I’m very proud of all of you for identifying that these are all TERRIBLE IDEAS. The thing about terrible ideas is that they still occur to people and sometimes staggering amounts of money will be spent to try to make them real and marginally less terrible.

Explainer time!

[The nineteenth in an ongoing series of my compiled explainers for my CHOOSE YOUR OWN RADIATION ADVENTURE quizzes. There’s never really a right answer but some might work out better under the constraints of the scenario. It’s like poetry, really.]

To those who refuse to play inside the constraints of the poll and demand more reasonable and less theater destroying options, I think you haven’t had the pleasure to read/experience enough of the systems development and appropriations process. We get to your answer…eventually.  Or we may invent/develop your answer several times, shelve it, and it never sees the light of day because the cash pipeline for development is not aimed at your baby. It becomes one of the deep sighs of armchair generals that think of all the designs that could’ve been. Or, alternatively, your answer is very easy to make but the conventions of warfare mean it never gets used as it’s a War Crime In A Box. You’ll need the window to shift on what’s acceptable first, which is why LASER WAR is becoming more possible.

But that is another story. 

All four of the options in this poll would definitely get you some side-eye from The Hague but some are more serious than others. Let’s start with the one that most definitely puts you on Santa Shits In War Criminals’ Stockings list. Anytime someone suggests setting off a nuclear weapon, even “It’s just a little guy c’mon”, no matter for what purpose, you just lost the game. I appreciate that you really, really, REALLY hate drones but it might be a titch excessive to set off a nuclear weapon, even a tiny one, to try to knock them out of the sky. If you aren’t already familiar with the Davy Crockett, please take a moment.

Since we originally made it Jeep mountable, a nuclear capable Hilux technical for theater denial anti-drone warfare is not beyond imagination. It’s a thing of nightmares really. Again, don’t casually nuke things. Yes, Gen. LeMay I’m thinking of you. [shakes squirtbottle] 

But as long as we’re mentioning Mr. Air Force himself, let’s talk about chaff. Traditionally, you use it to foul radar but it’s less useful against the CMOS camera systems of modern drones, though they may have radar as well.

Since enough people have sent videos of it happening to me over the years, here’s hoping you’re familiar with the oversaturation of CMOS detectors you can do with exposure to ionizing radiation. It’s very similar to overexposing film, disturbing/ruining the image. If you you could deliver enough airborne radioactive material as “chaff” to the vicinity of the drone, that was also spicy enough to mess with the CMOS, that’s a legit method. Of course, there is the teensy tiny problem of what happens to chaff afterwards. When tiny bits of aluminum, mylar, or glass rain out of the sky it’s pollution but at a nuisance level. When your airborne radiological dispersal device rains out of the sky, congratulations! You’ve just made a large scale contamination event. Curtis LeMay’s strategic bombing doctrine might look kind in retrospect. You’ll win the skies but lose the ground below.

Maybe more localized scope is in order rather than theater denial weapons. What if I could fry their CMOS and electronics from the ground instead? So, an accelerator mounted in a tank turret and a highly collimated gamma beam amount to the same thing to the drone in the sky. There are some very different concerns on the ground. As I said in my hint, photons are indistinguishable to the observer other than by their energy. 1MeV is 1MeV, doesn’t matter where it came from. But as a matter of definition, we say gamma rays come from nuclear reactions whereas x-rays come from electron shells. Which means for your highly collimated gamma beam, you’re gonna need a LARGE source of very energetic gamma. Radioactive materials annoyingly emit radiation in all direction uniformly, but you only need the tiny pencil beam you’re aiming. Also, aiming is non-trivial.

Did I say LARGE? I meant to say STRATEGIC. We are talking about the kinds of sources where people normally add lots and lots of safeguards to keep people away from getting up to shenanigans with them. As in, Homeland Security would like a word with you about it. Of course, as some of you identified, having a source this large with gamma emissions potent enough to knock things out of the sky is ridiculous. Much more efficient to just wheel a reactor out and open a shutter on the side of it. No biggie. If this sounds impractical due to the size and weight of the package to have the requisite shielding and equipment to safely operate, I’d say you’re right. But the US Army has tried truck mobile nuclear reactors before. It can be done. What you have created, however, is a thing we like to call a High Value Target. One that would be another potential radiological dispersal device if it were destroyed with enough enthusiasm. Drone operators are very enthusiastic. You would attract so many! Good bait, I guess.

Instead, let’s go for the more science fictional option of the turret mounted accelerator for your tank. This has the tremendous advantage that when you turn it off, the accelerator is (mostly) not a radiation hazard anymore. Similarly less concerning when someone blows it up. But the problem with saying “accelerator” is that you have to answer the questions “What kind of accelerator? What are you accelerating? Whaddya wanna do with it?” The most reasonable thing to try to slap on tank turret, for given values of reasonable, would be to throw a ruggedized medical accelerator as a synchrotron radiation emitter on the tank and good to go!!!

[listens to earpiece] Wait, I’m being told that this might not work.

You’ll want the synchrotron emitter to give that high energy x-ray that’s indistinguishable from gamma rays, because otherwise you’re firing accelerated charged particles at the sky and they behave differently. Well, not that differently. You get scattering no matter what. Also, depending on what you’re accelerating and how much oomph you’re putting into, you will slowly make your tank radioactive through activation. But you may have noticed that we tend to put accelerators in very large shielded facilities. Your tank…will not be one of those. The vocabulary word for the scattering associated with firing your beam into the sky, whether it be from an accelerator or incredibly large radioactive source, is Skyshine. High energy photon means they have very short wavelengths, which means they run into a lot of air.  Most of your beam will keep going, but some will be coming right back down at you, bathing the battlefield in a lovely ionizing glow. Mostly centered on the emitter location. I recommend not being near there. 

This would suggest that the safest way to implement this ionizing radiation based anti-drone system would be to have it be a remotely operating system. There’s a word for this, rhymes with crone. 

For all the people who desperately wanted to use radio frequency interference on the drones instead, GOOD NEWS, both the acceleration components of an accelerator or the synchrotron radiation from magnets both have a decent RF component. But it’s incidental and not aimed. 
If you read turret mounted accelerator as something more like a rail gun for firing hypersonic rounds at drones, that is an extremely reasonable idea in comparison which will still absorb tremendous amounts of Appropriations money. Oddly, enough it is also a radiological hazard.  Not nearly as scary as all the other things but still an opportunity to make crew badges read funny because of a little thing we call Dark Current. If you leave the accelerating magnets on idle, they don’t care that you’re not firing a projectile. They accelerate *everything*.  As a general rule, you shouldn’t look down the bore of any gun but this rule applies to accelerators as well. If there are charged particles to accelerate, they’ll do it. And because they can accelerate both positively and negatively charged particles, it applies at both ends. 

All of this is to say, bless their hearts, General Atomics has never met a request for proposal too daring to turn down. That even if one military branch nopes out of it, there’s several more to talk to.