Nanotechnology goes to war

20 Nov 2006 | News
After a week when the media were full of ideas for developing safer nanotechnology, one country leaps into the vanguard with a programme to develop weapons based on nanotechnology.

One report we have seen suggests that Israel is "the first country to publicly state they are planning to use nanotechnology in weapons". This isn't the place to ponder on why the rest of the world – well the USA and its allies – puts up with Israel's warmongering, but it seems to be stretching the point somewhat to suggest that no one has previously thought of sending nanotechnology to war. Is there really that big a big difference between "defensive uses" and weapons?
The report we saw, in the Sydney Morning Herald, suggests that sensors will be at the heart of the effort. And sensors have many uses, defensive and offensive.
The same sort of rush into "defence" nanotechnology is happening in other countries. The Department of Defense in the US has a sizeable nanotechnology effort, and it is only its superior PR skills – and those skills do not have to be that much superior to outclass Israel's – that prompts it to the the D word all the time.
For a take on the DoD's efforts, read the report it put out earlier this year, "Defense Nanotechnology Research and Development Programs" (pdf file here). As this puts it: 
Scientific breakthroughs and advances in the last few years demonstrate the potential for nanotechnology to impact a tremendous number of key aspects for future war fighting: chemical and biological warfare defense; reduction in weight of war fighting equipment; high performance materials for platforms and weapons; high performance information technology; energy and energetic materials; and uninhabited vehicles and miniature satellites.
An independent review, in the fine nanotechnology source Nanowerk, looks into military technology in some detail. This points out that the US military "is determined to exploit nanotechnology for future military use and it certainly wants to be No. 1". Nanowerk reckons that for the DoD:
The main areas of research deal with explosives (their chemical composition as well as their containment); bio and medicine (for both injury treatment and performance enhancement); biological and chemical sensors; electronics for computing and information; power generation and storage; structural materials for ground, air and naval vehicles; coatings; filters; and fabrics.
In the UK we need look no further than QinetiQ, the now independent R&D business that still has very strong links with its old paymaster, the Ministry of Defence. QinetiQ has one of the UK's handful of nano businesses, QinetiQ Nanomaterials Ltd, and, as we reported, recently proclaimed the defence opportunities that there is in nano's bigger brother, micro technology.

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