Will nanotechnology impact future global security? According to Jayshree Pandya, such technology is indeed about to change large-scale security dynamics, defense policies and possibly even the global balance of power. All states are eager to benefit from nanoscience, nano-engineering and nanotechnology initiatives - either directly or indirectly. While most states do not yet have dedicated nano-defense initiatives, rapid advances within the aforementioned fields are exciting many and becoming a cause of concern for the rest.
Bullet-proof vests are basically made from high stiffness and toughness, woven or laminated, polymeric fibers stacked in a number of layers. Upon impact of the striking bullet, the fabric material absorbs the energy by stretching of the fibers and the stiff fibers ensure that the load is dispersed over a large area throughout the material. Carbon nanotube is an ideal candidate material for bulletproof vests due to its unique combination of exceptionally high elastic modulus and high yield strain. If one compares these values with those for other fibers suitable for ballistic applications, the enormous potential of CNTs as a candidate material for bullet-proof armor system is quite evident.
When the U.S. military talks about space superiority it defines this as the degree of control necessary to employ, maneuver, and engage space forces while denying the same capability to an adversary. Although 'space forces' has a Star Wars ring to it, the term basically refers to satellites and these satellites - at least as far as unclassified information goes - do not carry weapons (yet); although the public website of the U.S. Air Force Space Command in listing its capabilities mentions the ability to conduct defensive and offensive counterspace operations, and space environment assessments. The main functions of the military's space capabilities today are information related - weather, communications, surveillance, reconnaissance, navigation and missile warning capabilities - and has become critical to many military operations. As other military powers build up their space programs, defensive and offensive space capabilities become more of an issue for war planers - something they call counterspace activities.
Usually, when your read official government publications about the military's nanotechnology research and development activities, it's all about sensors, batteries, wound care, filtration systems, smart fabrics, and lighter, stronger, heat-resistant nanocomposite materials etc. It's all quite useful stuff for non-military applications as well, and - as described by these sources - it's all just for defensive purposes. A good example is the official and public annual report by the U.S. Department of Defense "Defence Nanotechnology Research and Development Program". Official sources keep quite mum though about military research into offensive nanotechnology applications. For instance, in the above-mentioned DoD report the words "explosive", "ammunition" or "bomb" don't appear even once. Does that mean the military is not researching nanotechnology applications for more effective ways of blowing stuff up, or are they just being tight-lipped about it? Your guess...
Given past revelations of previously top secret military technology programs there is a good chance that some 'black' projects somehwere tinker with advanced nanotechnology applications. But, you keepers of military secrets, relax. This Spotlight is not a piece of investigative journalism into the world of military black projects. It is the first in a series of eight scenarios that have just been published by the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology (CRN) - and we here at Nanowerk have posted the entire nanotechnology scenario project here. CRN's scenarios depict various versions of a near-future world into which transformative manufacturing concepts may emerge. Across eight separate storylines, an international team of policy, technology, and economic specialists organized by CRN imagined in detail a range of plausible, challenging events - from pandemics to climate crises to international conflicts - to see how they might affect the development of advanced nanotechnology over the next 15 years. Please keep in mind that this and the others seven scenarios are NOT predictions but fiction. CRN intends the scenarios to provide a springboard for discussion of molecular manufacturing policies and societal responses. While each scenario can be understood individually, the real value of the process comes from the comparison of multiple scenarios. A strategic response that appears robust in one scenario may be dangerous in another; an organization, community, or polity using these scenarios to consider how to handle the emergence of molecular manufacturing should strive for responses that are viable across multiple scenarios.
Talking about the threat of terrorists using bioweapons is a great tool for scaring people. Using any kind of pathogen (bacterium, virus or other disease-causing organism) as a weapon certainly is a terrifying scenario; think about the near-panic the 2001 anthrax attacks in the United States caused. Letters containing anthrax spores were mailed to several news media offices and two U.S. Senators, killing five people and infecting 17 others. Can you image what panic would result from an attack that kills 5,000 people and causes 76 million illnesses? Well, as a matter of fact, foodborne diseases cause approximately 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year. Known pathogens account for an estimated 14 million illnesses, 60,000 hospitalizations, and 1,800 deaths. The Food and Drug Administration's 2005 Food Code states that the estimated cost of foodborne illness is $10-$83 billion annually. So while the U.S. spends billions of dollars securing its borders, it loses many more billions, not to mention thousands of lives, every year by not being able to keep its spinach and hamburgers safe. Apparently, talking about terrorism is much better political theater (and makes for catchier Nanowerk Spotlight titles) than discussing E. coli outbreaks. However, be it because of potential terrorists or actual contaminated food, research in microbial detection and decontamination processes increased significantly over the past years. Traditional methods of identifying and subsequently removing a pathogen are slow and cumbersome. Now, using nanotechnology, researchers have designed a novel biosensing system that can identify E. coli in just five minutes and remove up to 88% of the target bacteria.
Flawed government thinking is driving a rapid expansion in the military influence over science and technology, says a new briefing from Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR). US government spending on military research and development is soaring (up 57% since 2001), while the UK government has rolled out two new military technology strategies in the last two years. Factors such as these are contributing to an expansion of military involvement in US and UK universities. As far as nanotechnology is concerned, and as we have reported here before, the military is the largest investor in the U.S. Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI). The Department of Defense (DoD)'s share of the $6.6 billion NNI budget since the program's inception is over 30%, or $2 billion. While a part of this military research spend goes to the internal laboratories of the various parts of the armed services (navy, army, air force) and DARPA, another parts goes to universities as research grants or as part of MURI (Multi-University Research Initiative). The SGR, in its new briefing, documents how government funding for military research and development dwarfs that spent on social and environmental programs across the industrialized world. The group highlights how the military involvement in research continues to support a narrow weapons-based security agenda. SRG argues that this marginalizes a broader approach to security, which would give much greater priority to supporting conflict prevention by helping to address the roots of conflict. As part of this case, they point out how research that aims to help tackle poverty, climate change and ill-health - and thus help to provide basic security for human populations - is under-funded compared with military research.
The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has released its 2007 review of DoD nanotechnology programs. In 2007, estimated DoD nanotechnology expenditures will be $417m, about the same level as the year before. For the first time, however, the report lists the congressional additions to DoD's investment in nanotechnology. From 2005 to 2007, the Pentagon has requested about $350 million each year for its nanotechnology research. Congressional earmarks of $75.6 million in 2006 (actual) and $63 million in 2007 (estimate) have substantially increased this budget and given the Pentagon more money - and programs - than it actually asked for. The Pentagon report even states that "Congressional additions significantly complicate the assessment of current and proposed funding levels for the DoD investment in nanotechnology, since these Congressional appropriated programs commonly avoid the standard agency technical scrutiny. Furthermore, Congressional additions are often inconsistent with, or even in direct opposition to, the technical focus areas and directions of DoD agencies." Makes you almost feel sorry for the military... but it is yet another perfect example of how warped (sorry, can't use a stronger word here) the U.S. Congressional budget system has become.