Thursday, 19 January 2017

Firefly and Caccolube for Car Wars

             In 1944 two German divisions were ordered to move from the south of France to oppose the landings in Normandy. Each division had several thousand vehicles so gasoline stations along the route were used to keep them fuelled. Many of the attendants of these stations were members of the French resistance who had been provided with devices codenamed “Firefly”.

             Firefly was a small device that could be surreptitiously introduced into the fuel tank of a vehicle via the filling port. Once immersed in fuel rubber components of the device would react with the gasoline. Depending on temperature, two to seven hours later the firefly would explode, rupturing the fuel tank and igniting the fuel. If the vehicle kept moving it would usually leave a trail of burning fuel. If, understandably, the drive braked to find out what had happened the vehicle was likely to catch fire. Vehicles such as tanks were likely to become blazing wrecks before the crew could escape. The consequences for the rider of a motorbike who had his fuel tank explode between his legs were unpleasant.

             The use of firefly prevented hundreds of tanks, trucks and other vehicles from reaching the forces opposing the allied landings.

             Each firefly weighed 3 ozs. A safety pin needed to be removed before it was placed in a fuel tank (a ready action). Firefly were shipped four to a can and required assembly before use. Detonation required a chemical reaction between the fuel and the rubber washers in the device so it had to be immersed for it to work.

             A modernized version of the firefly might become part of a Car Wars campaign. Sabotaging the enemy’s vehicles with fireflies may be a plot objective. Modern vehicles may have locked fuel caps, or more sophisticated defences and circumventing these by some means might be necessary.

             Firefly is entirely non-electronic so may avoid detection from sophisticated security systems. For obvious reasons it is of no use against electric vehicles, just those with gasoline and diesel engines.

             A possible drawback is that it is very difficult to predict when firefly will detonate. The user may want to ensure that his enemy is in the vehicle when the fuel tank explodes and it catches fire. An electronic or clockwork timing device could be added to the charge, providing it still allows the bomb to be slipped down the filling port. Alternately, a mechanical flow meter could be fitted to react to movements of the fuel as the vehicle accelerates or decelerates. The action of gasoline on rubber could be used to impart a delay in the mechanism become active. Radio command detonation is not really practical for a device floating in fuel in a metal container inside a metal car body.

             A field improvisation of firefly can be made by securing the safety lever of a grenade with a rubber band or electrician’s tape. The fuel eats away at the rubber or adhesive until the lever is released. The problem with using this on vehicles is finding a grenade of a diameter that can pass through the filling port! In the movie “Collateral Damage” Arnold Schwarzenegger creates a time delay by sprinkling fuel on a rubber band securing a grenade safety lever.

             A contemporary of firefly was “caccolube”. This was designed to be introduced into the engine oil rather than the fuel. Caccolube was simply a condom containing a gritty compound, so would be easy to fabricate. The oil acted on the rubber to release the compound into the oil supply. The compound then abraded the internal parts of the running engine until some component failed. An updated version of this might use some form of polymer flakes that does an even more effective job at clogging the engine. Other contents, such as nannobots are possible.

             Firefly and caccolube are of less use in Transhuman Space. Whilst vehicles that use gasoline or synthetic gasoline may be encountered electric vehicles or those using alcohol, hydrogen or liquid oxygen are more common, especially off-Earth.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Ether Superiority.

During the 20th century it was believed that conflicts were fought in the air, on the land and in the sea. By the 21st century it was recognized that a fourth environment, the electromagnetic spectrum was also significant. Gaining dominance in the EM spectrum, or “ether superiority” might be pivotal in future conflicts.

As America invested in networked battle communications and remotely controlled weapon and reconnaissance systems potential enemies invested in jamming devices and other means of electronic warfare.

In Jan 2015 an article with the following passage was published. 

“According to our Ukrainian partners, commenting on the latest ATO news, and referring to the "intercepted data from reports of the Russian army", today another division of the Russian army was destroyed near Lugansk...

I want to briefly explain to the Ukrainian colleagues, what is the modern Russian army, and what would happen, if it would come to visit them in reality, and not in their wet dreams.

Firstly, today we use digital radio communication with local encryption. You can intercept it, but you cannot decipher it. The code changes in 50 minutes, an hour, an hour and twenty-two minutes - on arbitrary unpredictable schedule. Ukrainian military and the armed forces of Novorossia are using an old analog model, which you can listen to. And the Russian army now has communications which was previously only on secure communication lines, - you can only hear the crackling and a characteristic murmur.

Secondly, if the Russian army appears in front of UAF, it will be easy to determine.

The first sign - failure of all means of communication, full discharging of batteries in vehicles, tanks and other equipment, at the same time, discharge of batteries in mobile phones, the targets, and radio stations. Then, there is a rupture of electric circuits throughout all the equipment - all of it. This is EMP. All engines stall, no way to restart. This is how the system "X" works (in order to protect the author we do not specify the name), with a range of up to 20 km.

Second - complete failure of all systems using LCD monitors, the failure of all target-locating devices of the air defense system. This is how the complex "Altair" works (this is a known complex in the world, we can name it).

Third - a failure to deploy any kinds of guided missile weapons - from MANPADS to PTURS [anti-tank guided reactive missile]. Upon launching, the ammunition liquidates itself. This is a battalion complex "Z" - on the basis of MTLB [multi-target light armored transporter]. Range - 15 kilometers.

Fourth - it is impossible to use a drone and low-flying aircraft. Their on board electronics will fail. This is system "Y". Then there is a complex "Avtobaza", which can forcibly land a drone.

What will happen next? Dozens (hundreds, if necessary) of the latest combat helicopters, flying over all the roads, start hunting for single armored vehicles, trains, cars. Railroad is paralyzed, bridges blown up. The lights go out on the home front - electric stations are out of service. Civil and military headquarters on the home front and separate leaders simultaneously are liquidated by the recon-subversive groups.”

The Russians are never above a bit of misdirection or disinformation so the above may not be an exactly accurate picture of actual capabilities. Complex “Z” seems a little redundant if System “X” has already hit everything with an EMP, for example. The article does give a nice thumbnail of weapons that may possibly be used in a Third to Fifth Wave conflict.

Currently the US is making considerable use of remote controlled systems and extensive communication networks and is very vulnerable to electronic warfare. By the TS-era we will see greater use of autonomous unmanned combat systems. Compared to current systems most TS-era electronic systems will be considerably more resistant to electronic attacks and hacking, particularly if they are military or state of the art. Some systems, however, may be impossible to protect. Weight considerations will limit the shielding that can be used by cyberswarms and small flying robotics, for example.
Without the capability to constantly micromanage units command posts may have to permit humanoid troops a great degree of initiative than some armies have previously been used to.

On a more localized level squads and platoons may need to find ways around the jamming of their communications.

Relatively static units may make use of hard-lines. Lineman and telephonist may persist as military specialities. Doubtless new technologies such as robotics may change how such lines are lain.

For more mobile forces methods such as hand signals will continue to be used. Some RATS may not have appendages suitable for hand signals, however. Laserphones are another possible answer but are restricted to line of sight and good visibility. They also need to be aimed accurately at the receiver unit, which may not be practical when elements are fast-moving and attempting to remain camouflaged. Signalling with flashing lights may be more practical. Companion AI systems can automatically convert speech into coded flashes and back again. Smoke, dust and weather may affect the use of these.

Sound is another alternative to platoon level radio communication. Visual and audible signals are how most infantry in the Second World War communicated, after all. Whistles are useful and lightweight, but their utility may be limited on a noisy battlefield. Squads may make use of bullhorns or similar devices. For clarity and security an updated version of bugle calls may be employed.

Platoons and squads may once again employ messengers to communicate with their elements and higher formations. The 2100 version of a messenger may not be a runner or dispatch rider. Small autonomous robots may be employed instead.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Weapons: Vesicant Pen

The vesicant pen is an ingeniously nasty device that may be found on these pages. It may be encountered in Transhuman Space (TS) or other scenarios.

The vesicant pen looks like a large felt-tip pen or paint dauber. It contains a quantity of blister agent. For obvious reasons, the cap is airtight and this may be a recognition feature fr those that are aware such devices exist. The blister agent used is clear and transparent but somewhat oily. It may stain absorbent materials or interact with some woods, plastics or varnishes.

In game terms the blister agent is treated as mustard gas (p.B439). The actual formula may be different to actual early 20th century mustard gas. For example, the updated blister agent remains liquid and volatile down to 14 °F (-10°C). TS-era blister agent is probably odourless. Characters or creatures with an abnormally sensitive sense of smell may smell something like garlic, horseradish, mustard plant or mown hay. They may not recognize this as a threat and curiosity may be tempt them to inhale more.

The simplest way to use the pen is to paint the agent on something that the intended victim is expected to touch. This can create an unpleasant but relatively localized wound. The pen may also be used to apply the agent to blades, arrows, punjis etc.

Using the blister agent for a respiratory effect is a little more difficult since the capacity of the pen is limited. Several minutes would be needed to contaminate a relatively small room. Would be users should bear in mind that blister agents are heavier than air.

More practical is to apply the agent to something the target will be expected to smell or have near their nose. If an individual is in the habit of sniffing marker pens the pen can be left where they will find it. Alternately the agent can be applied to the inside of a facemask or space helmet.