and they are then energised to huge energy levels by using a linear accelerator. 


Sophisticated Aircraft — Designed to Fail!

Imagine that you are a pilot flying a fighter aircraft on a mission above enemy territory. Suddenly you lose control for no apparent reason and the plane goes into a spin dive—forcing you to bail out. The reason — the plane was supplied with some special “adulterated” microchips which could be activated by external signals to disable important controls — flight controls, guidance systems, firing mechanisms etc. 

Engineers of Case Western University in Cleveland, Ohio and the electronics company Rockwell Automation of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA have shown how microchips could be converted into “Trojan horses” which could be activated by an external signal when ever required, disabling the equipment (arXiv:0906.3832 and 0906.3834). Such adulteration of chips is almost impossible to detect because of the huge complexity of the circuitry in the electronic equipment which contains millions of different circuits.  Countries which are unable to build their own sophisticated military equipment will soon find that they may be buying expensive “sitting ducks” with built-in time bombs — preprogrammed to fail if the supplier countries pass the trigger to the enemy country. A simple triggering radio message can cause the equipment to fail at a crucial moment


Star wars is here — reusable military spaceship launched

On April 22 2010, a robotic spaceship was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, USA. The X- 32B orbital test vehicle represents the next generation of space vehicles. Its real mission is being kept a closely guarded secret. It is not meant to carry people but contains new equipment, materials and sensors that can be incorporated into satellites. It is speculated that new weapon systems will be tested on it from space (low earth orbit) for the first time in human history. It can keep itself in space for as long as nine months and may represent the first of a convoy of many military space vehicles that will remain permanently in space to closely watch over possible military activities in enemy territories as well as have the ability to launch attacks against them. 

The US agencies involved in its development include Nasa, Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and other US defence agencies. Besides intelligence gathering, the spacecraft may be able to launch small spy satellites over strategically important locations that will provide very sensitive ‘eyes and ears’. 

The spaceship can therefore have multiple functions for reconnaissance, communications, and space weapon. This latest development may well trigger a response from Russia and China to develop anti-satellite weapons against such spaceships—the US is already developing improved and more accurate versions of anti-missile missiles. So the arms race goes on! 


An Exciting Military Development: Make Tanks Disappear!

In earlier articles, I have described the development of a new class of materials, “metamaterials”, that can bend light around them and cause objects made of such materials to become invisible. Now another exciting advance has been made by researchers at BAE Systems, a global company specializing in making defense weapons and equipment with annual sales of over 22 billion pounds. A tank or another armoured vehicle can have a significant advantage over the enemy if it can somehow cloak itself so that it is invisible and blends in with the surrounding landscape. BAE engineers have developed a cloaking technology that involves covering the tank/vehicle with hexagonal sheaths of a material. This hexagons act as pixels that can change their temperatures and combine together to display an infra-red image that is formed by an onboard camera that records the surrounding landscape. The tank may thus appear as trees and bushes! Even a moving tank can rapidly change its image as the background changes. The hexagons on the surface are made of strong but light weight metal that offers protection against enemy gun fire. They are powered by the electrical system of the vehicle on which they are installed.

An onboard computer has a library of images stored in it so that if the tank is to appear as a rock or a bunch of animals grazing, it can project such an image. Besides the infra-red images, the technology can also be adapted so that other parts of the spectrum (eg. visible light) can also be manipulated, thereby allowing all-round stealth capabilities. The technology can also be used on ships, aircraft and helicopters. 


Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman has 910 publications in several fields of organic chemistry including 701 research publications