Friday, 15 June 2018

Reconnaissance CATS

“What has the body of a cat, the head of an owl and the feet of a monkey?”

Many military cybershells take animal-like forms. Many militaries and agencies make use of “reconnaissance CATS” (Cybernetic Autonomous Tactical Systems), cybershells the size and configuration of house cats. These are used in an infiltration, observation and reporting role.

The cat body form is well suited to running, jumping, stalking, crawling and climbing. Its small size (SM-3) allows it to utilize routes or hiding places inaccessible to baseline humans. The reconnaissance cat can run faster than a biological cat and for extended periods since it will not tire while it still has power. Reconnaissance CATS are fast enough to range ahead of a mechanized force. Reconnaissance CATS can swim, and unlike biological cats have no reluctance to do so. Infiltration may be by watercourses, the reconnaissance CATS having no need to breathe. Reconnaissance CATS may be deployed by drop canister [TS 3e p.101].

The Westforge Neko 5 series may be considered to be typical of this class of cybershell, although it is better equipped than some models in service.

The feet of a reconnaissance CATS are more prehensile than those of a biological cat. Their prints could easily be mistaken for that of a monkey or racoon. Many reconnaissance CATS carry a selection of simple tools, such as screwdrivers to unscrew ventilation grills. The fingers have retractable claws that are chiefly used for climbing but they may be used for other purposes such as digging. Many models include some form of adhesive pad in their feet and can climb smooth walls and traverse ceilings or the undersides of walkways.
Broader, alternate feet may be fitted for operations on snow or loose sand.

Many models of reconnaissance CATS lack tails. Others, such as the Neko 5, have long, fully prehensile tiles that can be used to grip branches or tow objects. The end of the Neko 5 tail has a video pick-up that can be used to look around or over obstructions.

The Neko 5 has a “second tail” in the form of a long, retractable antenna that is used to communicate with other units or relays such as a comms-crab. The reconnaissance CATS often has a SIGINT role, recording and retransmitting any radio traffic in the area.

Many reconnaissance CATS are dressed in a shaggy “catsuit” patterned with a variety of brown and grey fibres. This camouflages the recon unit in two ways. When the reconnaissance cat is stationary it makes the cybershell very difficult to spot. If the unit is seem it may easily be mistaken for a wild animal.

The head of the reconnaissance CATS mounts an assortment of high power, multi-spectral cameras. These are the primary means of observation and recording. Sensitive audio pickups are also fitted and the reconnaissance cat may monitor other parts of the local EM spectrum. A laser system is fitted for rangefinding and target designation. The optical systems usually have a coincidence rangefinder mechanism too. This is used when the laser rangefinder might activate defensive sensors. The laser may also be used to dazzle threats or security cameras.

The “jaws” of the Neko 5 mount two devices. The Neko 5 “purr” is an head-mounted electric lock pick and turning apparatus. This is effective against many mechanical locks. The Neko 5’s “bite” is an extendable insulated wire cutter powerful enough to cut the shackles of small padlock.

The reconnaissance CATS is not designed for combat and any weapon systems fitted are intended to allow the recon unit to break contact and escape. The Neko 5, for example, incorporates a discharger tube that is usually loaded with a bursting PFOG munition. The cybershell’s head swings up out of the way before the grenade is fired towards a threat.
The reconnaissance CATS may use its claws, wire cutter and tail against attempts to seize or restrain it.

Monday, 23 April 2018

Can I Smoke? Smoke on the TS-era Battlefield.

Directed energy weapons, laser rangefinders, designators and electro-optical systems are common on the TS-era battlefield. Consequently smoke systems that can counter such threats have become increasingly important. During the fighting in the city of Grozny in the 1990s the Russians discovered smoke was vital and consequently “every fourth or fifth Russian artillery or mortar round fired was a smoke or white phosphorus round.”

Below is an interesting table taken from “Smoke Operations Fm3-50 1990”. Note that the shorter wavelengths should actually be in microns rather than millimetres! Human visible spectrum in 0.38-0.7µm, infra-red is 0.75-1000µm.
White Phosphorus (WP) ignites on contact with air and is relatively unstable in storage. It was used for smoke and as an incendiary and an anti-personnel weapon. WP burns at 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,760ºC) and a by-product of the heat is that it obscures from the visual through to the far-infrared portions of the electromagnetic spectrum, making it effective against thermal imagers. Phosphorous smoke burns so hot that it tends to form a pillar of smoke (“pillaring”), which rises rapidly. This is undesirable for some screening applications where it is preferable that smoke spreads laterally. Use of WP can produce unintended fires. As an anti-personnel weapon it is considered to cause unnecessary suffering. Because of its toxic and incendiary effects the use of WP against targets where non-combatants are present is considered a violation of the “1980 Protocol on Incendiary Weapons”. By the TS-era WP munitions have been dropped from the inventory of most militaries. It may be encountered as a “terror weapon” used by some rogue factions. See High Tech p.172 for WP rules.

Plasticized White Phosphorus (PWP) is a formulation of white phosphorus with some other agents to slow the burning, producing a more coherent smoke cloud with less pillaring.

Red Phosphorus (RP) is not spontaneously flammable, requiring ignition to burn and make smoke. RP burns at a lower temperature of “only” 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,200ºC) – which produces a more coherent smoke cloud with less pillaring. It is less incendiary than either WP or PWP, making it safer for use in smaller cartridges (for example, 40-millimeter grenades). Many self-defence smoke munitions for vehicles used WP or RP for its nearly instantaneous screening. RP can degrade in storage and produce toxic compounds.

Hexachloroethane (HC/ HCE) is a mixture of HCE, zinc chloride and aluminium. When first produced, HC smoke is very hot but cools rapidly and has little tendency thereafter to rise. HC munitions tend to have a slower build up than phosphorus smokes.

Phosphorous smoke produces phosphoric acid. HC smoke is acidic and may be carcinogenic. Respiratory protection is necessary if operating within such smokes. High Tech 4e p.171 defines such smoke as a mild irritant p.B439. Effects may be worse in confined spaces or high concentrations. Both HC and phosphorous munitions may cause unintentional fires.

By the TS-era HC and phosphorous munitions have been replaced by more stable and less toxic “preformed obscuration granule” rounds (PFOG). PFOG compositions are known as “nanodust” or, less accurately but more commonly, “nanosmoke”. A PFOG round is essentially a dust bomb containing a mixture of different sized preformed particles. They are non-incendiary, the only pyrotechnic being a small bursting charge.

Upon detonation a nanodust round instantly forms an opaque white cloud. Many PFOGs are hydrocopic, absorbing airborne water vapour to assume their optimal size. This allows more particles to be packed within a given volume. Very little humidity is needed for this and PFOG compositions are not affected by  desert environments. The smallest of the PFOG particles scatter visible light. Larger particles scatter longer wavelengths through the infra-red and into the millimetric. Many rounds also include chaff fibres so have an obscuring effect against longer radar wavelengths too.

An interesting property of PFOGs is that the larger particles settle more rapidly than the smaller. A cloud may become transparent to radar, and then infrared while still remaining opaque to visible light. This is seldom an actual problem in practice.
Typically, a particle needs to be half to a third the size of the wavelength it is scattering. Settling velocity is proportional to the square of the particle’s diameter. A spherical 0.2 micron particle, suited to scattering visible light settles at 8mm/hr while a 3 micron IR-scattering particle settles at 1m/hr. These figures are for consistent, spherical particles. Many PFOGs are in actuality rod, disc or snowflake shapes that scatter more than one wavelength.

Nanosmoke is considerably less toxic and less dangerous than HC and phosphorous. It is, however, very fine dust so breathing in large quantities may have some health effects. While PFOG are designed to be biologically inert, clearing inhaled particles from the lungs can take several days, with a temporary decrease in effective lung capacity. Soldiers without appropriate bio-mods wear respirators, smoke hoods or at least wrap a scarf over their faces. Like more conventional smokes, large quantities in confined spaces may displace available oxygen. The larger particles may form a residue on surfaces, leaving evidence that nanosmoke has been used. Like any dust, it may turn multi-coloured camouflaged into a monotone.

Interestingly, the “type III IR obscurant” mentioned in the table is actually micropulverized brass (“brass smoke”). It is used in the M76 smoke grenade for armoured vehicle grenade launchers. It may be considered the ancestor of future PFOG munitions.

Nanosmoke is used for all screening or obscuration munitions, ranging from hand grenades to artillery. Of particular note is the Westforge Chuff, a 60mm nanosmoke rocket in a one use-launch tube. Airburst distance is set by rotating one of the simple quadrant sights on either side of the tube to the desired range.  Originally designed for peacekeeping forces as a protection from snipers, it now sees a wider level of issue.
Underwater vessels have their own equivalents of PFOG smoke screens designed to counter blue-green lasers and sonar.

PFOGs can be used to create smoke that is only opaque at certain wavelengths. So called “soft smoke” only scatters visible light, permitting the operation of infrared and longer wavelength surveillance and targeting systems. Soft smoke is used when the deploying side holds a technological advantage. Used against a riot it can hinder the actions of a mob while allowing police and cybershells to operate at an advantage. As a psychological measure soft smoke riot munitions may produce coloured clouds of blood red, mustard yellow or bile green hues.

Some “burning” smoke munitions are still in use. Coloured signalling smokes still use potassium chlorate, sugar and dye. New dye compositions allow for new colours, or non-toxic versions of colours used in the past. Florescent and luminescent colours might be possible! New insulating materials reduce the tendency for the exterior of the smoke bomb becoming dangerously hot. Containing the heat increases the tendency of the coloured smoke to pillar, which is not a disadvantage in a signalling munition. Bucket or barrel-sized white smoke chlorate bombs are used to produce large smoke clouds or supplement the use of fog-oil generators.

An interesting TS innovation is coloured additives for rocket fuels. A short distance after launch a rocket begins to produce a coloured smoke trail. The warhead of such a marker rocket contains smoke composition of the same colour. In practice a marked location has a plume of smoke rising from it and a long skytrail of smoke pointing to it. A distress rocket can be fired into the air with a stream of smoke pointing back to the launcher. Wind, and other factors may affect this, of course.

Smoke is considered to be a vital part of military operations. Most brigades have at least a platoon of smoke troops. In some armies these are engineers, in others they are chemical troops. Such units may also serve a decontamination or hazmat role.

Typically a smoke platoon has several large smoke generators each mounted on a truck or light tracked vehicle. These generators use “fog-oil” to produce a cloud of smoke more than a kilometer long and can run for hours at a time. As part of an exercise in 2016 Russian smoke units made a cloud that covered the whole city of Severomorsk. TS-era smoke generators may seed a fog-oil cloud with PFOGs to increase its spectral opacity. Another TS-era innovation is to build smoke generators into large UAVs. These are known as “dusters” or “streamers” and like a crop duster they fly at low level laying a dense smoke screen in their wake. Usefully, such fliers can lay a smokescreen over enemy territory or over large bodies of water, perhaps concealing the approach of fast attack boats.

The smoke grenade rules given in High Tech are a little too simplistic. Both an AN-M18 (HC smoke) and a coloured M18 (chlorate/sugar) produce a 7-yard radius cloud. It would be more likely that the coloured smoke would be a less effective obscurant. PFOG nanosmoke grenades can be treated as either Prismatic or Hot Prism smoke (TS 3e p.159), depending on chaff additives. Unlike chlorate or HC smokes, cloud build up would be nearly instantaneous.

Smoke is going to be a common feature of TS combat, particularly when laser weapons are deployed. Fog-oil or PFOG clouds may hang around for extended periods, reducing the visibility even when the fighting has finished.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Sleeping on the Spacship Armax.

“What else do you want to know? In the centre of the ship is a bit we call the core or “storm cellar”. This is where you want to be if there is a solar flare or some devil is shooting a particle gun at you. It is the most shielded part of the living areas. Usually you find the control room, medical centre and primary sleeping area here. On the Armax these are configured as a bundle, so each one directly contacts the other two. What? Microgravity, remember. Hatches can be in what you think of as floors and ceilings.

“Command is pretty much as you would expect. Lots of panels and displays and VR goggles. Medical is not that different, now I think about it. More surgical stations and beds, of course. Even in microG you may need to strap a patient to something.

“Sleeping quarters? They are sort of a cylinder and there are alcoves down most of the walls. Walls also being floor and ceiling. Each alcove is about a metre square by two metres. Has a little curtain for privacy. Half of your alcove you sleep in, the other half is for your stuff. There are storage lockers and nets, and on one wall there is a screen and terminal. That is pretty up to date, so you can access tons of music, video or books with it. It has a fold-down keyboard and cywriter but I seldom used those myself. Actually, I tended to use the mouse to input Morse. Quite easy after a day or so. More private than the microphone, less hassle than waving your arms about in zeroG to use the holographic keyboard.

“You sleep in a sleeping bag. It is attached to one of the short sides of the alcove. There is no mattress, no pillow, you just float there. The alcove has a little air vent that you can never fully turn off. There is always a gentle little breeze that stops carbon dioxide building up around your head while you sleep. On the Armax each alcove had three such bags, rolled up. A red, a white and a blue. Most of the time you get an alcove to yourself. When the ship is carrying a lot of personnel and there is a radiation threat as many people as possible will cram into the storm shelter. Some of those alcoves are filled up with ration packs in case we have to spend a couple of days in the storm shelter. When it is crowded you end up “hot bunking”. You share your alcove with two other guys. One sleeps while the other two work. On the Armax each guy got his own bag, colour coded. That was a lot nicer arrangement than on many ships”

Tuesday, 13 March 2018


“Besides the usual cargo lock we had three Kwikloks. A Kwiklok is an Iron Maiden without spikes; it fits a man in a suit, leaving just a few pints of air to scavenge, and cycles automatically. A big time saver in changing shifts. I passed through the middle-sized one; Tiny, of course, used the big one. Without hesitation the new man pulled himself into the small one.”

Kwikloks may be encountered on spacecraft or space habitats. They are airlocks intended to for the rapid passage of a single individual. Their small internal capacity allows them to be rapidly filled or emptied of air. A typical Kwiklok resembles a sarcophagus set in a wall. Each door has a window at face level in an attempt to counter the sensation of confinement when using a Kwiklok. Individuals taller than 78 inches will have difficulty using Kwikloks. Obese individuals or those with exceptional bulk for other reasons may also find it impossible to use a Kwiklok. The amount of equipment a normal-sized individual can take through a Kwiklok is limited. The claustrophobic should avoid Kwikloks!

A Kwiklok designed for rapid cargo transfer has a capacity of about one cubic yard and resembles a safe with a door on two sides. The floor is often constructed as a sliding pallet to facilitate loading and unloading. Kwikloks of around one cubic foot capacity are used to pass items such as rock samples and tools between exterior and interior. Kwikloks designed for the passage of robotic systems, octosaps (TS Under Pressure 3e p.101) or astropuses (TS 3e p.118, Bio-tech 3e p.104/ 4e p.91) may be encountered.

Kwikloks are also used on underwater habitats and vessels. Standing for the first time in a coffin-sized closet while it rapidly fills with water is a memorable experience!
Kwikloks are also found in research facilities where it is important that the interior of a room cannot be contaminated by the atmosphere of another. Such Kwikloks may include decontamination systems.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Mayflies from Space.

Mayflies are a class of spacecraft described on p.94 of GURPS Terradyne. They may plausibly be encountered in a Transhuman Space or many other space-based scenarios.

Mayflies are one-use orbit-to-surface cargo transports. More material is sent from orbit than is brought up from Earth (or Mars) so a considerable proportion is sent down by mayfly. A mayfly is a simple glider that is built in orbit. It has a low-cost computer guidance system and some means of thrust to nudge it out of orbit. Mayflies may be catapulted from orbiting constructions but they still require some means of independent thrust and manoeuvre.
A small mayfly has a 5 yard wingspan, occupies 5 cubic yards and has a loaded mass of 3 tons. The largest have a 23 yard wingspan, occupy 100 cubic yards and mass 65 tons. About 80% of a mayfly’s mass is cargo so the largest carry 50 tons/ 100,000 pounds. GURPS Terradyne prices a large mayfly at $7,500.

Mayflies are constructed in orbit using materials and techniques that are readily available. They are unlikely to use exotic materials or anything that is more expensive than it needs to be. Likewise, the thrust and manoeuvre system is likely to be something simple and cost-effective such as a chemical rocket with the minimum of fuel reserve.

Mayflies are cargo vessels and not designed to carry passengers. Resourceful players may find ways around this or locate NPCs that can help them do so, for a price.

Acquiring a mayfly from a non-reputable source comes with its own potential problems. A badly built mayfly could break up on re-entry, destroying its cargo. More usefully from a narrative point of view is for a malfunction in the guidance system or control surfaces to cause the mayfly to land many hundreds of miles from its intended destination. Perhaps the system has been hacked or deliberately sabotaged. A player may be placed in hostile territory, or the opportunity for a salvage operation created.

A rogue mayfly might be directed to crash into a planetside target. Mayflies that stray too far from their registered flight path may be shot down!

Being relatively simple, most mayflies lack sophisticated security systems so some smugglers see them as a good place to hide contraband. Some smugglers use “parasite pods” which detach or eject from the mayfly some distance from its intended landing spot.

We are given no information on where mayflies land. Wilderness areas such as deserts or large bodies of water seem likely. Perhaps a problem with locals stealing cargos may arise. Or a salvage operation needs deep diving expertise and equipment.

Landed mayflies are broken up and their components repurposed for various planetside uses. In some parts of Earth or Mars buildings made from mayfly parts are a common sight.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

The Whaup

As early as the start of the 21st century accelerometers could be produced that were cheap enough and compact enough to be incorporated into a variety of everyday devices. Mobile phones and tablets used these components to detect which way up a device was and modify the screen display accordingly. Other applications used them to monitor the carrier’s motion and speed. Game controllers used them to allow the user to play games using physical movement of the controller.

Inevitably more lethal applications for such technology were exploited.

Many of the economic and political elite play golf. The whaup is an assassination or kidnapping device that externally resembles a standard golf ball. Its interior incorporates accelerometers and a super-quick (SQ) fusing mechanism. The mechanism can be programmed so that the fuse arms at a pre-programmed time, ideally just as a round of golf has been started. The whaup can also be programmed to disarm at a set time if it has not been detonated.

Handling an armed whaup, moving it or hitting it with a golf club will cause it to detonate. The super-quick fuse ensures that the golfer triggering the device will be within the effect area, no matter how fast he can hit a ball. Whaups are sometimes dubbed “nitro-balls”. This is due to their apparent sensitivity rather than the use of actual nitroglycerine. 
Standard warhead for a whaup is an octonitrocubane HEI-fragmentation type that does 4d cr ex damage and [2d+1] secondary cutting fragmentation damage. Custom features such as toxic or x-ray invisible fragments are sometimes encountered. The explosion of a whaup will also have an incendiary effect as per [4e p. B105]. This is, of course, very bad for the green! Alternately a whaup can contain eight doses of chemical or biological agent. Whaups are too small to contain cyberswarms and not suited to hollow-charge, HEMP or SEFOP warheads.

A whaup can be planted in a golfer’s bag and programmed to arm when the golfer is scheduled to play next. A disadvantage of this approach is that the whaup may be triggered by the caddy rather than the intended target. Another approach is to replace a ball in play with a whaup and wait for the golfer to find the ball and play another stroke. Being in the right place and the right time and replacing a ball unobserved in the relatively open terrain of a golf course has its own challenged. Small cybershells have sometimes been used to achieve this. 

Whaups are highly restricted devices. Black ops agents of highly covert agencies may have access to them. More usually the user may obtain them from the black market or construct their own. Just locating and obtaining a whaup may be a major task in itself.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Megaphonon Underwater Weapon.

A certain TV channel is currently reshowing “SeaQuest DSV”. Appropriate since the first season is set in 2018. When the series first ran an engineer friend of mine christened it “Dodgy Sea Vehicle”. We cremated that friend last year, so watching this series reminds me of a good friend whose wit and company I will no longer enjoy.

The armament of SeaQuest DSV was rather uninspiring, so this series also reminds me of a Daedalus post in “New Scientist” (25/6/1981). Daedalus’ posts were often tongue in cheek and many where satirical. About 20% of the ideas he suggested have been patented or proposed as serious proposals by other people. My own impression was that some of the more credible concepts may have been jokes that I lacked sufficient physics background to appreciate.

Would the “megaphonon gun” or “cavitation cannon” actually work? If nothing else it might make an interesting weapon for a cinematic or super science campaign.
Remember that the speed of sound underwater is higher than in air. Water temperature, salinity and pressure (depth) further increase the underwater speed of sound. Treat the velocity of a megaphonon as 1,650 yards/ second.