Science fiction inspires DARPA weapon
The late Arthur C Clarke is famous for having popularised the geostationary communications satellite in 1945. Now the Pentagon’s Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is working to turn one of his more dangerous ideas into reality.
Clarke’s 1955 novel Earthlight climaxes in battle between a lunar fortress and three attacking spacecraft. At the height of the battle the defending commander unleashes “The Stiletto”, which resembles “a solid bar of light” and pierces one spacecraft “as an entomologist pierces a butterfly with a pin.”
Clarke’s Stiletto is actually: “a jet of molten metal, hurled through space at several hundred kilometres per second by the most powerful electro-magnets ever built.”
Now DARPA are working on a weapon called MAHEM – Magneto Hydrodynamic Explosive Munition – that uses the same principle as Clarke’s fictional device.
Using magnetic fields it will propel either a narrow jet of molten metal or a chunk of molten metal that morphs into an aerodynamic slug during flight. Unlike Clarke’s Stiletto, they will come from a device that generates a powerful electromagnetic field from an explosion, not giant capacitors.
The concept resembles existing weapons which use an explosive charge to squirt out a jet of high-velocity molten metal on impact. Known as High-Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT), this type of round has been widely used since the WWII bazooka.
Like HEAT devices, MAHEM is currently envisaged as something delivered by a warhead rather than a cannon: “MAHEM could be packaged into a missile, projectile or other platform and delivered close to target for final engagement and kill,” says DARPA.
MAHEM would apparently be useful against tanks and other missiles. And who knows, it might even work against spaceships. Notch up another one to Clarke – but here’s hoping his next idea to see reality is less hazardous to health.