A military base on the moon?
The recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have seen the US military unveil some of their most state-of-the-art hardware on the battlefield. At the end of the last century, unmanned fighter jets seemed like something from the realms of science-fiction, but eight years on, the likes of Predator drones are commonplace. However, while armed forces around the world are constantly trying to push the envelope in terms of weaponry and strategy, sometimes, like the movies, their imaginations get ahead of them.
The Gulf conflicts have seen defense companies comes up with some ingenious devices to protect troops. The likes of the Trophy Active Defense System (ADS), for example, provide an invisible force field for military vehicles by disabling incoming RPG rounds, whilst real-time images of the battlefield can now be displayed on high-tech 'army-wristwatches'.
However, the recent film The Men Who Stare at Goats has taught the public that for every 'sticky foam' created (used in the likes of The Hulk and actually used in prison facilities), there is a plan to create psychic 'Jedi warriors' (The Stargate Project), capable of teleporting through walls and killing people with a single thought. With that in mind, we decided to look back at five of the craziest ideas ever dreamed up by the military organisations around the world.
1. The Corkscrew Tank
A cross between The Mole in Thunderbirds and a hovercraft, the Corkscrew Tanks were dreamt up by the Russians during the 1950s as a way of invading countries without worrying about rough and rocky terrain.
Clearly, the Russians felt that wheels were too limiting in harsh conditions, as tyres could get stuck in the mud and snow, whereas a corkscrew would simply traveled sideways over whatever was placed in its way.
The only problem was that when the Corkscrew Tank got to flat terrain, it was... for want of a better word, screwed. Unable to maneuver on tarmac, steering became a nightmare. On top of that, the vehicle was so heavy and slow, that coupled with inability to steer, the Corkscrew Tank never actually got anywhere near anywhere to be an actual threat.
2. Project Habbakuk
Back when the British Empire had the biggest fleet in the world and was charged with protecting merchant shipping from German U-boats, scientists were encouraged to develop any ideas they might have to beat the Nazi-threat.
That kind of British daring-do inspired Barnes Wallis to create the Bouncing Bomb, Hugh Hughes to develop the Mulberry Harbour and Geoffrey Pyke to build an aircraft carrier completely of ice.
That is what Project Habbakuk was; to build an unsinkable aircraft carrier out of ice. Pkye's idea was that because ice was essentially unsinkable, 'iceberg ships' would be able to withstand to bomb and torpedo attacks.
Not just that, but they would be easier to repair and maintain as you'd only need to pour water into an impact craters to make the ship whole again. Unbelievably, the idea was embraced by Lord Louis Mountbatten and Winston Churchill, no doubt because Pkye's designs meant that the Royal Navy would have 2000ft long behemoth in its ranks.
As ice isn't the most practicable building material, Pykrete was developed - a combination of ice and wood pulp, that was still capable of withstanding heavy fire.
The Habbakuk would be capable of carrying 150 twin-engineered bombers, would be able to travel 10 knots and have walls 40ft thick. The ship would be so large that it would displace 2,000,000 tons when at sea. In comparison, the US Navy's Nimitz class carriers displace a mere 100,000 tons.
Of course, the sheer impracticability of the project meant that Habbakuk was scrapped, but it remains one of the craziest ideas of World War II. It was estimated that to construct, it would take $70 million, 8,000 people and eight months to finish. However, to show that it could hypothetically work, a scale model was built. Despite being only 60ft long, it weighted 1,000 tons... and took three summers to melt.
3. The Aircraft-Listening Horn
Recently unearthed, this photo of a military parade in 1917 shows what is quite possibly the most bizarre 'weapon' ever.
In a time before radar and just after armies had begun to embrace aircraft as weapons, militaries had begun to invest in a way to detect incoming enemy planes. This was the result - a listening apparatus for planes.
Whilst it make look like the brass section of an orchestra on wheels, the idea behind listening for aircraft holds for merit. Sound-ranging was first utilised during World War I as a way to locate enemy artillery units. Using multiple microphones, armies were able to pinpoint where enemy units were and the concept was used after World War II, despite the advent of radar.
More recently, the British military used a new system-called Advanced Sound Ranging Project in Iraq to locate enemy artillery as far as 50 kilometers away.
4. The Flying Aircraft Carrier
Favoured by the likes of Captain Scarlett, Dan Dare and Sky Captain, the flying aircraft carrier is a staple in retro science fiction, however the idea was toyed with by militaries around the world.
Developed by Prague-born engineer Dr. Karl Arnstein of Ohio in the early 1930s, flying aircraft carriers were originally airships. Designed to carry up to five F9C "Sparrowhawk" airplanes that could be launched as well as retrieved during flight, the first 'flying aircraft carriers' were the USS Macon and the USS Akron. However, the likes of the Hindenburg disaster called airship reliability into question, and even the USS Macon was lost in 1935 due to structural failure during a storm.
The Americans tried again with the tiny XF-85, a one-man plane that was dropped out of the bomb bay of B-36s, but getting the tiny aircraft back into the bomber proved to be a nightmare.
The first time it was tried, the trapeze hook, used to 'snag' the plane, smashed through the canopy knocking test pilot Ed Schoch unconscious and tearing away his flight helmet. Luckily, Schoch regained consciousness before he crashed and managed to land the Goblin... despite the fact that it was designed without landing gear.
After a series of similar setbacks, the idea was scrapped.
5. Militarising the moon
Despite the fact that man hasn't been back to the moon since 1972, the idea of establishing a moon base is often discussed. However during the Cold War, America strongly looked at plans to put a military base on the moon in order to not only win the Space Race, but ensure that Russia never got off the starting line.
We say this, because the US plans for Project Horizon (as it was known) were first drawn up in 1959 - a whole decade before they'd even landed on the moon in the first place. NASA hadn't even figured out if it was possible at that point.
Developed by the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA), Project Horizon's (A U.S. Army Study for the Establishment of a Lunar Military Outpost) aim would be to "protect United States interests on the Moon, to conduct Moon-based surveillance of the Earth and space, to act as a communications relay, and to serve as a base for exploration of the Moon."
The facility was estimated to cost $6 billion (how ABMA figured that out is a good question) and would see 40 Saturn rocket launches taking components into low-orbit to be assembled. Once delivery to the moon was complete, somehow, the facility would be manned by 12 soldiers who would defend the complex with 'low-yield nuclear warheads' and 'claymore mines'.
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