Nanotechnologies involve designing and producing objects or structures at a very small scale, on the level of 100 nanometres (100 millionth of a millimetre) or less. It allows humans to play with the building blocks of the universe, exploiting the laws of quantum mechanics to construct materials with unimaginable precision – literally molecule by molecule. Nanomaterials are one of the main products of nanotechnologies – as nano-scale particles, tubes, rods, or fibres. Nanoparticles are normally defined as being smaller that 100 nanometres in at least one dimension that are far more reactive and unpredictable than normal chemical/biological particles.
Advances in nanotechnology are deeply intertwined with other technologies and applications like computing including quantum computing, gene-editing, additive manufacturing (3-D printing), artificial intelligence, nanosatellites and nanoUAVs. Nanotechnology will have applications in the domains of cyber, robotics, and additive manufacturing. Nanocomputers or nanometerscale computers–that contain molecular-scale components are likely to be up to 10,000 times more densely integrated than today’s smallest microcomputers. Nanocomputers could possess the advantages of high speed and low power consumption. Such features would make them technically and economically desirable for a new range of applications. Researchers are exploring a variety of ways to design and build nanocomputer such as mechanical, chemical, quantum, and electronic.
Limits on current designs and fabrication technologies. This has led some investigators to propose radically different “wireless” designs, quantum cellular automata, and nanometer-scale neural networks, all to be constructed from nanoscopic quantum-effect devices. These devices and designs take advantage of some of the very effects that have been obstacles to making smaller conventional transistors and circuits. Still other investigators have proposed the “self-assembly” of electronic devices with nanometer-scale components in order to circumvent some of the difficulties that have inhibited the fabrication of sub-micron structures using conventional lithographic techniques.
Nanotech will lead to rapid improvements in quantum computing and artificial intelligence. Second, the ability to manipulate matter at the near-atomic level will yield highly precise and efficient manufacturing processes. Lightweight, durable, and cheap metal created by nanomanufacturing will have a variety of military uses, especially in space. Finally, nanomanufacturing techniques will augment 3-D printing, making complex and scalable designs readily accessible. Already, scientists have produced primitive “molecular motors” and other nanomachines.
While nanotechnology is already improving our computers, sunscreens, and building materials, it aso has many military applications. Nano weapon identifies the military technology currently under development which seeks to exploit the power of nanotechnology in the modern battlefield. Militaries are carying research into nanotechnology to improve medical and casualty care for soldiers, and to produce lightweight, strong and multi-functional materials for use in clothing, both for protection and to provide enhanced connectivity. Nanosensors are another application, many sensors have already been developed which take advantage of the unique properties of nanomaterials to become smaller and more sensitive, compared to conventional technology.
Nanotechnology will not only accelerate existing threats, it will create novel and more complex threats. Nanotechnology may enable new nuclear weapons (new missile warhead designs featuring pure fusion without a fission trigger), chemical weapons (capsules, active chemical bonding agents employing various vectors for entry into the human body, cells and blood-brain barrier), and biological weapons (capsules, active biological bonding agents for easier entry into body, cells, and brain and an ability to overcome the human body’s immune reaction).
Because most important biological processes occur at the nanoscale, nanotechnology will improve – and perhaps revolutionize – chemical/biological (CB) weapons capabilities. Nanotechnology will make CB agents easier to produce and transport. Respiratory, ingestive or dermal exposure to seeming innocuous nano-particles may pose a health hazard depending on the size, surface composition and bioreactivity of the particles and can cause adverse cellular and neural effects.
The convergence of nanotechnology, synthetic biology (i.e gene-editing), and chemistry will allow the creation of novel agents and enhance the resilience and lethality of existing agents. It will be possible to edit bacterial DNA to create entirely new organisms, or to build new chemicals from the ground up. NT could also enhance the toxicity of inorganic chemicals, because the large surface area of nanoparticles makes them especially toxic. Finally, nanotechnology will enable new delivery systems and methods to avoid medical countermeasures. For example, nanotubes could be used to deliver only the lethal parts of the anthrax virus- without the signature protein that is recognizable to the immune system.
Another military application of nanotechnology is the development of Nanoweapons. Nanoweapons are any military technology that exploits the power of nanotechnology in the modern battlefield. Nano-weapons may be constructed applying a combination of techniques and materials to produce very small (a nanometer is one-billionth or 10-9 of a meter) mechanical devices or inorganic nano-materials or bio-materials that could interact with, and potentially damage or otherwise alter, a number of different biological or non-biological systems. Conceivable types of nano-weapons are limited only by human imagination and include a variety of agents that may be designed to kill or maim human beings, animals, crops, or attack any of the many environmental systems composing the earth’s fragile ecosystem.
The diffusion of nanotech may increase the likelihood of nano-enabled bioterrorism. Nanotechnology he is becoming increasingly cheap and user-friendly. This “democratization” of nanotech creates more opportunities for bad actors to engineer weapons using DIY kits at the comforts of their home. Nanotech will make these weapons cheaper to produce and easier to conceal and transport, which will facilitate their proliferation to rogue states.
Far smaller amounts of the agents would need to be made, and this would require only small, low-level facilities, making detection more difficult. This will greatly hinder counter-proliferation and counter-WMD operations, as it will be increasingly difficult to detect and disrupt the creation or transfer of nano-enabled agents, whether by terrorist organizations or state actors. Moreover, identification and attribution of nanoparticles poses unique difficulties, which would hinder response to an attack.
Examples are nano-enhanced lasers, smaller munitions with increased explosive force, and self-replicating smart nanorobots (SSN). SSNs search for and destroy targets without human input and self-replicate with materials found in the environment. The advancing AI technology will also making them act as intellgent nano swarms targetting special ethenic groups or individuals. In addition to serving as weapons of mass destruction and for targeted assassination, nano devices can operate as “nano-dust spies” for reconnaissance purposes or sentinels in defensive applications.
Fourth-generation nuclear weapons with nanoscale laser triggers a small thermonuclear fusion bomb using a tritium-deuterium fuel are on the drawing board. Nanotechnology opens up the possibility to manufacture mini-nuke components so small that they are difficult to screen and detect. Furthermore, the weapon (capable of an explosion equivalent to about 100 tons of TNT) could be compact enough to fit into a pocket or purse and weigh about 5 pounds and destroy large buildings or be combined to do greater damage to an area.
Nano-poisons could be delivered to individual, small group or large group targets, not only to kill or disable, but could also be used to trigger specific brain functions or neural patterns thus effecting a form of mind control, for example, by reducing aggressive impulses or rendering victims pliable and subservient. “Nano mind erasers” could modify or even erase a person’s memory by inducing a succession of tiny and unnoticeable “micro fields” targeted to certain brain areas creating Alzheimer-like symptoms in its victims. Nano heart stoppers and stroke inducers would operate by restricting neural or arterial blood flow causing excruciating pain, permanent damage or death to its victims. Invisible nano needles could be projected at victims like bullets from guns at extended distances to arrest victims’ physical movement or otherwise disable them.
The Department of Defense (DoD) has shown the feasibility of creating a new class of weaponry – Compact, powerful bombs that use nanometals such as nanoaluminum to create ultra-high burn rate chemical explosives an order of magnitude more powerful than conventional bombs. Nanothermite or “super-thermite” is one example of such a “Metastable Intermolecular Composite” (MIC.)
Just as nano techniques can be designed to deliver medicines to targeted locations within the human body, bioterrorists could use similar techniques to release highly toxic substances to the most vulnerable or desired target areas of the body. According to Del Monte, nanoweapons are much smaller than a strand of human hair and the insect-like nanobots could be programmed to perform various tasks, including injecting toxins into people or contaminating the water supply of a major city. One unsettling prediction Del Monte’s made is that terrorists could get their hands on nanoweapons as early as the late 2020s through black market sources.
The creation and deployment of nano-weapons represent a potential “existential” threat that could prove to be far more destabilizing to the international system than even nuclear weapons and could even empower non-state actors to wreak havoc and destruction on an unprecedented scale. As an illustration of the hyper-destructive potential of molecular-manufactured weapons, consider the example of a 200 micron antipersonnel weapon built with nanotechnology that seeks human victims and injects a lethal dose of botulism toxin (100 nanograms or one-hundredth the volume of the antipersonnel weapon); a single suitcase may carry up to 50 billion such weapons – more than enough to destroy the 6.3 billion inhabitants of the earth!
A Cambridge University conference on global catastrophic risk found a 5 percent risk of nanotech weapons causing human extinction before the year 2100. “Nanobots are the real concern about wiping out humanity because they can be weapons of mass destruction,” said Louis Del Monte, a Minnesota-based physicist, and futurist. He’s the author of a just-released book entitled “Nanoweapons: A Growing Threat To Humanity.”
The Ministry of Defence in the UK has predicted that technologies such as medical nanobots and nano-enhanced reconnaissance and communication devices (such as micro-radar for miniature vehicles) will begin to be used from 2030 onwards. The U.S., Russia and China are believed to be investing billions on nanotechnology research. Many nanotechnologies will have both civilian and military purposes. The same techniques used to create life-saving pharmaceuticals can also be used to create deadly poisons. Militaries around the world are already fielding expensive – and secretive – research and development programs to harness the technology’s potential.
Furthermore, existing national and international laws designed to prevent the spread of dangerous chemicals may be unable to keep pace with the rapid changes brought on by nanotech. Nanotechnology is also emerging and converging with other science technologies at breakneck speed, and the rapid advancement of the technology may outpace existing legal and policy responses. There are endless combinations of nano-bio-chem-conventional capabilities that could fall between the gaps and seams of the patchwork regulatory regime.
There is a dearth of scientific and economic data for nanotechnology, most importantly its toxicology, environmental impact, economic value, and the feasibility of its applications. For example, nanoparticles used in different military materials could possibly hazard in nature to the soldiers that are wearing the material if the material is allowed to get worn out. As the uniforms wear out it is likely for nanomaterial to separate and enter into the soldiers’ bodies’. Soldiers having nanoparticles arriving the soldiers’ bodies would be very unhealthy and could create serious harm to them. The studies showed that the different soldiers suffered from varying degrees of brain damage. This brain damage would create a serious negative effects; the studies also say that the results cannot be taken as an accurate example of what would happen to soldiers if nanoparticles entered their bodies. Therefore there is a requirement for the scientific community to establish a universal definition of nanotechnology, and engage in rigorous, collaborative data collection to better understand the costs, benefits, and risks of the technology.
There is potential for new nano-enabled capabilities may accelerate arms races and undermine strategic stability between the U.S. and its authoritarian great power competitors. Therefore there is a need to track the capability of adversaries in nano weaponry development and also develop countermeasures and mitigating technologies to counter them. Some of the key nanotech advantage areas including battle technology (nano-weapons), physical fitness (nano-enabled biotechnology) and effective command and control (enabled by nano-computing).
We also have to protect against adversaries attempts to leak our nano research. Recently FBI announced charges against two Chinese military officers for infiltrating into the U.S. under false identities to steal U.S. intellectual property. Their target was to glean insight into Harvard’s basic research in the field of nanoscience. This incident highlights that winning the future requires advancement in foundational science nanotechnology that underpins technologies like AI and hypersonics as well as nanoweapons.
Material scientists from the U.S. Army and Department of Energy conduct a study of plasma-treated aluminum nanoparticles with the goal of improving future propellants and explosives in April 2021
Scientists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, and the Center for Nanoscale Materials at Argonne National Laboratory, say they have developed a new class of plasma-treated aluminum nanoparticles that could significantly improve future explosive weapon systems. By adding a mixture of novel plasma-treated aluminum nanoparticles, Army scientists say the ultrafine particles can significantly enhance conventional munitions’ explosive power. “The ultimate goal of the effort is to extend the range and disruptive power of Army weapon systems,” Dr. Chi-Chin Wu, a material scientist with the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command and lead author of the study, said in a release.
However, aluminum nanoparticles’ surface is naturally oxidized in the air, forming a thick alumina shell, typically 20% by weight. This process of natural oxidation reduces nanoparticle energy content and slows the rate of energy release by acting as a barrier to the aluminum’s reaction with an explosive. In a separate 2018 study by Army Research Labs and Texas Tech University, scientists demonstrated that by replacing a conventional alumina shell with an oxidizing salt called AIH, or aluminum iodate hexahydrate, they could increase the detonation velocity of explosive TNT by 30%.
“We believe these results show tremendous promise for enhancing the detonation performance of conventional military explosives with aluminum nanoparticles for the first time,” said Dr. Jennifer Gottfried, a physical chemist that collaborated on the research back in 2018.
Army scientists say this newly developed technique will allow smaller-sized explosive weapons to produce far more destructive power. For example, the M67 fragmentation hand grenade used by the U.S. military contains an explosive mixture of RDX and TNT, called Composition B. When detonated, steel fragments from the M67 produce an injury radius of 49 ft (15 meters) and a fatality radius of 16 ft (5 meters).
Expanding upon their previous research, Army scientists examined a new plasma approach and enhancing the reactivity of commercial 40-60 nanometer particles. By comparison, researchers are using nanoparticles that are 99.9% smaller than the average strand of human hair, which is typically 60,000 nanometers in diameter. According to Wu, the newly explored method involves treating materials with a helium plasma to etch away a large portion of their inert oxide shell, then treating it a helium/carbon monoxide plasma to deposit a reactive surface coating on an explosive weapon. “Plasma science is a fascinating emerging technology for many applications but has yet to be sufficiently explored in the energetics community,” said Wu.
Fellow co-author and Army Research Lab scientist Dr. Rose Pesce-Rodriguez says, “The plasma approach developed by Wu has opened new possibilities for the U.S. Army to effectively surface-engineer metallic nanoparticles for energetics applications.” Extending the range and destructive power of weapons systems is listed as the number one priority of the Army’s modernization strategy and “Long-Range Precision Fires” (LRPF) program, launched by the Army in 2018. For the 2021 fiscal year, the Army is set to spend $1.7 billion on the LRPF program, including improving its howitzers, rocket launchers and developing ground-based hypersonic missile systems.
Is MOAB a nanoweapon?
On 13th April 2017, the United States Military dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb ever used in combat, known as the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) on a network of fortified underground tunnels that ISIS had been using to stage attacks on government forces. On the 15th April, Afghanistan’s defence ministry reported the death of 94 militants including 4 major commanders and that no civilians had been killed in the strike
Although MOAB carries only about 8 tons of explosives, the explosive mixture delivers a destructive impact equivalent of 11 tons of TNT. According to Louis Del Monte , an award winning physicist, inventor, futurist, featured speaker, CEO of Del Monte and Associates, Inc the TNT and powdered aluminum account for over half the explosive payload ( H6),by weight. According to him, “It is highly likely that the “powdered aluminum” is nanoaluminum, since nanoaluminum can enhance the destructive properties of TNT. This argues that H6 is a nano-enhanced explosive, making the MOAB a nanoweapon.”
The United States GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB) was the largest non-nuclear bomb known until Russia detonated the Aviation Thermobaric Bomb of Increased Power, termed the “father of all bombs” (FOAB), in 2007. It is reportedly four times more destructive than the MOAB, even though it carries only 7 tons of explosives versus the 8 tons of the MOAB. Interestingly, the Russians claim to achieve the more destructive punch using nanotechnology.