The Air Force is looking to hire a gardener - preferably one with ray guns. You see, just like the rest of us, the military is embarrassed by their unkempt, weed-filled backyards. They've tried spraying those pesky weeds with toxic herbicides, but chemicals are expensive and - this was news to me - apparently, when you spray Round-Up on a dandelion, it doesn't instantly turn black and swoon and shrivel up, like it does in the commercials. Manual weeding takes forever - and besides, fighter jocks aren't paid to mow the lawn.
So when hand-to-hand combat and chemical warfare fail, what's left to do? Zap the bastards.
Every so often, the Air Force asks small businesses for research proposals on a dizzying array of topics. The most recent list includes 160 projects, one of which is titled "Floral Disruptor – Directed Energy Weed Abatement and Prevention Tool". The objective: "Develop a device that uses directed energy technology to prevent and abate unwanted plants (weeds) in areas that require control or defoliation. The purpose of this system will be the removal of unwanted plants and keep seeds from germinating."
The military spends millions of dollars on weed control every year, and they're looking for someone who can make the unwanted plants go away for good. Someone with an idea for a clover-zapping laser cannon, or maybe a microwave-radiating, dandelion-patch-destroying fighter jet.
The Air Force wants its plant-zapper to get rid of weeds, and "protect wildlife at the same time," as the call for research notes. After all, "herbicide use generally has negative impacts on bird populations."
But think of the weeds, those poor, unsuspecting plants, who've been branded as undesirables for their entire lives. They're wildlife too. One minute, they're just sidling up to a cinder-block wall or butting in on a patch of petunias, and the next, they're wilting to their melty demise, wishing they could have lived to spread their seed one more time, or watch their offspring germinate.
As ridiculous as it may sound to suggest weeding with directed energy, an Air Force representative told Danger Room that they're not asking anyone to reinvent the wheel. They've looked into the idea enough to believe it's feasible and, perhaps, even practical.
Private industry is already hard at work engineering herbological catastrophes. They've tested microwave radiation, lasers, thermal technologies (e.g. foam, hot water, steam, quenched hot gases) and, perhaps the cruelest of all, sound, to get rid of the unwanted plants. Sound, says the research call, can be used to "deter, disrupt, deny, or degrade" weeds. Just yell at your weed until it's so emotionally haggard, it decides it can't go on anymore.
The aforementioned Air Force rep, though very friendly, was officially unable to share his name or any details about whether progress has been made in developing directed-energy gardening products. He did say, however, that if a product along these lines is developed for the military, chances are it will make its way into the consumer market as well. That's how these things usually work.
Submissions for phase-one proposals are due electronically at 6 a.m. on January 11. If you can think of the best way to wreak havoc on weeds, you win a nine-month research grant worth up to $150,000. So get cracking, all you gardeners who have ever harbored thoughts of herbicide. (Frickin' sharks not eligible.)