TECHNOLOGY IN RIFTS
The purpose of this part of the page is a little personal schpiel on the
topic of technolgical truths and illusions. Before I get started, first
let me say that Rifts is a game and thus I doubt Kevin Siembieda
really truthfully cares how a laser works, and when I play Rifts I don't care
either. Even if a laser should burn a nice wide hole into a Glitter Boy,
I gleefully describe it bouncing off, because the point is to have fun.
Anyone who prattles on about how lasers really ought to work while dealing
with a world in which magic is real needs his head examined.
That having been said, this section deals with how these technologies
actually work for personal interest only. When I describe why Glitter
Boys are helpless in the face of laser weapons, it is for private consumption. I am most certainly not suggesting that we should all play Rifts
using scientific principles.
Lasers are probably the most misunderstood technological
innovation in the modern world. Laser is an acronym standing for Light
Amplification by the Stimulated Emission of Radiation. A firing chamber,
filled with a particular substance, is exposed to energy. This energy
excites the molecules of the substance in question. Without getting into
too much chemical detail, the electrons bound to the nuclear cores by
strong nuclear force are agitated by said energy and leap free. Channeled as
they are by the shape of the emission chamber, these unusually intense
beams of light shoot forth.
- Lasers produce a sound on firing; a
crackling popping sound, but it only lasts a few seconds. If the beam is
perpetuated beyond that, it is silent. This is caused by the ionization
of air molecules along the beam's path, and once the beam is established the
air is no longer in its way, and no longer being ionized. Also note that
this sound is only produced by extremely large and powerful lasers, such
as those used experimentally by the U.S. weapons research people (which is,
one wishes to note, roughly the size of a small car).
- Lasers sometimes produce visible light and sometimes they don't. Many
lasers, usually including the more powerful ones with noticeable damage
dealing potential, are tuned to produce IR light and thus cannot be seen
by the unaided eye. Again, for a brief fraction of a second as the beam is
activated, any powerful laser will make itself known by a sparkling line
along its path of flight (caused by photons emitted as electrons on the
ionized air molecuels are released along its path of firing. It is really
quite pretty, I have a picture of a large laser producing them).
- The light and heat of a laser's firing are secondary. Contrary to
popular perception, lasers don't burn, scald or fry their targets. Damage
is inflicted by the wave of submolecular particles pushed ahead of the beam.
(BTW, if you don't think that effect is enough to burn a hole through
three inches of steel, go talk to a Hiroshima survivor about ionizing
radiation.) Since it is these particles which produce the damage, mirrored
or highly reflective surfaces (like our friend GB) don't do squat. You
can hold a mirror up to a highly powered laser; the light beam bounces off,
and then the laser sears a nice hole in the mirror.
- Due to the source of the damage, lasers don't burn nice neat holes,
like they do on Andromeda Strain. They produce large holes, ionizing
great chunks of their targets and inflicting massive cellular damage on
living targets due to a) secondary production of radiation and b)scattered
radiation from the primary source. If a powerful laser hit you in the thigh,
it would burn a deep hole, and your entire leg would go numb as most of the
nerve cells died.
- As I have said before, Lasers will most likely not ever be a practical
military weapon anyway; they are too delicate, expensive, and power-hungry.
To head off argument, this statement does not deal simply with current lasers,
but with any laser weapon in the foreseeable future. With enough time and
technological effort, lasers could possibly be made economical, but they
never will be because other weapons are more effective with less hassle.
Plasma is the weapon system which most people assume
Lasers will be. Plasma is a state of matter, at a higher energy state than
gasses, at which subatomic particles decouple into a big, highly energized
mass of zipping dissassociated protons, neutrons, and electrons. Plasma
as a weapon system is ideal because:
- Plasma maintains a temperature
of 15 million degrees celcius or so. Imagine a blob of matter at that
temperature hitting something like the U.S.S. Iowa. At that energy level,
armour plate explosively vaporizes in a fraction of a second. Ergo, unless
you can produce a forcefield defense, you're dead.
- Plasma is managed,
contained and fired magnetically. This allows much greater accuracy than
- The Plasma never actually touches the weapon's components. The
U.S. M-1A2 Abrams has a very expensive computer to keep track of barrel droop,
a phenomenon produced by the fact that you are detonating explosives inside
of it and that causes barrel wear and heat deformation. Plasma is magnetically
constricted, and never touches the working parts. This means dramatically
reduced maintentance, repair costs, and much higher ability to survive in
the field. If you don't recognize the value of this, you don't know much
about the military.
- Plasma is multi environmental. Lasers don't work
well underwater, due to diffraction, and they have problems with particulate
atmospheres (sandstorm, snow, rain, smoke, etc). If you install a laser in
a tank, and then tell the tank crew that they can only shoot back if the
weather is nice, you'll have a revolt on your hands. (Yes, I know, with
enough power supplied to the laser, this can be overcome. I offer it up
as a further point of its limitations, that you would indeed have to enhance
the power requirements to make up for this.) Plasma can be used with
equal efficiency in space, in a snowstorm, underwater, anywhere.
can be made from
anything. You can have a big tank filled with hydrogen, which would be
completely nonreactive if it is hit by enemy fire. Modern weapons have
to worry about their ammunition touching off, but Plasma weapons don't.
SOLID PROJECTILE WEAPONS
Solid Projectile Weapons, which we all know and love, will most likely
survive relatively unchanged, with the addition of magnetic firing.
Rail guns, the perrennial favourite of the Rifts Borg, are a viable weapon
system and again have been experimented with by the U.S. military.
Magnetically accellerating a solid projectile is just as good as firing
them conventionally save for point number 3 under Plasma (no explosion
means no barrel wear), and that they no longer need shell casings. The
big bronze shell casings you see on tank rounds contains the firing
propellant. These things are a pain in the neck because all the propellant
takes up room inside the tank that could be used for more projectiles
(and in any tank, space is at a premium), and because you need to get rid
of the spent casings, which is not easy in an NBC warfare environment.
(NBC: Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical. The tank would have to maintain
an environmental seal against the external environment.) This also
pertains to personal arms; a weapon which does not have to eject shell
casings, and does not have to store solid propellant, can fit more rounds
per magazine and has one less external opening to clog with mud, grime and
filth through which soldiers have waded since time immemmorial.
Further, the sections in Triax & the N.G.R. concerning Depleted Uranium
rounds are interesting. Uranium is a large and chemically unstable
element which moves toward a stable atomic configuration by atomic decay,
producing radiation. Depleted Uranium is a stable isotope used by military
forces the world over. Depleted Uranium is not even slightly radioactive,
as Mr. Siembieda quite correctly describes, but is used quite frequently (in the GAU-8A
cannon of the A-10A Thunderbolt II, for example) due to the fact that it is
composed of extremely large molecules and is harder than diamond. The use
of Depleted Uranium rounds have been long familiar in the modern world's
armies, and as the production of synthetic materials advances, one can only
conclude that similar materials will be used in the future.
Time to get something off my chest.
This falls into the general category of flagrant violation of the laws of
physics, and while it is in a game and so really not very important, I
wanted to point it out. Rifts Undersea, Pg. 124, bottom left hand corner.
The Stealth version of the S-16 is different in that it is painted black,
and therefore is radar evasive.
Stealth technology works because of its
construction. The reason the F-117 looks so bizarre is because it has to
look that way to be Stealth. No aircraft shaped like the S-16 so beautifully
illustrated by Kevin Long could ever be radar evasive.
Radar is another
acronym: Radio Assisted Detection And Ranging. It operates by releasing
radio waves, a high frequency radiation, and waiting for them to return.
Based on the returning wave's direction and frequency, the radar can
determine the object's altitude and heading. Stealth aircraft avoid this
by their shape, and their materials.
Shape: Radar returns are most
obvious when reflecting from a perpendicular structure. F-117's don't
have any. Every place where it would otherwise have a 90 degree angle, it
instead has a slope or a smooth surface. From almost any angle, the radar
wave will deflect off.
Materials: the F-117 is built of radar absorbent
materials. On a microscopic level, its surfacing looks like a honeycomb;
radio waves which do impact cleanly bounce around in them to the point that,
upon reflection, they are dramatically weakened.
No system can produce a
truly radar invisible vehicle; the goal is to be radar evasive, to trick
the radar and its operator to think you're a shadow, a quirk of software,
anything but a fighter. In the final analysis, true Stealth is almost
too difficult to be useful; the F-117 has a pathetic ordnance load, extremely
short radius of operation, and poor maneuverability. The new F-22 is
a much more capable aircraft, because it is less dedicated to the Stealth
approach; whileas the F-117 is all but invisible, the F-22 is only sneaky.
I just wanted to point this out, since I have seen so many movies, TV
shows, games, etc etc etc where a pilot flips a switch and activates stealth,
or turns on the Stealth mode. A Stealth craft is just as stealthy parked
on the tarmac as it is sneaking through enemy airspace, and it is all entirely
due to its shape and construction.