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The Military Government United States

The Revolutionary American Weapons of War That Never Happened 133

An anonymous reader writes There have been many US military machines of war that seemed to be revolutionary, but never make it out of the prototype stage. As Robert Farley explains: "Sometimes they die because they were a bad idea in the first place. For the same reasons, bad defense systems can often survive the most inept management if they fill a particular niche well enough." A weapon can seem like an amazing invention, but it still has to adapt to all sorts of conditions--budgetary, politics, and people's plain bias. Here's a look at a few of the best weapons of war that couldn't win under these "battlefield" conditions.
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The Revolutionary American Weapons of War That Never Happened

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  • by gentryx ( 759438 ) * on Sunday June 22, 2014 @04:09PM (#47294363) Homepage Journal
    Granted, it sounds a tad like an episode from Thunderbirds [], but it's real: Project Pluto [] was a nuclear powered Supersonic Low Altitude Missile (SLAM). The idea was to drive the reactor into critical state and superheat the inflowing air, efficiently creating a nuclear powered scamjet []. Downside: because the reactor was almost unshielded, all controls had to be designed to withstand extreme radiation and heat (they had to work in white heat conditions). The project was canceled in the 60s, but they actually built and powered up the engines.
  • Re:Helicopters (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 22, 2014 @04:15PM (#47294387)

    USAF here ... yes, this. Class III UAV's are a bit of an anomoly, as they're fixed wing, but so slow that they kind of just work. However, still, the Air Force has the armed UAVs and the army has unarmed ones.

  • by jd ( 1658 ) < minus city> on Sunday June 22, 2014 @06:57PM (#47294967) Homepage Journal

    The US attempted to build a version of the British "Grand Slam" bomb. Fixing some of the aerodynamic issues and making assorted other "improvements", they ended up with a 44,000 lb. conventional unguided bomb. The Tallboy/Grand Slam series of bombs worked on a very simple principle - you send a gigantic shockwave through the ground as a result of an impact very close to mach 1, and a second shockwave through the ground as a result of a shaped charge.

    This type of bomb destroys pretty much anything at the boundary between two different materials. So if you dropped one of these bombs on a reinforced concrete bunker, you'd pulverize the inside of the bunker without having to actually punch a hole right the way through. They were superb at taking out dams, far better than the bouncing bomb (Barnes Wallis designed both), because you didn't have to hit the dam at all. The interface between dam and valley was a weakpoint that, if shredded, would achieve exactly the same effect the bouncing bomb did - far more reliably and without the vulnerability.

    The British version worked brilliantly. If, by "brilliantly", you mean removing all the armour, defences and bomb bay doors from a Lancaster bomber. Ok, to be fair, it did exactly what was intended. It destroyed ships, dams and factories in a way that no bomb before could.

    So, what did the US version do?

    What it should have done is make a mess of bunkers with 22' of reinforced concrete or less, and severely disrupt heavier bunkers than that.

    What it actually did was nothing. The B-52 carrying the prototype managed to get to the end of the runway before running out of fuel.

    What it did next was also nothing. The US abandoned all further work on it, as tactical nuclear weapons would have had more punch at a lighter weight.

    Would it have changed warfare? It might have reduced the number of survivors from Tora Bora by a small amount, but the US had gas/incindiary bombs and air pressure bombs that could reach into the deepest caves there. An earthquake bomb might have reduced the time needed, but that's it. It might also have changed the Iraq invasion. A bomb that could pulverize deep bunkers would have made it much harder for neocons to claim WMDs were being stored in such bunkers. If you can target them directly, conventionally and reliably, your obvious next question is to ask where these bunkers are. Since US intelligence knew of no such bunkers, it would have had no positions to give.

    Would it change the dynamics with Iran? The Iranians have placed their nuclear technology in bunkers with walls too thick for most conventional bombs and smaller tactical nukes. The concrete also uses a recipe that was, when last demonstrated in a technology exhibition in the US, around a hundred times stronger than the reinforced concrete used by the US military. However, strength doesn't matter here. The whole idea of sending a shockwave is that a hard, consistent medium delivers the shockwave that much better to the other side. And modern explosives are rather better than torpex. Having said that, there is still no US bomber capable of carrying such a weapon and there's no guarantee such a bomb would do anything worthwhile.

    The next US project was also a variant of a Barnes Wallis design. They built a variant of the bouncing bomb. Originally, the bomb was never intended to attack things like dams, it was intended to lift ships out of the water. Military ships, especially, are not self-supporting structures. Lifted, even briefly and by a small amount, would be sufficient to break the back of a ship. Even if that didn't work, placing a bomb directly under a ship would likely crack the hull anyway. It would then sink almost immediately. Sinking at that speed would also pretty much guarantee no survivors. Barnes Wallis was incredibly sensitive to human cost, but his military inventions (only a small fraction of all the work he actually did) were designed to perform a specific task extremely well.

    In this case, he was off by a bit. The bouncin

  • XB-70 (Score:4, Interesting)

    by p51d007 ( 656414 ) on Sunday June 22, 2014 @08:54PM (#47295383)
    It's amazing, how the weapons of war, develop out of the fear from the idea, that one side has something the other does not. Take the XB-70. It wasn't a "black" project, and even if it was, soviet spies were in the USA watching as much as they could. Once Moscow got wind of the XB-70, they started on a project of their own. They needed something fast, that could intercept the XB-70. They came up with the Mig-25 Foxbat. A VERY fast plane. After the XB-70 was canceled, they kept on with the design, since it could out run, out climb anything in the west. I believe it was a Foxbat that pretty much walked away from a F-4 phantom sometime in the late 60's that spooked the USAF and they got McDonnell Douglas working on an interceptor that could match/beat the Foxbat. They came up with the F-15 Eagle (I still think it could be modded to outdo most anything today). The F-15 is a beast, beat the time to climb record too. In the mid 70's? someone defected in Japan with a Mig-25, almost crashing into a commercial jet at the Tokyo airport. Well of course the USAF pretty much went over it with a fine tooth comb before returning it. They found out the environmental system sucked, the build quality suffered greatly, and the engines were prone to needing replacement after a few missions. In other words, other than speed, it kind of sucked. But if you look back at history, the Mig-15 made the USAF develop the F-86, The Mig-21 was followed up by the F-4 phantom, the Mig-25 got the F-15 going, the F-16 got the Su-27, and on and on and on, just to one up the other guy. Lots of money, wasted, to some extent, if you look at all the rusted out hulks in the former soviet union, and the mothballed ones sitting in the dessert just outside Phoenix, AZ.
  • Re:Helicopters (Score:5, Interesting)

    by budgenator ( 254554 ) on Sunday June 22, 2014 @10:04PM (#47295601) Journal

    Obviously you've never seen an A10 really working it, when they pop up above treetop level and your a badguy, your in for a world of whoop-ass.

Executive ability is deciding quickly and getting somebody else to do the work. -- John G. Pollard