Self-repairing jets and laser guns: A vision of future military tech

BAE Systems says the military could have transformer-style jets, directed energy systems and 3D printers on-board aircraft by 2040.

Research and development experts at BAE Systems have unveiled a set forward-looking technologies that dovetail with some projects the military is working on. Some of BAE’s technologies are currently in development, but the company said they could be incorporated into the military by 2040.


The future technologies include:

Transforming aircraft. The company envisions a modular aircraft system made up of smaller jets that could combine together for more efficient travel. Once the system reaches a mission zone or encounters and adversary, the smaller, individual aircraft could split up to adapt to different situations such as conducting reconnaissance or dropping supplies.

Self-repairing jets. In the future, aircraft could be able to repair damage by using lightweight adhesive fluid inside a pattern of carbon nanotubes. After being damaged, the aircraft would release the fluid to impaired areas, quickly setting mid-flight.

Directed energy systems. Compact directed energy systems (that is, laser guns) could be attached onto aircraft, allowing them to intercept incoming missiles or projectiles. The attachment would be able to attack targets mid-flight with inch-wide accuracy and a low cost per shot—all while using a high-capacity magazine.

On-board 3D printing. As 3D printing technology continues to grow, the company is looking at how future aircraft might incorporate robotic assembly techniques and additive manufacturing capabilities. For instance, an aircraft with an on-board 3D printer could possibly print unmanned aerial vehicles designed to suit specific scenarios—human commanders could choose to print reconnaissance or transport UAVs depending on the mission. Once they have accomplished the mission, the UAVs could then self-destruct using dissolving circuit boards.

Many of the envisioned future technologies have their roots in current R&D programs.

For instance, both the Navy and the Marines have begun experimenting with similar directed energy technology for ground and sea vehicles to target drones and small vehicles. The Marines have been looking at anti-drone lasers that could be used on light tactical vehicles, while the Navy is planning on deploying its first ship-based laser gun this summer.

The Office of Naval Research, along with the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory have developed a self-healing paint additive that can be applied to vehicles.

The Navy also envisions a similar use for 3D printers on its ships, possibly printing repair parts and tools—a 3D printer was deployed on the USS Essex earlier this year. 3D printing a UAVs isn’t a far stretch of the imagination, as engineers from the University of Sheffield were able to create an entire SUAV in less than 24 hours in April of this year.

Meanwhile, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is investigating the use of self-destructing electronics through its Vanishing Programmable Resources (VAPR) program. One method being considered is turning CMOS chips into dust.