The industrial revolution that followed the 2021 SpacePort Wars started out with a severe global economic recession. The Zyan refugees brought hundreds of incredible new inventions and scientific breakthroughs, and mankind struggled to find ways of using them.
Several of the most important industrial sectors cratered. Nearly free electrical power was coming, and oil and coal energy sources were about to become just about as important as charcoal. But what to do in the mean time? With new opportunities everywhere, who wanted to keep the coal burning power stations running or deliver the tankers of gasoline? New mining approaches -- including asteroid mining and seawater mining-- buffeted the commodities markets. Easily produced gem grade diamonds knocked the pegs out of one type of investment hedge about the same time as a few thousand tons of asteroid-mined gold, platinum, and titanium became available.
There was a sudden and global shortage of machine tools and microelectronic fabrication equipment and an even worse shortage of machinists and microprocessor designers.
Perhaps the most promising invention provided by the Zyan refugees was the gravity polarizer. Simple in concept, and constructed of rare, but available materials, a gravity polarizer would allow an object to become lighter and eventually break the bonds of gravity altogether. It could allow the design and production of cheap electrical power plants, flying cars, and architectural wonders. That is, if anyone was left to do the designing and production.
Reeling from the recession, the shock of the very existence of alien races, and the evaporation of capital, the whole world seemed to be at war. Nuclear dampers were easy to make and could protect a city from atomic explosions. They also damped the operation of nuclear power plants, some pacemakers, and most smoke detectors. Without a certain threat of nuclear attack, conventional war became feasible. The result was a series of military coups, the elevation of isolationalist governments in Europe, South America, and Japan, and the emergence of a coalition of city states that spanned the Americas, Middle East, and Africa.
And so it was that some beleaguered South African engineers built the first Astrotank.
Mineral rich South Africa was in an ideal position to build gravity polarizers. The country was nearly unique in possessing all of the materials required by their fabrication. This advantage wasn't lost on the Chinese, the Saudi Arabians, and South Africa's sub-Saharan neighbors. It seemed that everyone declared war on South Africa at once. The country's industrial base was quickly interdicted and it appeared that the vastly outnumbered South African National Defense Force (SANDF) would be quickly overrun.
The country lost air superiority within a day. SANDF possessed over 600 armored vehicles, mostly twenty year old tanks, self propelled guns, and armored personnel carriers. There was scant opportunity to confront the invaders. It looked like the government would capitulate within weeks.
University of Cape Town classes were dismissed and engineering students turned loose to fend for themselves. A study group at the engineering college took a dozen newly created gravity polarizers with them. Leaving town, they joined in with an armored column escorting refugees to the perceived safety of nearby Devil's Peak. One thing led to another and one night some of the students spot welded a gravity polarizer to the bottom of a Patton tank. With the flick of a switch, it rose into the air. SANDF had an armored observation platform. The students, working with the dutifully impressed soldiers, thought they could do better.
It was fine to be able to rise straight up and straight down, but how hard could it be to move forward and backwards? It took some experimenting, but within the week, the newly named Devil's Peak Irregulars had welded wings and jet engines onto six Patton tanks and were preparing for the first military deployment of an Astrotank squadron.
Rather than fight an ultimately doomed defensive action, the six tanks flew north. Though they appeared ungainly and prone to breakdown, they could fly at many times the speed of sound and perform acrobatic maneuvers that would have been difficult even for a state of the art jet fighter. The fact that they could accelerate at many gees with no appreciable stress on the pilot and crew was just one advantage.
Three Astrotanks flew to the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh and three flew to Beijing. The damage they caused with their high explosive bombs, cannons, and machine guns was relatively minor, but nothing the Arabians or Chinese could field could stop them.
Back in South Africa, there was a crash program to build as many gravity polarizers as quickly as possible. Soon there were dozens of SANDF flying armor in the air.
Meanwhile, South African hackers emailed blueprints to resistance forces in Tibet, Hong Kong, Yemen, Uganda, and then for good measure, Israel and Taiwan. Astrotanks began air dropping gravity polarizers to their enemy's enemies.
The war was over in three weeks.
Future generations of Astrotanks would include force fields, laser cannons, and other bells and whistles. Eventually, purpose built flying armored vehicles would come to look more like giant sea urchins than winged tracked vehicles. But the South African's Astrotank was the first.