Battlespace Tech

Boeing patents a real-life force field

Boeing force field patent filing

An illustration of the protective arc from Boeing’s patent filing.

Boeing could be bringing force fields to life. The traditionally metaphysical concept of a protective force field, seen only in science fiction tales like Star Wars and Star Trek, could be realized for practical use, in a limited sense.

Boeing filed a patent in 2012 for “shockwave attenuation via electromagnetic arc.”

The force field would use electromagnetic energy from a laser, microwave generator or elecg\tric arc to repel a force field and protect soldiers by heating up the air to intercept shockwaves and attenuate the energy density before it can reach its target.

The system could include a sensor that would detect shockwave-producing events and determine the direction and distance of the shockwave. Once shockwaves from explosions are detected, laser-induced plasma fields would be produced to protect what the patent calls “friendly assets”—in other words, soldiers inside the vehicle. 

What it wouldn’t do is put up an encompassing protective shield like the starship Enterprise has, nor can it protect against projectiles such as an armored shell or shrapnel from an explosion. Anything close to a direct hit would still get through. It would only work in a specific direction and only after being triggered by a sensor that detects an explosion nearby.

And, if it works, it would only work against shockwaves. But shockwaves can cause a lot of damage, including killing people, so Boeing’s idea shouldn’t be discounted. A Star Trek-like force field will have to wait, but in a practical sense, Boeing’s force field could protect lives against something like roadside explosive devices, for instance. The idea is to let a vehicle’s armor handle the physical projectiles and use the force field to protect soldiers from the shockwave.

As for the technology, Brian Tillotson, the Boeing senior technical fellow who filed the patent, told NBC News that a microwave generator would be the most likely way to project the force field, since lasers are difficult to maintain in a battlefield environment.

A prototype has yet to be built and it is still uncertain when, or if, the arc generator will be developed for deployment. 

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.

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