Mr. Sulu or some other of the bridge crew of the starship Enterprise reports, “Klingon Bird of Prey ship closing fast.”
Captain Kirk replies by ordering shields to be raised. In the ensuing battle, Mr. Spock adds to the tension by announcing how much the shields have been reduced as each barrage of the Klingon disruptors hits.
Inevitably the Enterprise prevails, and yet another group of bad-tempered aliens learns the cost of going up against the only man to beat the Kobayashi Maru scenario.
So much that was once part of the “Star Trek” science fiction universe has become reality, from cell phones to doors that open automatically when one approaches. Researchers are even working on tricorders and warp drives.
According to CNET (1), Boeing has been granted a patent (2) for what appears to be a working force field such as the one that protected the Enterprise from various threats during its five-year voyage.
The Boeing force field is not quite up to deflecting even missiles and shells, not to mention phaser fire.
It is designed, however, to block the shockwave of a nearby explosion. The force field does this by the use of a sensor that detects the explosion.
The sensor sends a signal to an arc generator that creates a plasma field to protect the target using lasers, microwaves, and electricity. The plasma field would deflect and absorb the shockwave, saving the target from being damaged. The force field would not be able to stop fragments, however. Armor is still needed for that task.
The military applications of such a force field are obvious. Vehicles, aircraft, and navy ships could be protected from damage from indirect fire, such as artillery or missile barrages or aerial bombing.
Buildings and other fixed structures could also be protected with such a system, supplementing missile defense systems. Soldiers and civilians alike would be protected from brain injuries (3) that are often caused by being exposed to explosive shockwaves. Often people so afflicted do not bear any visible signs of injuries but eventually require long-term and expensive care.
The proposed Boeing force field has a number of other limitations (4). Unlike the Enterprise’s force field, it cannot be switched on all the time, nor does it cover the entire target in a bubble.
It is only activated when an explosion takes place and only in the direction of the explosion. The system could be subject to electronic and mechanical glitches, common on the battlefield, power limitations, especially on smaller vehicles, and being overwhelmed by multiple explosions.
Just a Patent for Now
The Boeing force field likely just exists as a patent. No news exists whether the device is under development, perhaps at the company’s Phantom Works lab that works on cutting-edge and top-secret technology.
How fast a force field could become reality depends on how much the United States military is willing to pay for its development and the acumen of Boeing’s research engineers in overcoming the inevitable technical problems inherent in a military R&D project.
The cost of developing such a system would not only include the development costs, but also equipping the myriad vehicles, aircraft, ships, and fixed facilities that the military would be keen on protecting. The benefits would consist of all of the hardware that would not be damaged and all of the military personnel who would not be injured because they would now be protected.
Considering that one of the dangerous threats that the military faces consists of improvised explosive devices deployed by terrorists, it may be a safe bet that the development of the Boeing force field will sooner or later get the go-ahead.