Boeing patents Star Wars ‘force field’ technology to defend vehicles from explosions

23 Mar 2015

Aircraft maker Boeing’s latest patent is right out of science fiction – a force field technology that could defend planes, ships and other military vehicles from explosions.

While the technology won’t defend the vehicle from a direct impact of a missile or bullet, it would defend the vehicle from the damaging effects of shockwaves from a nearby impact.

The latest patent details how the force field emits shockwaves in the form of laser pulses that ionise air and absorb the blow.

Vehicles and planes would be equipped with an attenuation system that can detect an explosive device such as a rocket grenade or missile and estimates the location and time of the explosion.

An arc generator on the vehicle then communicates with the sensor and calculates the right location to create a barrier between the explosion and the vehicle.

The attenuator increases the energy density just before it gets anywhere near the vehicle, placing a plasma field in the way that would prevent harmful shockwaves damaging the vehicle and injuring its passengers.

“Explosive devices are being used increasingly in asymmetric warfare to cause damage and destruction to equipment and loss of life,” Boeing said in the patent filing.

“The majority of the damage caused by explosive devices results from shrapnel and shockwaves. Shrapnel is material, such as metal fragments, that is propelled rapidly away from the blast zone and may damage stationary structures, vehicles, or other targets. Damage from shrapnel may be prevented by, for example, physical barriers. Shockwaves are traveling discontinuities in pressure, temperature, density, and other physical qualities through a medium, such as the ambient atmosphere. Shockwave damage is more difficult to prevent because shockwaves can traverse an intermediate medium, including physical barriers.

“Damage from shockwaves may be lessened or prevented by interposing an attenuating material between the shockwave source and the object to be protected. This attenuating material typically may be designed or selected to absorb the energy from the shockwave by utilizing a porous material that distorts as the energy of the shockwave is absorbed.”

War image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years