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What is Metal Storm?
Metal Storm is a revolutionary type of ballistics technology, utilizing electrical impulses to fire projectiles, rather than conventional mechanical impulses. These weapons have no moving parts aside from the projectiles themselves. The bullets are stacked on end in the barrel, separated only by a thin layer of propellant. A small electric current passing through the barrel ignites the propellant, firing the bullet from the barrel. To prevent one layer of propellant from igniting the rest of the propellant in the barrel, causing a disastrous chain reaction, the bullets are modified so that the head of the bullet will expand, sealing the barrel, when the bullet ahead of it is fired. Because of this and the nature of its electrical firing system, Metal Storm offers a variable rate of fire, from semi-automatic to a devastating 45 thousand rounds per minute per barrel, with each bullet leaving the barrel at only 4” behind the last. Also, because all that is necessary to propel a bullet from the barrel is an electrical impulse, many barrels can be placed in an array and fired all at once. Metal Storm Ltd., the company that produces Metal Storm ballistics technology, has produced a prototype gun, nicknamed “Bertha,” which can fire at a rate of up to 1.62 million rounds per minute. Comparing this to the fastest rate previously achieved by a machine gun of 6,000 rounds per minute, one can begin to see the deadly power of this technology. And while one might think that energy would be an inherent problem with an electrical firing system, in this case, it’s not. Because the electric current is only used to ignite the gun propellant, only a very small amount of energy is required, and Metal Storm weapon can operate easily on the power from a simply flashlight battery.
In addition to the machine gun, this technology is also being put to use in other applications, including a handgun variant (intended for use by military and police), a sniper-rifle (recently contracted by the United State’s Department of Defense), and even an Area-Denial Weapons System (to replace land mines), which can be operated by a single man to fire up to 1800 grenades and 360 solid mortar rounds intelligently aimed at enemy units in only a quarter of a second. Beyond this, they have also begun work on a fully automated aircraft.
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In addition to the military applications for Metal Storm technology, Metal Storm Ltd. is also working on commercial applications of this technology. It uses the same base technology, the only change being that they replace the barrels with larger ones to accommodate the larger modules. They are currently developing a ‘mortar box’ application for precision fireworks, firefighting, agricultural, and mineral exploration systems.
“Metal Storm's overriding goal is to expedite the commercialisation of its technology, with a specific focus on several highly prospective civil and military applications” (Metal Storm). In terms of its military applications, Metal Storm Ltd. is seeking to replace, or at least supplement, conventional ballistics technology with a much more rapid, precise, and controllable alternative. They currently have alliances with both the U.S. and Australian governments to test the technology’s viability in various military applications, some of which were mentioned in What is Metal Storm?. However, even if their stated goal is just to propagate their own company and increase profits, do they not have any responsibility concerning the use of these weapons after being sold? These weapons are all very precise and very efficient killing machines, and while they will come equipped with electronic safety mechanisms to prevent unauthorized users from taking control of the weapons, there is still the ethical question of whether or not the authorized users should be allowed to use this technology.
Most people would agree that the Big Three—nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons—are unethical, and so there is an ever-present push away from these weapons systems. However, while most people might not be entirely happy about conventional warfare, they are not very vocal in their complaints, and seem content with accepting such things as necessary. But why are nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons singled out as unusually cruel? People killed by traditional explosives are just as dead as those killed by a nuclear blast. And, while one might say that it is because these weapons kill so many more people, according to Jessica Stern, in her book The Ultimate Terrorists, “Conventional fire-bombing raids killed many more noncombatants in World War II than did the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but it is the nuclear weapons that have inspired scholarly debate, and for many, contrition.” This fear of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons numbs us to the use of more conventional weapons, because in comparison the conventional weapons seem much more tame. Even Metal Storm weapons—weapons that completely outstrip all conventional weapons with their potential deadliness—are being ignored for the most part by the populace.
Metal Storm, because of its classification as a “conventional” weapon, even though there is really nothing conventional about it, is being categorically ignored, greatly increasing its lethality. And, while it is still as of yet in its developmental phase, it is very likely to be put into use as soon as it is ready, especially considering the fact that General Wayne Downing, whom President George W. Bush handpicked to be the national director for combating terrorism, is on the Metal Storm board (Auer). Metal Storm, in all of its various military applications, can easily overwhelm any opponent who does not have access to the same technology (which they currently do not). A weapon as powerful as Metal Storm that the public does not object to would easily give us the edge over our opponents in warfare. With this kind of edge, it is only a short matter of time before it is used for questionable purposes, simply because we can.
Of course, as with most military technology, it would eventually get in the hands of our enemies, despite all of the security measures that may be instituted, and they could then use the technology on us. While this may bring about the sort of peaceful stalemate that many weapons developers have hoped for in the past, in which war is avoided because all parties involved are afraid of losing, it is more likely to bring about the same sort of bloody stalemate brought about by the Maxim Machine Guns in the trench warfare of World War I.
What Should Be Done?
Metal Storm military technology is too powerful to be classified as a conventional weapon. While it only fires bullets, and does not unleash biological, chemical, or radioactive toxins, it is still a technology that is currently too powerful to be used for military applications. The high rate of fire can easily penetrate metal (as in tanks), and the accuracy leaves little question as to whether or not the target will be eliminated. Because it is still in its developmental phase, now would be the best time to do away with the military applications of this technology, as it can only lead to more bloodshed.
On the other hand, Metal Storm technology should not altogether be abandoned. As mentioned in the section What is Metal Storm?, there are commercial applications of this technology that could do a great deal of good. Pods could be launched with fire suppressants to help contain fires that are too large or too inaccessible for current firefighting methods. The technology could also be developed for agricultural or mining operations, or many other applications that have not been thought of. A complete suppression of this technology would be unpractical, but by pushing Metal Storm technology in the direction of helpful and productive commercial uses rather than lethal military uses, much damage could be prevented.
Metal Storm Limited <http://www.metalstorm.com/>
Stern, Jessica. “Trojan Horses of the Body.” Excerpt from The Ultimate Terrorists. Boston: Harvard University Press, 1999. <http://www.hup.harvard.edu/features/steult/excerpt.html>
Auer, Catherine. “Just Like an Epson.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Jan-Feb 2002 v58 i1 p11(1).