Friday, 14 December 2018

Weapons: Bushcrow and Nutcracker

“That depends upon what class of weapons our future clients will want: Sparrows, Crows or Hawks?” was Oyama's cryptic reply.
Oyama went on to explain that the supra-technology (ST) weapon systems being developed under Copp's direction were far in advance of the ET systems in service with the superpowers. They fell into three groups, named after birds. The Sparrow class comprised a number of light 'fire and forget' anti-tank, anti-air and anti-personnel missiles, named after small birds, which would 'lock' onto whatever target was being engaged when the firer pulled the trigger. Having a much higher velocity than the comparable ET weapons of the superpowers, they were much more difficult to decoy. They also had a markedly higher lethality and hit probability. The Crows were a family of larger medium range 'maids of all work', which were replacing almost all the conventional mortars and artillery in the field armies. And Hawks were long range killers that Oyama described as the creators of nuclear scale destruction by non-nuclear means, hence with no radiation side effects. Naval and air weapons were modification of the same three basic families.

The Alternate Third World War 1985-2035 (p.129)
William Jackson.
Pan-Asian Armaments classifies its missile products as belonging to one of three classes: Sparrows (Suzume), Crows (Karasu) and Hawks (Taka). This system has been adopted by some other manufactures and the terms are used generically in certain circles.

Sparrow-class weapons are man-portable and range from 15mm micro-missiles to large calibre anti-armour and demolition munitions. Typically Sparrow-class munitions need to be aimed in the general direction of the intended target.

Crow-class munitions typically are vehicle-mounted systems, usually using vertical launch mechanisms and manoeuvring towards their target after launch. A good example of a Crow-class weapon is the 200 mm Raven, essentially a version of the Jaguar missile described elsewhere. Like most Crows the Raven is modular, allowing motor, guidance and warhead to be varied to suit the customer's needs.

Hawks are large, long range weapons.

Two models of Crow-class weapons are of particular interest.

The 107 mm Bushcrow is a weapon that can trace its origins to Chinese-made rocket systems popular with guerrillas in the latter half of the 20th century. The Bushcrow is designed as a Crow-class weapon that has a level of man-portability. The missile is shipped in a cage-like framework that also serves as a launcher. Thin sheets of plastic may be attached over the spaces of the frame for additional weather protection. These are usually removed when the missile must be man-carried. Carrying straps are easily attached to the launch frame. While typically used by dismounted fighters, vehicles may be fitted with racks from which one or more missiles can be fired. Used frames can be reused or put to various other purposes.

While classed as man-portable, the Bushcrow and its launch frame weigh 42 lb and is just under a yard long and has a volume of 0.018 yd3 (5 x 5 x 33"). Range varies with particular variant, but is typically around 14,000 yds.

To use the Bushcrow the carrying frame is simply propped at an upward angle. The guidance system of the missile means that the positioning does not need to be that precise. The missile can be programmed to launch at a selected time after activation, allowing the unit that carried it to be far away when it fires.

The guidance system of the Bushcrow makes it a vastly more effective weapon than its simple rocket ancestors. The most basic version uses INS/GPS to attack a programmed location. More advanced versions can be programmed to select specific targets within the target area. Fuse options include impact, delay and airburst. The most commonly used warheads are HEMP or a 3 lb octonitrocubane high-explosive warhead that also scatters high-velocity incendiary pellets.

The Nutcracker can be seen as intermediate between the Sparrow and Crow-classes. It is a 150 mm calibre missile with large cruciform wings. It weighs 25 lbs and has a carrying handle on its “upper” side. In the infantry role the Nutcracker does not need a tube, rail or any other form of launcher. Nutcracker missiles may be placed in various locations and activated remotely as needed. The Nutcracker has two launch options.

Like most members of the Crow-class the Nutcracker can be launched vertically. To facilitate this the trailing edges of the wings are concave and the tips shaped into supports upon which the missile can be stood. This raises the exhaust an adequate distance above the ground.

The Nutcracker can also be launched horizontally. The missile is positioned with the carrying handle uppermost so it rests on its two lower wings. The missile automatically detects its orientation so when launched it fires a small cartridge located between the lower wings. This jumps the missile upwards and forwards at an angle of about 20 degrees. The main motor then ignites to propel the missile towards its target. Horizontal mode allows the Nutcracker to be used from positions with overhead cover, such as forests or inside buildings.

The Nutcracker usually has a SEFOP or HEMP warhead but can use any warhead intended for 150mm Sparrow and Crow-class munitions. Range is 4,500 yds and velocity 500 yd/s.

Friday, 30 November 2018

Two Stories of Underwater Robots.

For today’s blog I have decided to post links to two stories that may provide inspiration.

The first is “The Wabbler”, written by Murray Leinster and published in 1944. The story is about an antropomorphized robot weapon. When you read of the Wabbler’s brain ticking, it is worth keeping in mind that at the time of writing, there were perhaps less than a dozen electronic computers in the world, and each weighed several tons. Incidentally, Murray Leinster aka Will F. Jenkins also wrote the story “A Logic Named Joe” (1946), a prediction of massively networked personal computers and their drawbacks.

The second story is “Slow Life” by Michael Swanwick from 2003. This story has some nice descriptions of the landscape of Titan.

  A related idea: Eel Robots.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Maynard Menschenjäger

“They look mighty odd, I’ll grant you, but they have the eyes of a hawk and the nose of a bloodhound. The poachers and smugglers hate them!”

The Maynard Menschenjäger is a distinctive model of robot armoured tactical system (RATS) cybershell.

Its body is a bi-convex disc that is triangular rather than circular in plan view. The shape is sometimes likened to a tricorne hat. On the upper pole of the disc is a turret mounting the main armaments. A smaller, retractable turret is on the underside.

At each corner of the triangle is a cluster of sensors, creating the impression that the Menschenjäger has three heads. Obviously, an intact Menschenjäger has a 360 degree field of view.

The sides of the triangular body are slightly concave and each mounts two long, jointed legs. The Menschenjäger moves like an ant, at least three of its feet being in contact with the ground at any time. Unlike an ant, the Menschenjäger does not have a head and tail. Its front legs are whichever pair are closest to the direction it wishes to move. A Menschenjäger can change direction without turning.

Maynard Menschenjägers are mainly used for patrolling rural areas. Their long legs give them a good cross-country speed and they are considerably quieter than conventional vehicles. Intruders that would usually hide at the sound of an approaching vehicle are frequently caught by Menschenjäger patrols. Menschenjägers are efficient trackers and their sensors include scent and other forms of chemical detectors.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Saucer Grenades

Disc-shaped grenades date back to at least the First World War. They did not mature as a weapon system until several advances in technology had occurred.

The first of these was improvements in explosives. More powerful explosives such as octonitrocubane allow for better use to be made of the saucer grenade’s limited capacity.

The second technology was the use of micro-communicators to arm and program a grenade by a wearable device.

Saucer grenades may be found on page 147 of 4e Ultra-tech.

Saucer grenades are relatively rare. Conventional troops tend to use mini-missiles or more compact hand grenade types. They are more likely to be found in the hands of special agents or irregular forces.

A typical saucer grenade resembles a mini-frisbee of about 5" diameter. In the centre of the upper face there is a switch, button or pull ring. The edge has a flexible rubberized polymer sheath. The rim of the disc is less rounded than that of most frisbees. The profile is designed for good aerodynamics rather than comfortable catching. They can be thrown further than a conventional hand grenade and with considerable accuracy.

The micro-communicator system of the grenade is inactive until the safety ring is removed or the equivalent switch or button operated. The grenade can be made safe again by reversing this procedure. A second safety feature inhibits the grenade from detonating if within two yards of the controlling wearable. Throwing a saucer grenade back at is thrower just lets them have another throw! Usual fuse options are impact, time delay (0-99 secs), impact with time delay and command detonation by user or wearable. A variant modified with a proximity system can be used as a throwable mine.

The shape of the saucer grenade prevents the effective use of certain warhead types. Designing the upper and lower surfaces for fragmentation is not weight efficient. Pre-notched wire may be placed around the rim and its mass improves aerodynamics. However, this gives a very thin annular fragmentation pattern that will often miss targets. Shaped-charge, HEMP and SEFOP warheads are also incompatible with saucer grenades. Explosive saucer grenades are treated like a HE Concussion warhead so do 8d cr ex damage. Saucer grenades have too low a capacity to carry Transhuman Space-era cyberswarms [TSH 3e p.158].

Other warhead types are available. A Biochemical Aerosol warhead fills 4 yards and holds 40 doses of chemical. A Biochemical Liquid warhead covers the same area and holds 16 doses. Either warhead can be set to release all its contents at once or deploy it in a stream of 1 to 8 yards along the path of the thrown saucer. A Thermobaric saucer grenade does 8dx2 cr ex inc. Most saucer grenades are minifactured so custom types for special missions can be created. Incendiary, strobe, jammer, EMP and other types are possible. Use the stats for 40mm warheads in Ultra-Tech 4e.

Saucer Grenade
40mm warhead (see above)

Saucer grenades are thrown with Throwing Skill and treated as a thrown weapon rather than as a thrown object. The GM may give a bonus for accuracy and/or distance if the character using them has some skill in disc golf. Lesser bonuses may be allowed for proficiency in other frisbee-based sports. Consider the velocity of a saucer grenade to be 15 yd/s.

The rubberized rim and fusing options lets the saucer grenade be bounced around corners at -3. If a saucer grenade misses and scatters [p. B414], and an obstacle blocks it before it travels the full scatter distance, the grenade will bounce back the remaining yards in the opposite direction. [Ultra-Tech p.147] Another “trick shot” with the saucer grenade is “the roller”. The grenade is thrown so it lands on its rim and rolls some distance like a roll. How far a grenade rolls depends on the thrower’s skill, the ground type and the gradient. A roller down a concrete hill will travel much further than one uphill on long grass.

The thin shape of the saucer grenade allows it to be posted through narrow openings such as cooling grilles.

Monday, 23 July 2018

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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.