Throughout the ages, bad guys have loved bunkers, whether they're in Nazi Germany or Jihadist Iran. With good reason: the suckers are hard to find, and even tougher to blow up. Even the most bleeding-edge, experimental bunker-busters can penetrate, at most, 10 meters down.Which is why the Air Force is considering a new approach: teams of foot-long "subterranean vehicles" with new-fangled ways to dig.
A subterranean vehicle could engage these types of targets in an effective manner, avoiding both collateral damage and unnecessary risks to our troops. It could be deployed a safe distance from the target and autonomously navigate itself to the target while detecting, identifying, and then avoiding buried obstacles such as pipes, wires, boulders and even other buildings. This vehicle would be able to penetrate the surface either through deployable techniques or on its own.But "conventional digging techniques" will not get the job done, the Air Force warms. "Its more likely that a revolutionary approach to digging, involving biologically inspired and/or unconventional physical and chemical approaches, would provide better results."General Dynamics, for one, already has a digger, derived from nature: the Worm, a 30-inch long, two-and-a-half-inch-wide "combination of hydraulic packers and cylinders" designed to inch its way through soil. It's made to wiggle through 500 feet on earth in about 20 hours.The Air Force thinks "a system of vehicles" could prove to be a better solution, however, with "each [machine] performing a different task."Phase I of the "Subterranean Warfare" effort "should establish the ability to penetrate the surface and continue to navigate at least one meter below the surface." After that, it's time to "develop, test and demonstrate an operable prototype."UPDATE 10:38 AM: Now, of course, conspiracy theorists and comic book fans will tell you that such diggers are almost laughably redundant. To fight underground, all you have to do is find one of the secret passageways to the Hollow Earth, they'll say. And bring enough troops to deal with the Mole Men, naturally.UPDATE 2:54 PM: Some of those kooky types might believe in Hollow Earth theories, David Hambling sniffs. But as any real, serious Mulder-in- training will tell you, the Air Force "already operates its own fleet of underground tunnelling machines, digging out all those secret bases to store all the UFOs and stuff." Why, just look at the evidence, to the left. I mean, there's no chance it could have anything to do with item #4 on this list.