PLASMA BASED WEAPONS
1990 A.D. to 2029 A.D.
An overview of technology
Q: How do plasma weapons work? (redirected from the Miscellaneous Data page)
A: Plasma weapons are more rugged than their far more fragile laser weapon counterparts and would be ideal for use in heavy combat. The easiest way to explain how a plasma weapon works is as follows:
Early series of plasma based weapons operated off of 'clips' or 'magazines' containing plasma 'bullets' or 'cartridges'. Indeed, the energy required to activate the weapon, power the containment fields, operate the firing cycle, and the minute amount of fuel required as 'ammunition' might all be contained in a readily disposable cartridge, loaded individually inside a magazine type container. This cartridge might look very much like a 20th century cased bullet. This type of feed system would allow the plasma weapon to operate much like a modern day assault rifle (M16A1, etc.). In the two movies, we definitely see that the weapons carried by Kyle Reese (T1) and the Endos (T2) have some type of very well defined magazine behind the pistol grip assembly of the weapon, and that at least two types of plasma weapons seen in the movies are bullpup configuration, like the British Enfield IW weapon currently in service in England. In one scene during the opening scenes of T2, we see a crippled Endoskeleton reaching for its battle rifle. A human Resistance fighter runs up and sprays the Endo with his own rifle, and we definitely see spent shell casings being ejected, each trailing their own smoke or coolant steam. Perhaps the magazine and injection system works to offset the weight of the containment bottle and field coils.
Further review of this idea and the evidence presented to us seems to lend some merit to the argument for shell fed plasma weapons. In the first novel, Wisher and Frakes describe the weapons of a tracked HK as being chain fed plasma guns. Here is the entry from the novel.
"Reese's charge exploded first, directly under the main pivot of the rear tread carrier, one of the few weak points in the machine's armor. The concussion drove pieces of the chassis far up into its torso, shattering one shoulder turret. Sympathetic detonations ripped through the tons of chain-fed ammo coiled within it, until finally the fuel tanks went up and the fifteen-meter-high juggernaut vanished inside an enormous fireball. Ferro's charge detonated ineffectively nearby, having bounced off the titanium carapace, but it added nicely to the inferno."
-Frakes and Wisher, "The Terminator"
And later, during the second, longer
"future dream" sequence of the first movie (where Sarah falls asleep in Kyle's
arms, under the bridge after they escape from the police station), we get the
"John had come to this fire base the previous night to organize a raid on the nearby automated factories. It was known that SKYNET produced the chain-fed plasma cannons used in the Mark Sevens and Eights (there). A big raid, scheduled three days hence."
-Frakes and Wisher, "The Terminator"
So there you have it. The early generation big plasma guns on the heavy combat machines use individual power cells. Obviously, these power cells are volatile and can explode if damaged or exposed to nearby explosions. Think of the "chain-fed plasma cannon" as more like the Hughes 30mm chaingun found on the US Army's AH-64 Apache. It uses an electrically driven feed system to pull ammunition into the weapon for a very high rate of fire. Dud rounds or misfires are simply carried on out by the design rather than stop the weapon from operating like other weapons might when they encounter bad ammunition.
In regard to the chain-fed plasma guns on the HKs, empty rounds or duds are probably recycled back along a return feed chute and repacked in the ammunition cassette for later removal and reloading. Changing out ammunition involves either putting new ammo into the cassette (clearing out the spent, recycled rounds first) or simply loading a new cassette of fresh rounds into the vehicle. All of this is done by automated processes at forward service depots or larger installations.
Plasma Weapons - 1984 A.D. to 2029 A.D. - an overview of technology
Energy weapons, often the realm of science fiction, became science fact in mid to late the 1980's (thanks largely to the huge boost in technology, physics and science that reverse engineering the wreckage of the T800 from 1984 brought to the American military industrial complex). Cyberdyne Systems, coordinating with many other technological and industrial firms through DARPA, led the advance of personal high energy weapons. High energy weapons were well on their way towards being issued to individual soldiers on the battlefields of the late 20th century. Lasers would prove too fragile and temperamental for mobile battlefield use but they provided excellent aerospace defense systems and anti-satellite weapons when adequately protected in hardened and defended emplaced positions or in orbital weapon platforms. The same could be said for particle accelerator weapon systems which America deployed in orbit, along with its NOMAD (Near Orbit Mass Acceleration Driver) satellites, all part of the rapid development and deployment of reverse engineered technology in the SDI Strategic Defense Initiative or "Star Wars" space based defense system.
Plasma weapons offered an efficiency of design not available to other types of weapons, especially to the more common, lower technology based chemical projectile weapons. Energy weapons had advantages over the more archaic projectile weapons in that their lethality could be provided with smaller amounts of raw materials and unlike projectile weapons, energy weapons tended to not be adversely affected by environmental effects such as wind, gravity, etc. though thick smoke, fog and heavy rain tended to reduce their effectiveness.
The advent of plasma gun technology was not new when SKYNET blazed its thermonuclear vengeance across the surface of the planet. Indeed, the first designs for man-portable plasma guns, in the form of the Westinghouse M25 plasma rifle and the General Dynamics RSB-80 rapid pulse plasma gun, were out of research and into development by 1990. By 1992, the M25 and the RSB-80 had started to replace the Colt M16 and the Browning M2 HMG in American expeditionary forces as well as the United States Marine Corps.
Even as the M25 and RSB-80 were entering into wide-spread service with American military personnel, plans for several different designs, more advanced designs, of both man portable as well as semi-portable plasma guns had been held by the R&D teams at both General Dynamics as well as Westinghouse. These designs were being put into development approximately two years before SKYNET went rampant and these plans (as well as some prototype weapon systems) were present in SKYNET's Order of Battle and Manufacturing (OBAM) protocols. In the Far East, Japan was known to be experimenting with limited applications of directed plasma as a weapon system with their homeland based JDF forces while both China and Russia were expressing increasing interest in high powered energy weapons. Early intelligence reports of long barrel prototypes from Kalishnikov and Dragunov proved that while the Russians were several years behind the Western allies in both energy weapon technology and sophistication, it was a gap that was rapidly being closed by the Soviets.
The first generation plasma weapons, for all of their destructive power, were somewhat temperamental and had a very slow rate of fire. Each new generation improved range, performance, rate of fire, power/fuel storage capacity and became lighter and easier to wield. Phased plasma weapons, which utilized a Phased Stacking Array (PSA) to hold the plasma longer (in order to produce higher temperatures and thus greater damage capability), appeared during the fourth generation of plasma weapons ... introduced long after the designers of the first generation of plasma weapons were ash and dust.
Several advances marked clearly recognizable epochs in the development of the high energy plasma weapons.
Rapid Pulse Modulators (RPM) (3rd Gen), Variable Duration Apertures (VDA) (4th Gen), and Phased Stacked Arrays (PSA) (4th Gen) were just three of the many evolutionary steps that increased the effectiveness and lethality of the various generations and series of high energy plasma weapons throughout the War. Improved gain plasma weapons appeared during the 2nd and 3rd Generation, increasing the ratio of output (plasma) to the amount of energy input (fuel, power) by twenty-four percent. Fourth generation and all later generations of plasma weapons were considered to be high gain weapons where the ratio of input to output increased by thirty-five percent. The Phased Stacking Array was introduced into regular production runs during the early part of the fourth generation weapon families with this one improvement, when paired with a high gain weapon design, adding over forty-three percent improved effectiveness compared to a non-high gain, non-phased plasma designed weapon system. Improvements to the containment bottle systems as well as the accelerator coil fields in third and later generations of plasma weapons allowed for hotter, tighter bolts to be discharged with significantly improved range and performance over earlier models and families of weapon systems.
By the end of the War, SKYNET was mass producing and equipping its main line combat units with variable duration aperture (VDA) advanced sixth generation phased plasma weapons and rapid pulse, VDA fifth generation phased plasma weapons. After the War, researchers and scientists sorting through the technological databases of SKYNET discovered that the computer-god had working prototypes of several fusion based directed energy weapons (whereby the plasma bolt would be held and charged longer so that the plasma would begin actively fusing). SKYNET was ready to put several seventh generation phased plasma weapons into late developmental testing at a variety of automated facilities and was prepared to start production on four new series of VDA rapid pulse sixth generation phased plasma weapons systems.
In contrast, by the end of the War, the Resistance was regularly fielding fifth generation and fourth generation VDA rapid pulse phased plasma weapons with a few sixth generation VDA phased plasma weapons entering operational status (these newer energy weapons being mostly obtained from hot zone salvage ops or production site theft and with the resulting outcome usually being that these heavier weapons were mounted on mobile assets for quick deployment to and from as well as all around the combat zone).
Throughout the War, SKYNET rapidly advanced the technology of plasma weapons. The Resistance had to make do with first generation plasma weapons such as the M25 and the RSB-80 and later introduced new, more powerful, more advanced designs of fully portable plasma weapons but these were all either examples of captured weapons taken as the spoils of war or cobbled together from battlefield salvaged hardware. At the end of the War, while SKYNET's plasma weapons were uniform in production and distribution, the Resistance's plasma weapons consisted of a wide array of pre-war production models, post-war SKYNET production models, models salvaged from wrecked Machines, as well as stolen and improvised models.
Hypervelocity electromagnetic linear acceleration reduces time to target impact
Unlike a projectile weapon, the velocity of a plasma bolt was much higher than that of a bullet, often traveling at hypersonic speeds (6kps to 12kps) via magnetic induced linear acceleration. The acceleration coil ladder of a plasma weapon accepted the magnetic field sheathed bolt from the containment bottle via a shared merged field handoff coupling. As the plasma bolt was "siphoned" off from the ready plasma in the containment bottle, it was compressed into a long, thin bolt, encapsulated and completely isolated in a strong magnetic field "sheath" which would start to rapidly decay the instant that the plasma bolt left the last acceleration coil. Plasma bolt cohesion over distance was achieved through the aspect of velocity, higher velocities gave less time for the magnetic sheath to decay thus increasing the range of the weapon. Slower velocities reduced the range of the plasma bolt by allowing more time for the magnetic sheath to decay over a shorter distance traveled. Variable velocity settings were tried in some weapons, thus allowing for the future introduction of variable duration apertures.
The time on target for a plasma bolt, from the instant it left the barrel of the weapon to the instant of impact, was much, much lower for an energy weapon than for a projectile weapon, even at maximum range. Due to the low flight time and rapid on target impact of the plasma bolt, energy weapons were far less affected by environmental conditions like wind direction and wind speed. Energy weapons also enjoyed an almost completely flat trajectory in their operation, an aspect that greatly added to their accuracy, especially with automatic fire control systems.
Ammunition - weapon applied input power and refined fuel storage / injection
Ammunition storage for energy weapons was very compact (even for the first crude plasma weapons which SKYNET began its extermination crusade against the human race with) and the storage capacity for energy weapons only increased, sometimes exponentially, over the years and decades that followed. From a practical standpoint, plasma guns were both an evolutionary as well as revolutionary element to 21st century warfare.
Early low gain plasma guns shared some basic operating features with the projectile weapons that they largely replaced in quick order. Both types of weapons relied on kinetic impact of high speed projectiles to penetrate armor and cause damage. In the case of a projectile weapon, the power source and ammunition were self contained in a single application; the cartridge or bullet. Each bullet housed enough power and fuel (in the form of cap ignited propellant) to accelerate a piece of shaped metal to very high velocity over a dropping trajectory flight path to the target. The early designs of low gain plasma guns mimicked this simple mechanical loading operation in that first generation low gain energy weapons used a box style spring loaded magazine to carry and store individual power cells. Spring loaded plasma cartridge magazines, operating nearly identical to those found on clip-fed assault rifles, provided an easy transition for the soldier during training and plasma weapon deployment. Each power cell was roughly the size of a 7.62mm NATO standard rifle cartridge and contained enough fuel (encapsulated refined hydrogen) and power (in the form of a rapid discharge capacitor to produce a single fixed length and duration plasma bolt. Each power cell was disposable with some of the cell casing being consumed and used to form mass for the plasma bolt. Ejected spent power cells retained enough residual thermal energy to cause light burns but generally not enough to be a source of combustion if they should come in contact with flammable materials (like straw or dry grass).
The first generation of plasma weapons were plagued with overheating problems. Prototypes sometimes retained enough residual thermal energy to "cook off" the next round resulting in a catastrophic destruction of the weapon. Protocols of weapon operation and mechanical safe guards almost always guaranteed that such cook offs couldn't happen in actual combat (with the emphasis being on the word "almost"). Standard firing protocol for early high energy weapons dictated one shot every three seconds in order to allow for proper loading of the power cell, bolt generation, bolt launch, power cell extraction and weapon cooling. Rapid fire of early low gain high energy weapons produced some disturbing results. Residual thermal signatures within the main action of the weapons would become so great under stepped fire that some parts of the weapon would tend to glow red (with the exit port often moving through the visual thermal range from red hot to white hot). Some weapons became uncomfortable to hold while others had to be released for extended periods of time in order for them to cool down before their onboard diagnostics would allow further operation. Early weapons were also plagued with temperamental ejection systems based on regular production projectile weapons. High operating temperatures and rapid fire (greater than 45 bolts per minute) could (and often did) result in a curious operational anomaly associated only with the first generation low gain high energy weapon systems. Under high operating temperatures and with a high rate of sustained fire, the mechanical ejection system would sometimes mis-synchronize with the onboard operating system, extracting a still too-hot spent power cell from the ignition chamber. The resultant spray of molten metal would be enough to cause second or third degree burns to the right hand and forearm of the user as well as spread molten metal across the loading port of the weapon, effectively welding it shut until the user could get out their combat knife and chip away at the splattered metal to free the loading action hardware, a task that was made even more difficult when the weapon itself might be almost too hot to hold. Second generation low gain high energy weapons employed an improved closed loop liquid nitrogen cooling system which eliminated the deformation of extracted power cells, even under heavy sustained rapid fire operations.
First generation based heavier, rapid fire plasma support weapons used chain fed electrical loading mechanisms drawing from dedicated ammunition hoppers or modular cassettes. A dedicated electric motor would spin the ammunition through the receiver array at high speed, thus generating very high rates of fire. The cooling systems were much larger on the crew served weapons thus heavy rapid fire was not as much of a problem or danger as it was with the smaller energy weapons. However, so much volatile ammunition on board a vehicle could prove disastrous if enemy fire struck the ammunition storage area. Drawing from then-modern main battle tanks (MBTs) designs built to minimize vehicle / crew damage in the event of a critical hit to the ammunition storage capacity of that vehicle, early SKYNET combat designs carried the plasma ammunition in a reinforced bulkhead with a blow out hatch. The blow out hatch was specially designed to protect the machine in the event of a catastrophic ammunition hit or failure. The bulkhead was reinforced in the floor and walls but not in the ceiling so that a plasma charge cell explosion would be directed up and out, away from the carrying machine. All of the ammunition in the bulkhead would be lost but the machine would remain fully functional. Simple maintenance at an automated depot could repair the machine while powered reloaders could replenish the ammunition cassettes in a matter of minutes.
Power fuel cells / charge slides
All of SKYNET's third generation (and later) energy weapons disposed of the cumbersome and inefficient individual power cells with their spring loaded magazines in favor of a much more efficient power fuel cell which combined both weapon input power and refined fuel in one integrated containment cassette. The newly designed power fuel cell looked like a magazine, to a certain extent, but the operation of the power fuel cell was certainly different. Like the magazine design before it, the power fuel cell was nothing more than a container for power and fuel used by the plasma weapon. However, instead of storing power and fuel in a series of disposable cartridges, the power fuel cell stored energy and fuel as two separate commodities within the same container. Upon activation of the weapon, input power was siphoned off from a dedicated, rechargeable high density capacitor within the power fuel cell housing. This initial pull charge powered the weapon, energized pre-containment fields, ran diagnostics and energized the fuel injector(s) to draw a charge of refined fuel from a high pressure storage tank within the housing of the power fuel cell. and inject that refined fuel, under pressure, into the containment fields at the introduction point of the magnetic bottle. A quick discharge from the high density capacitor provided the power required to activate the high energy laser ignition system and flash-boil the refined fuel to a plasma state. After that, a small bit of the energy produced by the active plasma in the magnetic bottle was drawn off through field induction to both maintain the ready state of the plasma in the containment area as well as to replenish the charge siphoned off from the power fuel cell. A plasma weapon could be carried in a "hot" state for a long period of time, that is, an active plasma bolt could be carried in the containment bottle, using the thermal heat energy of the bolt to power the containment field. This was not standard practice though as the plasma bolt was, in essence, eating itself to maintain the field containment units, drawing power and energy from the bolt itself in order to sustain the magnetic containment fields which held it in check. Adjusting the duration of active containment would result in a direct correlation between the strength of the bolt, an application of design that would play a critical role in later, heavier plasma based energy weapon systems.
Larger semi-portable, crew served and mounted third generation plasma guns were fed by support hardware that carried an integral high density power storage array and a separate fuel tank of refined weapon grade fuel. Third generation and later Machine mounted heavy weapons drew startup power from the power core of the machine itself, using the dedicated power storage array only as a feed conditioner buffer or if the main power core was taken offline. SKYNET's standardized designs called for centralized refined weapon fuel storage that was linked to all plasma weapons installed on the chassis. Each weapon would draw operational power and fuel supply from the central power core and the central weapons grade fuel storage cell. If the central power core or central weapons grade fuel cell were to be damaged or destroyed, the weapons could still fire for some time using the backup, integrated power fuel cells located at or near the installation point of the weapon in the chassis.
Notable advances in plasma weapon technology
VDA - Variable Duration Aperture Assembly
Initial first generation weapon designs used half meter to full meter long plasma bolts fired at low cyclic rates (approximately 45rpm to 60rpm). The discharge was both wasteful of available weapon fuel and overkill when it came to anti-personnel applications. This was more a side-effect and limitation of the technology of the first generation plasma weapon designs than anything else. As plasma weapon technology quickly improved over the years, SKYNET managed to be able to coax more performance, effectiveness and damage from its plasma weapons by reducing the length and diameter of the plasma bolt, adjusting the velocity of the bolt and increasing the cyclic rate at which the plasma bolts were discharged. A more thorough understanding of electromagnetic science led to hotter and higher velocity plasma bolts produced with less fuel and less input energy (which led to the subsequent development of the improved gain and later high gain plasma weapons). The VDA Variable Duration Aperture was introduced by SKYNET in 2014 A.D. as an answer to making the plasma gun not only more effective but also to opening a wider range of combat operations to the plasma gun.
The VDA allowed individual plasma guns to fire a variety of different sized (variable length / diameter) bolts, from long duration, low frequency bolts intended for maximum impact against immobile or slow moving targets / groups of targets to short duration, high frequency bolts intended for fast moving or agile targets. By 2015 A.D., the battlefield was lit by all shapes and sizes of plasma bolts, most of which could be found as having originated from a single class of energy weapon system. Plasma guns became tunable to target parameters and combat environmental conditions, able to adjust their discharge based on whether a target was static or dynamic in range of motion.
RPM - Rapid Pulse Modulators
Third generation plasma based weapons benefited not only from a standard variable duration aperture assembly but also from the introduction of a rapid pulse modulator to the overall design. The rapid pulse modulators appeared during the third generation series of weapons and were standard on each generation and series of weapons afterwards. The rapid pulse modulator allowed each design of plasma weapon to cycle its VDA very rapidly thus providing select fire to each series of plasma weapon. Increased cooling systems were required for the RPM to be effective and these cooling systems were not available until the third generation of weapons began to be developed. Along with increased cooling systems, there came the need for quick load / quick siphon systems which necessitated a redesign of the second generation magnetic bottle array. Rapid cooling combined with rapid pulse and select fire gave the plasma based weapon systems true rapid fire capacity. Combined with the VDA, a plasma gun began to become a truly configurable weapon system able to respond, engage and eliminate a variety of threats.
PSA Phased Stacked Arrays
SKYNET's research into plasma weapons quickly improved the containment bottle design and the laser ignition system until the point where the core plasma reaction could be held slightly longer, really only a matter of fractions of a second but just long enough that the improved laser ignition system could heat the core plasma charge hot enough that a quasi-fusion reaction began to take place. This "phasing" of the plasma bolt from one thermal range to a higher thermal range improved bolt effectiveness in all areas of its performance by 40%, a noticeable improvement. The PSA itself wasn't a complex modification to the basic system, being an evolution of the core system rather than a revolution in technology. The PSA consisted of reinforced sheathed leaf containment field generator, three boost phase input field generators and a multi-stage fast cycling laser ignition system that was far "hotter" than non-PSA based weapons.
The first phased stacked arrays tended to be slower in output than non-PSA equipped weapons due to the increased time required to raise or "phase" the bolt and the time it took to (safely) cycle the entire plasma production and emission process. By the advent of the sixth generation plasma weapons, SKYNET's PSA engineering was at a point where PSA enhanced weapons had rates of fire equivalent to previous genreation non-PSA weapons. This improvement was brought about with the introduction of a fast cycling high energy laser ignition system and a variable stutter field modulator incorporated into the sheathed leaf containment field generator.
Generation Plasma Gun
Produced: 1990 to 1995 A.D.
|2nd Generation Plasma Gun
Produced: 1998 to 2010 A.D.
|3rd Generation Plasma Gun
Produced: 2008 to 2012 A.D.
|4th Generation Plasma Gun
Produced: 2010 to 2020 A.D.
|5th Generation Plasma Gun
Produced: 2015 to 2029 A.D.
|6th Generation Plasma Gun
Produced: 2025 to 2029 A.D.
|7th Generation Plasma Gun
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