Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Sci-Fi The Military

DARPA Working On Arthur C. Clarke Weapon Idea 453

Posted by Soulskill
from the good-times-with-molten-metal dept.
holy_calamity writes "DARPA is working on a weapon which is similar to one first described by Arthur C. Clarke in his 1955 novel Earthlight — firing jets of molten metal using strong electromagnetic fields. The Magneto Hydrodynamic Explosive Munition (MAHEM) will function on a smaller scale than Clarke's fictional blaster. DARPA's write-up says it could be 'packaged into a missile, projectile or other platform and delivered close to target for final engagement and kill.' Clarke is also widely credited with suggesting geostationary communications satellites — what other ideas of his will come to pass?"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

DARPA Working On Arthur C. Clarke Weapon Idea

Comments Filter:
  • by trolltalk.com (1108067) on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @02:04PM (#23174116) Homepage Journal

    I for one welcome Arthur C. Clarke's Overlords (Childhoods' End)

    • by morgan_greywolf (835522) * on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @02:15PM (#23174260) Homepage Journal
      Based on this very appropros commentary from Arthur C. Clarke himself:

      If we have learned one thing from the history of invention and discovery, it is that, in the long run - and often in the short one - the most daring prophecies seem laughably conservative.


      I'd have to say probably all of them. Even the far-fetched ones like the telekinesis you allude to.

      • Then where the hell is my flying car, and why do 80% of my countrymen still believe in bronze-age myths?
        • by morgan_greywolf (835522) * on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @02:47PM (#23174642) Homepage Journal

          Then where the hell is my flying car, and why do 80% of my countrymen still believe in bronze-age myths?


          Would you people give it up on the flying car already? People have invented flying cars. Flying cars aren't the problem. The problem is that people are too stupid to navigate in 3D space, especially when you consider how "well" they seem to be coping with 2D space.
          • by powerlord (28156) on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @02:55PM (#23174734) Journal
            I think its more a problem that people en-masse are too stupid to navigate flying cars.

            If there are only a few of them, no problem (although the cost will be higher without that economy of scale), but once you get enough people using them, you need "roads" and people can't be counted on to learn enough to fly cars, or maintain them (if you have to pull over in a car, fine, if you have to pull over in a flying car, look out below?)

            Without an "easy" control (semi-automated control/ATC?) and maintenance (outsourced rental?) system flying cars probably are not going to appear any time soon.
            • by Nethemas the Great (909900) on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @09:23PM (#23178002)

              Actually the chief problem as I see it is the organization that has made it so near impossible to develop personal aircraft in the first place. The FAA has tailored all regulations to suit Boeing and kin who have the fat wallets and their similarly financed customers. Most Cessna pilots use $10 stop watches mounted to their yoke. Why would anyone do something that sounds so stupid? Because the $400+ FAA certified flight clock found in Cessnas like the plane itself was developed in the 50's and 60's is off by minutes per day and the cheap, made in China stop watch [aircraftspruce.com] will run for months and still keep near perfect time. There hasn't been any real innovation and development in personal aircraft outside of the FAA experimental category in nearly half a century. You still have to control your own air/fuel mix because there aren't any modern "FAA certified" fuel injection systems. It simply costs too much to jump through the hoops. If it wasn't for the FAA that new plane that typically costs as much as a house to purchase would be as cheap if not cheaper than the average passenger car.


              I also don't buy the "people are too dumb for 3D" argument either. Most pilots will tell you that learning to fly a small plane is easier than driving a car.

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by Doggabone (1025394)

                I assume you're absolutely correct on the economics. But I'm very uncertain that enough people are smart enough for 3D.

                The hardest part about driving a car isn't operating the vehicle - it's avoiding all the yabbos on road who aren't paying attention. On an open, unoccupied road or a gentle off-road, driving is dead simple.

                To steal a line from No Exit, "Driving is other people". But at least in 2D, I can track them all. In 3D, it's going to be a lot harder to monitor drivers where I can see 50 to 10

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by s_p_oneil (795792)
            That's only one of the many reasons. Others would be legal and security issues. On the legal side, every time someone died because they ran out of gas, stalled the engine, or had a mid-air fender bender, someone would get sued. On the security side, how easy would it be for someone like Osama or Ted Kaczynski to load these up with home-made explosives and crash them into buildings? Even without explosives, think of the damage a dozen of these things could do smashing into a building at a few hundred miles p
            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by the phantom (107624)
              You do realize that something like a Cesna could hardly carry enough explosives to bring down a building, right? Do you remember the World Trade Center bombing in the 90s? That was a truck loaded with explosives, and it didn't bring down the building. A Cesna couldn't carry a fraction of the explosives in that truck, and doesn't run on jet fuel. The risk of a Cesna taking out a building, or even causing substantial damage, is somewhere between zero and nil.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Thanshin (1188877)

              On the security side, how easy would it be for someone like Osama or Ted Kaczynski to load these up with home-made explosives and crash them into buildings?

              About as easy as loading a car with explosives and crashing it into a building.

              It would be nearly impossible to stop them from doing it (even if you mounted AA guns on every sizable building in the US).

              It's nearly impossible to stop people to crash cars full of explosives into buildings. And yet, we haven't stopped building cars.

              Anyone could easily hit military bases, dams, bridges, nuclear power plants, and so on with these. They could even be rigged to fly by remote control so they wouldn't need to be suicide missions.

              Anyone can easily hit dams, bridges, nuclear power plants and so on with a small airplane right now.

          • by Twinbee (767046) on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @04:17PM (#23175572) Homepage
            Yes, it's that, and not at all the fact that we're having trouble stabilizing the design (keeping it upright), or the fact that they're too noisy and fuel costly.

            The problem you mentioned could easily be solved by incorporating an onboard computer so that it keeps a minimum distance from other dirvers and buildings. The driver could still actually drive the thing, but it would repel like a magnet from other vehicles thanks to the "3D radar" type equipment.
          • by sarge apone (918461) on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @09:20PM (#23177960)

            especially when you consider how "well" they seem to be coping with 2D space.

            Ever see how drivers react on a 2 or 3 lane road who enter a newly paved area where the lines haven't been painted yet?

            Now imagine that - but flying

        • Then where the hell is my flying car, and why do 80% of my countrymen still believe in bronze-age myths?

          Your flying car is delayed while awaiting an engine with higher power-density and higher reliability at lower cost, and a smart enough flight/navigation computer to operate the vehicle in the traffic densities that would be encountered after widespread adoption.

          The bronze-age myths persist because religions are ideological rootkits, most of your brethren have been rooted, and the rootkits all include strong imperatives to infect one's offspring. You can't put a stop to the rootkits because society depends on them and hence is patterned to persecute any cleanup effort. Nor can you design a more infectious rational alternative rootkit because you can't rationally answer the universe's many sources of cognitive dissonance, chief among them "you will end", "they'll get away with it", and "religions are rootkits".

          In the end you just have to search for and then surround yourself with those occasional outliers, those people who are honest enough to look the universe's uncaring meaninglessness squarely in the eye without reaching for a scripture to anaesthetize themselves with.

          • by ShadowMarth (870657) on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @03:34PM (#23175130)

            In the end you just have to search for and then surround yourself with those occasional outliers, those people who are honest enough to look the universe's uncaring meaninglessness squarely in the eye without reaching for a scripture to anaesthetize themselves with.

            I don't get why people are so afraid of the universe being uncaring? It's not that shocking, nor does it affect your life to know this, since it's always been true and never been different. However, if people knew and accepted this they might actually behave more humane, because they'd realize that no deity or karmic force is going to do shit for them.
            • by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @04:30PM (#23175702)

              I don't get why people are so afraid of the universe being uncaring? It's not that shocking, nor does it affect your life to know this, since it's always been true and never been different. However, if people knew and accepted this they might actually behave more humane, because they'd realize that no deity or karmic force is going to do shit for them.

              Or perhaps they'd behave LESS humanely, since they'd realize that no deity or karmic force is going to do shit TO them.

          • by Thuktun (221615) on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @05:40PM (#23176370) Homepage Journal

            The bronze-age myths persist because religions are ideological rootkits, most of your brethren have been rooted, and the rootkits all include strong imperatives to infect one's offspring.
            Anyone intrigued by this idea who hasn't read Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, go read it.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by ceoyoyo (59147)
          I think Cessna has made a very popular flying car for at least the last forty years or so.

          If you want more power you can buy a variety of assemble-yourself kit flying cars and put any powerplant you want in them. Apparently people have used everything from turbofans to liquid rockets.

          Personally I prefer a sail powered flying car. It's purely for recreation, of course, because of the unreliability of the power source.
      • by who knows my name (1247824) on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @03:10PM (#23174886)
        Nostradamus is also cited as having many of his predictions come true. The problem is, if you make enough predictions it is hard for some of them not to come true. Similarly it is hard to miss shooting a rabbit with a sawn-off shotgun...
        • by Minwee (522556) <dcr@neverwhen.org> on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @04:00PM (#23175372) Homepage

          Similarly it is hard to miss shooting a rabbit with a sawn-off shotgun...

          You'd better not miss. If that rabbit is armed with a shotgun you may not get a second shot at him.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by dpilot (134227)
          I liked the Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter: Witch.

          Only problem with hers was that you only figured out what the heck she meant after the fact. THEN it's obvious, but not before.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          Similarly it is hard to miss shooting a rabbit with a sawn-off shotgun

          I take it you've never actually tried that? It's really hard to hurt something with a sawed-off shotgun at much beyond 20 feet, and really hard to get that close to a rabbit (unless the rabbit is a pet). Try a .22 instead.

  • by TimHunter (174406) on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @02:06PM (#23174144)
    I understand that the monks are up to about 8 and 1/2 billion. http://lucis.net/stuff/clarke/9billion_clarke.html/ [lucis.net]
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Slight correction to posted URL, dropped trailing slash.

      Link is here [lucis.net].

      Posted as AC to prevent karma whoring. :-P
  • Being scorched by molten metal at high velocity is not how I'd want to go.

    I wonder if this would be ruled inhumane. As if it's any worse than a nuke, just on a smaller scale.
    • by Tanman (90298) on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @02:12PM (#23174232)
      You seem to be under the impression that they are referring to molten as in faucet hot metal.

      My guess is that if you were hit by this stuff, you'd be dead almost before the nerves could send the signal to your brain telling you, "hey bub, I think you're about to die, so here's some pain for the road."
    • by AHumbleOpinion (546848) on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @02:23PM (#23174342) Homepage
      Being scorched by molten metal at high velocity is not how I'd want to go. I wonder if this would be ruled inhumane. As if it's any worse than a nuke, just on a smaller scale.

      Have flamethrowers and napalm been ruled inhumane?

      In any case, molten high velocity metal is already widely in use in anti-armor weapons. In the case of spalling, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spall [wikipedia.org], the molten metal is from your own vehicle not the weapon.
    • A tired but true argument: Doesn't that go for most weapons? I'd think basically any incendiary weapon would make for an agonizing death.

      Besides, this particular device sounds much more along the lines of shaped-charge munitions which have been used for a long time; it just throws some electromagnetics into the mix.

    • by Rand Race (110288)
      HEAT [wikipedia.org] rounds have worked this way since before WWII, they just use a shaped charge to create the jet rather than magnetism.

      So, basically, it would be no worse than being hit with a bazooka. That is to say, it would suck.

      "My man Tasty was shot with a BAZOOKA! Look at him! He used to be six foot four before he got capped!!!"
    • It's an anti tank weapon and it's just an evolution of current HEAT rounds. It was not Clarke's idea; his conception merely scaled it up quite a bit.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Zeek40 (1017978)
      We've been using molten metal as a weapon since World War II. The most prevalant example is probably the shaped charge rocked fired by RPG-7's.
    • One that murders efficiently and painlessly?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by spun (1352)
        A really humane weapon is one that sits you down for a spot of tea, explains the situation to you, gives you a brief time to put your affairs in order, notifies your next of kin of your impending doom, and then kills you efficiently and painlessly.
  • by starglider29a (719559) on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @02:10PM (#23174180)
    One of these days, a guy will be looking at the TV remote on the coffee table and try to pull it to him with his mind... AND IT WILL WORK!
  • by ahoehn (301327) <andrew@@@hoe...hn> on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @02:11PM (#23174200) Homepage

    The Magneto Hydrodynamic Explosive Munition (MAHEM) will function on a smaller scale than Clarke's fictional blaster.
    Best. Acronym. Ever.
  • Um... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by kabocox (199019) on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @02:11PM (#23174208)
    Isn't it DARPA's job to be working on every sci-fi weapon tech that might work?
  • It is too bad that Clarke passed away a month ago. I'm sure he would have loved to see that the military was making a death ray based on his design. article here [cnn.com]

  • The US NAVY has increased the funding on the Sharks with frikin' lasers attached to their heads project.
  • by sayfawa (1099071) on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @02:15PM (#23174264)
    I'm not trying to take any credit from Clarke or anything, but many sci-fi writers who seem to "predict" what technology will come to pass are really just up on current blue-sky research. So it's not as if they came up with the idea, they often just found out about some cool research while it was in it's very early stages, decades before anything comes to fruition, and wrote about it.
    • by hidden (135234)
      I'll agree that you are correct in *some* cases...

      But Earthlight was written in 1955. Now granted, I don't know when DARPA started this project, but...
  • From what I have seen, a side effect of some electromagnetic railguns is that they melt the projectile upon firing.

    At what point does electrically charged molten metal become plasma?
  • space elevator (Score:5, Interesting)

    by j1m+5n0w (749199) on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @02:18PM (#23174288) Homepage Journal

    what other ideas of his will come to pass?
    The space elevator [wikipedia.org], we hope. (Not that he was the first one to think of it, but he popularized the idea in his book "The Foundations of Paradise.")
  • Clarke is also widely credited with suggesting geostationary communications satellites â" what other ideas of his will come to pass?"

    An Obelisk [boxeswithknobs.com]that sends out a brain splitting shriek on all radio frequencies?

    Or, perhaps the the mind of HAL [sfgate.com] itself which is what DARPA wants to become by way of Skynet [cyberpunkreview.com]?

    Mebbe, mebbe not.

    RS

  • by the eric conspiracy (20178) * on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @02:20PM (#23174314)
    Sounds sketchy to me. This is already how many types of armor penetrating munitions work. The jet of molten metal is created by a shaped charge. No need to carry around a few tons of foo-foo magnets, batteries, heaters, a vat of annoyingly hot molten metal and so on. While you are setting all that up I'll have blown off the target with a nice simple RPG and escaped.

    • by e2d2 (115622)
      Yes but what if a chemical explosion was used to power the device? It would be the same as any gun, fairly inert and lightweight with the explosive charge being used to heat the metal and fire the projectile down range?

      The same could be said for lasers, using conventional explosives to generate a lot of power in a very small time period and then project that power down range.

       
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by bluemonq (812827)
      ...and while you're getting ready to fire the RPG, a sniper takes you out. That's not the point. There's no setup. The entire package is supposed to fit in a missile or the like. MAHEM is supposed to be - judging from the FA and press release - an upgraded version of your standard HEAT round. The listed benefits are better control over the jet; multiple, quasi-aimable jets; and more energy on target.
    • by Zeek40 (1017978)
      You beat me to it. Using molten metal as a weapon isn't really Clark's idea. The only thing that Clark added to the equation was using magnets to propel the molten metal. We've been using molten metal created by shaped charges as a penetrator in rockets and missiles since World War II. Replacing the slug with a warhead is the next logical step when you get a working railgun.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @02:22PM (#23174332)
    and the reign of common sense over mindless militarism and arms races that don't even effectively stop known enemies and only exist so tht congress people can bring home the fat contracts to their districts ?
  • Sounds cool... but I'm still waiting for my water balloon railgun. It was supposed to come in last we

    FOOSH!!
  • Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @02:30PM (#23174448)
    While this is cool, I really don't understand why DARPA is developing this. It doesn't seem to fill any current need. The enemies that we currently are facing or might reasonably expect to face are not using heavy armor. We, however, and our allies, are fielding lots of tanks and other armored units. So... DARPA is basically developing a weapon that would be most useful against the US, and not very useful for the US?

    We've seen time and again weapons designed and built in the US being used against our forces. (Stinger missiles, anyone?) Does DARPA *really* need to be Al Qaida's R&D division?
    • by manekineko2 (1052430) on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @03:27PM (#23175060)
      There's a phrase that's often bandied about on Slashdot by people with your viewpoint, that generals always prepare to fight the last war.

      However, this really applies equally well to the arm chair generals on Slashdot that tend to bring the phrase out.

      In the case of research into advanced weaponry, obviously we shouldn't just be doing research (such as this) that would only come in handy in the types of war we saw in the past (i.e. in the Cold War).

      However, just as true is that we shouldn't be doing only research into advanced weaponry that is useful for "current needs" as you put. The enemy we currently are facing or might reasonably expect to face at the moment is not using heavy armor, therefore you argue we should discontinue research into weapons useful against heavy armor. That seems like a smart investment until an enemy that isn't exactly like the one we face now comes up.

      Given the long development time behind advanced military hardware, and the fact that the US's time as the sole superpower in the world seems to be rapidly approaching its end, maybe it's not such a bad idea to be putting at least some of our research money into preparing for future, as well as current threats.
  • by PingXao (153057) on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @02:32PM (#23174466)
    It's about the politicians and the media convincing the people that it's worth it every month to put $15 billion into their friends' pockets. They're retiring the stealth F117 Blackbird. How much did that thing cost? What was it ever used for? Bombing Panama and Iraq? Are you kidding me?
  • by oodaloop (1229816) on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @02:41PM (#23174590)
    First engineer: You've got your flamethrower in my railgun!
    Second engineer: You've got your railgun in my flamethrower!
    Both: Two great tastes that taste great together!
  • First Rule (Score:3, Funny)

    by Junior J. Junior III (192702) on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @02:44PM (#23174618) Homepage
    The First Rule of Project MAHEM is:  Do not talk about Project MAHEM!
  • Not really. (Score:3, Informative)

    by kamapuaa (555446) on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @02:48PM (#23174672) Homepage
    For what it's worth, Clarke wasn't the first science fiction writer to briefly outline the idea of geostationary satellites - Herman Potonik did so, much earlier. The realized version was much different than his scheme of large manned outer-space outposts. Additionally, the creators of geostationary satellites did not reference Clarke's outline, nor were they even aware of it. Clarke was merely in a position to effectively self-promote his half-similar sci-fi concepts.

This is now. Later is later.

Working...