Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Top-secret tech

  1. Jan 11, 2009 #1
    we all are familiar with this "top-secret" thing...some of us belive it,some of us don't...personaly I don't.
    but this question came to me,to sustain my point of view:
    if you want to research something that involves top-secret technology,don't you need to hire scientists that know in detail that secret tech? and since it is "top-secret",it is not teached in any universiy...so basicaly you will have to do a research with no scientists at all:)

    P.S. I hope "general inginering" was the optim place to ask this question:)
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 11, 2009 #2
    just keep your technology to yourself, and you too will be a "top-secret" developer. and to be safe, i'd disconnect my computer from the internet and keep notes in my own hieroglyphic code.
  4. Jan 11, 2009 #3
    well,yes,that's your secret technology...but I was talking on a much bigger scale,like the army,where you need hundreds of researchers...
  5. Jan 11, 2009 #4


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    'Top Secret' is actually a pretty generic term. The CIA had 'Umbra', 'Q' clearance dealt with nuclear weapons, etc.. I have 'Top Secret' clearance from both Ottawa and Washington in a specific field of knowledge, but there's no way in the world that I would be given missile codes or the names of foreign agents. Everything is compartmentalized.
  6. Jan 11, 2009 #5
    you only need hundreds of people to develop some ideas. but for research, you just need to study and think of ideas of your own.
  7. Jan 11, 2009 #6


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    In industrial settings, "top secret" can easily involve materials, application, means of application, and a thousand other things that you won't think of right away. Little things can keep your company on top of the competition for years if you're nimble.
  8. Jan 11, 2009 #7


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Employees working on engineering projects are generally required to sign non-disclosure agreements. Almost all engineering groups have some kind of proprietry information or trade secrets which require protection to maintain a competitive advantage.

    This doesn't mean that the scientific principles behind the technology are a secret, or not taught at university.

    For instance, I worked on a project testing a novel device to improve an engine's combustion stability. The details are 'top secret'; if the competition found out what we'd done I'd be out of a job, but the device itself is pretty simple, easily understood, and uses well-known engineering principles.
  9. Jan 11, 2009 #8


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    But in most cases 99% of the "tech" required for a particular project will be in the public domain; it is only the last 1% that is "top secret", even if you are e.g. building a top secret electronic device you will still be using ordinary resistors, capacitors etc; only a small part (lets say the algorithm that is used in the DSP) is actually secret.
    Hence, the university education will be useful for 99% of the project and will also give you enough background information to be able to learn the last 1%

    Also, I don't believe there are any top secret "single" projects that involve hundreds or researchers even in the army; if nothing else simply because it is not a very productive way or working (and if would be impossible to keep secret, SOMETHING would leak from an organization that big).
    Projects that require the contribution of that many people (lets say building a new bomb) will be broken down into smaller problems and each small problem will be handled by a relatively small group of people; and those people will only know the details about the things THEY are working on. And most of those small projects won't even be that secret on their own.

    Also, on a more practical note, most of the "top secret" research being done in the army is more engineering than basic science. Hence, they are not really developing new technologies from scratch, it is more about using existing knowledge in a new way (from that point of view they are no different from a company).
    It is true that the US military (DARPA,IARPA etc) funds a lot of basic research, but most of those contracts are awarded to civilian organizations such as universites etc and it not really secret (the US Army even awards contacts to foreign universities).
    The basic idea is to encourage research in a particular field and it is not until the the field is relatively mature that they will then use the knowledge in their own "secret" labs to build top secret gizmos.
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2009
  10. Jan 11, 2009 #9


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    It happens and it works. Many of our advanced fighter planes are developed this way: you may have hundreds of engineers and technicians who go to work every day and can't tell their spouses what they are doing. Every pharmaceutical company that makes new drugs works this way too. Security at such places is incredibly tight. And then they patent it and it becomes public domain - but how many hours and millions (billions?) of dollars of secret research do you think goes into a single drug patent?

    I don't know how old you are, but had you heard of the stealth fighter in 1985?

    Also, f95toli is right, but let me reword: the science is in the public domain, the technology is not. There was nothing in stealth that wasn't in the public domain scientifically, it's just that no one outside of Lockheed recognized a particular (Russian!) scientific paper for what it was. A Lockheed engineer picked-up on it, wrote some software (that's the technology), and poof - Stealth was born. The prototypes were then basically cobbled together from spare parts. The pilots of the first squadron each had 2 airplanes - a stealth fighter and an A-7, so they had a story they could tell their wives.

    Read Skunk Works by Ben Rich - it gives a good insight into how it works.
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2009
  11. Jan 11, 2009 #10
    are you talking about that bombardier that costs 2 bilion$ a piece?
    the only stealth fighter I know came out in 1991(when I was born,to answer the age part of the question...I'm 17)but I don't remember the name at the moment...

    either way,seems like I'm right...there is not a "diferent world" behind the curtans,the only "top-secret" part is just a trick that can be learned in a day or so...
  12. Jan 11, 2009 #11

    Ivan Seeking

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    There is no secret world of science, but there certainly is a secret world of applied science. The stealth technology depends on classified avionics and control systems, geometries, RADAR absorbent materials, design features, and techniques. The theory behind these technologies may be simple at times, and other times very complicated, but they do exist. Also, it is one thing to know about a stealth concept, but it may be very complicated to implement that concept. So while a concept may be simple in principle, the application of that concept might be highly classified. For example, what Stealth bomber design will maximize not only RADAR stealth, but also range, altitude, payload, and speed? Engineering is always about trade-offs. Those trade-off are often the really secret stuff and not something that can be learned in a day.

    In your opening post, it almost sounds like you are referring to claims about anti-gravity drive systems and such. Those claims are another matter as they do suggest that there is a world of secret fundamental science, which to my knowledge has never been true.

    Note that the SR71 - built in the early 1960s - was designed to have a low RADAR signature. But AFAIK there was no public knowledge of this for at least 25 years.
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2009
  13. Jan 11, 2009 #12
    Most top secret stuff is not based on top secret components, but instead on the applications of those components.

    Cryptology and stealth are the big exceptions. Stealth technology involves materials that by their existence are top secret. Cryptology has software and hardware that is top secret because from that knowledge the system can be reverse engineered.

    But most classified stuff is only secret for design specifications. How fast or high an aircraft can fly. The top speed of a submarine and it's crush depth. The range and avoidance procedures of nuclear weapons. Also any associated numbers that people can use to get an educated guess as to the design specifications. Even though a statistic may look harmless if you have an enemy that gets enough harmless statistics they can make good guesses on the important ones.

    The sad truth is that 'top secret' stuff is pretty boring. Worse than that many of the things that are classified can be guessed by looking at their civilian counterparts. If I recall B-2 stealth bomber uses the same landing gear as a 747, so it's pretty easy to make an educated guess as to how much it weighs.

    So, all pretty boring when you get down to it.
  14. Jan 11, 2009 #13
    It would be hard to maintain the title "theallknower" if there were secrets being withheld from you.

    But, of coarse there is top secret technology. Anything developed by the government that is in the interest of National Security to be kept secret will be. Things developed for the military by private companies can also be kept classified.

    The wonder, to me, would be if there exists a top secret basis for technology. For example, a classified unified field theory, or whatever. I'm not sure about that, but I think it is possible.
  15. Jan 11, 2009 #14


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    You have the bomber and figher confused. The fighter is an ugly little single-seat plane that first saw combat in the first gulf war in 1991. It first flew in prototype form 1977! and was successfully kept secret for almost 24 years. People heard bits and pieces about it and Testors even came out with a model in 1986, with the wrong name, that looked nothing like the real thing.
    Well, then I'm not sure what your point is - I thought you were saying that technology can't be kept secret. It can. I mentioned patents before - patents are for technology and you can bet stealth would have been worth a dozen at least. But I don't think Lockheed tried to patent it because then you lose the secrecy. Patents are a double-edged sword like that.

    Someone with more knowledge about the Manhattan Project might comment on that... it is possible that some of the underlying science was developed during the project. I've heard that the Germans weren't sure that it was theoretically possible - something about Heisenberg miscalculating (on purpose?) the critical mass requirement.
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2009
  16. Jan 11, 2009 #15
    I highly doubt a unified field theory would be in the interest of national security, of course, assuming that the theory doesn't hint at the possibility of controlling the Higgs (which in that case, it does serve as a decent weapon). However, I think a discovery of such magnitude would be hard to keep secret.
  17. Jan 11, 2009 #16


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    From someone who does this I can say that the OP has been watching too many movies. Security (OPSEC) varies drastically depending on what you are doing. The "need to know" principle drives everything.

    Like has been mentioned, there are probably very few things that are completely secure. There is some level of general involvement. The fact that the general populous doesn't know what they are working on is the whole point. Those that do know are held to some very strict operating conditions.
  18. Jan 11, 2009 #17

    Ranger Mike

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    only thing secret is a secret told to one person
    ifin told to 3
    then it is not a secret

    got one of them SECRET clearences too
    had tuff time about the sheep in southern ohio
    leagal in some counties
  19. Jan 11, 2009 #18

    Ivan Seeking

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    A bit of irony: Groom Lake's Area 51 was intended to be a part of the most secret aircraft development and test facility in the US. And while it was a best kept secret for a time, it later became the most famous secret facility in the world.
  20. Jan 13, 2009 #19
    the bomber is that fat plane that flies at a high altitude(not shore this is required) and has a lot of bombs on it...it drops the bombs and leaves...some models even have machine guns on them(witch I find very unusefull,on a bomber...even if you have a fighter in your back,you can't expect to win)
    the fighter is a very manuvreble plane that has misiles and a machine gun...
    if that is the corect definition of the fighter,then they were invented earlier then '77...my grandfather flew those things way back...If I remember corectley,he flew a MIG-17...a small conflict betwin Russia and Polonia came,Polonia wanted to produce the engine theyre selfs and did it bad,so a lot of them exploded...he requested to transfer to supersonics and was denied,so he quit,and became an engineer...so fighters were around for quite some time...even supersonics...unless you are talking about a brand new principle...are you?

    and I was refering to the fact that some people(who read a lot of magasines)belive that "top-secret" technology is something very very futuristic(like antigravitational drivers as someone stated in an earlier post)and one argument to "bust this mith" is that you can't keep a secret with hundreds of workers on it...but you've proven this argument rong...of corse,this dosn't prove that an alien world is in area 51,for example,as some belive reading those magasines...
  21. Jan 13, 2009 #20


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    I believe that russ_waters is referring to the STEALTH bomber and STEALTH fighter, not just the generic bomber and fighter. Technically, I'd think the first fighter/bombers would have been sometime between the Wright Brothers and World War I (if you count dropping grenades / small explosives out your plane as 'bombing')
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?

Similar Discussions: Top-secret tech