Did you scoff at the accelerator suits shown in the trailer for G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra? You shouldn't — similar technology is being developed right now by the U.S. military, and that's just the beginning of how military tech is rapidly evolving.
The U.S. has the most advanced military organization the world has ever known. And it's planning to keep that status. Already dozens of federal agencies, private contractors and intensely smart and motivated people are crafting new and sophisticated weapons that will give America the high-tech edge in warfare for years to come.
Hit the jump to see what the next generation of fighting gear is going to look like — from firearms to fighter planes.
Firearms 2.0: XM-25 Rifle
The tech: Imagine shooting around corners or into trenches, unleashing radio-controlled smart bullets. If the XM-25's exploding 25mm bullets get within 3 feet of those bad guys it's curtains.
Replaces/Augments: Standard-issue Colt M4 rifles, the mainstay of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, will still be used on the battlefield, but this beast could add an extra element of lethal firepower, augmenting various bombs and missiles.
Weakness? No. Whoever's wielding this formidable weapon can still be shot, but enemies hiding behind walls and in trenches won't be safe anymore.
Deployment date: Testing next year, hitting battlefields in 2012
Drones 2.0: Aurora Excalibur
The tech: The Aurora Excalibur drone travels at 460 mph, takes off and lands vertically, carries four Hellfire missiles, and can be remotely operated from anywhere. It's the dream weapon of military aficionados because it can neither be seen nor heard by the enemy, rains down destruction at a moment's notice, and none of our guys are in danger.
Replaces/Augments: Predator Drone. Excalibur's operators are not necessarily located a continent away, but remain on the battlefield near the aircraft. The Excalibur travels with the troops, and it can take off from anywhere they're located and remotely piloted from there, where other troops can paint specific targets with lasers. Then, the Excalibur unleashes its Hellfire missiles to hit the exact spot the lasers indicate. It's like another member of a fighting platoon — a flying robot soldier with a quartet of exploding rockets. Ouch!
Weakness? Casualty rate for our guys, zero. And, it'll effectively protect a boots-on-the-ground fighting group with soldier-controlled air support, right then and there.
Deployment date: The first test flight of a half-scale model was June 24, 2009, but neither its maker or the U.S. Air Force is saying when it'll see action in the real world.
Heavy Weapons 2.0: 100kW Laser Cannon
The tech: Forget physical projectiles, let's use frickin' lasers! The U.S. Navy's new 100 kW weapon is not some wimpy laser pointer. It's a free electron laser (FEL), using a superconducting electron accelerator to focus its beam to take down cruise missiles, aircraft, or hapless ships that get on the wrong side of it.
Replaces/Augments: Conventional guns aboard battleships. Imagine the power of engaging targets at long range, and smacking them down instantly with pinpoint accuracy. All laser, no waiting.
Weakness? Almost, and the laser's wavelength can be tuned so that water vapor won't interfere with its deadly task.
Deployment date: Raytheon was just awarded a 12-month contract for the preliminary design. No one is saying when this death ray might be deployed.
Fighter Aircraft 2.0: F-35 Lightning II
The tech: Fighter planes are getting older all over the world, but new planes cost way too much. Coming in to save the day at half the price is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which is relatively cheap at $83 million a copy. Making it even more cost-effective is its versatility. The F-35 Lightning II is three supersonic, bad-ass aircraft designs for the price of one: one takes off normally, another lifts off a short runway and lands vertically, and another is carrier-based. They will be able to share 80% of their parts.
Replaces/Augments: Most of the U.S. military's F-16, A-10, F/A-18 and AV-8B tactical fighter aircraft. While these F-35 hotshots won't be as fast as the costly F-22 Raptor, they'll be four times more effective than the aging fighter fleet in air-to-air combat, and even better in air-to-ground conflicts.
Weakness? Less well-heeled foes will have a hard time catching up to the F-35's speed and maneuverability.
Deployment date: The first F-35s are expected to roll off the assembly line in volume by 2015, and by 2040, they're expected to be the predominant strike aircraft or friendly countries throughout the world.
Explosives 2.0: Super Nanobomb
The tech: How do you pack as much explosive punch as possible into the smallest possible weapon? A nanobomb, that's how. Scientists turned to nanotechnology, combining tiny particles of metals such as nanoaluminum with iron oxide to make superthermite. That stuff speeds up the chemical reaction that causes explosions by 1000 times. The result? A gigantic boom from these energy-packed nanometals, much more powerful than anything short of a nuclear weapon.
Replaces/Augments: Conventional bombs, missiles, torpedoes, bunker busters, nuclear weapons. Until explosives creators got their hands on this nanotech, the biggest, baddest bomb was a Daisy Cutter, affectionately known as the "Mother of all Bombs (MOAB). The substance might even find its way into bullets. The technology could also be used as detonators for miniaturized nuclear weapons with enough force to destroy a skyscraper.
Weakness? It's difficult to defeat because not only do the warheads pack a more powerful punch, but when used as fuel propellant for rockets, the burn rate is so fast, the rockets can reach targets sooner and are harder to intercept.
Deployment date: Soon. Russia already tested a nanotech bomb that delivered four times the explosive force of a bomb of the same weight.
Battlesuits 1.0: Human Universal Load Carrier
The tech: Just when we started scoffing at G.I. Joe's accelerator suit, along comes Lockheed Martin with its Human Universal Load Carrier (HULC) exoskeleton. It's a wearable robot, sensing where a soldier intends to go, and then accelerating that movement using its battery-powered titanium frame.
Replaces/Augments: Human legs. Finally, combat equipment designers can load up soldiers with even more gear, advanced weapons, and even things they're not even about to reveal to us.
Weakness? This 53-lb lower-body exoskeleton won't work miracles, but it will allow a mere mortal to accomplish nearly superhuman feats, such as climbing over a 12,000 foot mountain carrying a 100-pound pack without even breathing hard. So far, it only works on the legs.
Deployment date: Full-scale trials began in January, 2010