“Combine stacked rounds with electronic firing, and you get game-changing technology that will provide a significant enhancement of small arms effectiveness in current and future operations. Metal Storm is at the core of what I believe will be an inevitable shift from mechanical to electronic individual combat weapons.” – Peter A. Faulkner, General Manager, Metal Storm Inc.
Metal Storm is a radically different concept for weapons and ammunition, the brainchild of a self-educated Australian inventor with brilliant intuition for practical applications in engineering, physics and electronics. Following its genesis in the early 1990s, this novel electronic ballistics technology has suffered from what might charitably be termed unrealistic expectations.
Early claims of a rate of fire capability at 1 million rounds per minute inspired some fanciful applications ranging from covert wrist guns to missile defense. Metal Storm has been a darling of the media, frequently seen on the Discovery Channel and others in highly sensationalized depictions of supergun abilities. In one particularly memorable TV episode of CSI Miami, Metal Storm-like guns were seen literally vaporizing anyone who was on the muzzle end of this terrifying weapon.
Million Rounds a Minute
James Michael O’Dwyer was 47 years old in 1991 when he sold his successful food wholesale business to devote his full energies to various inventions. Two years later, he bet the remainder of his life savings and all the money he could borrow on development of a unique weapon system that, he strongly believed, would have revolutionary applications in military and law enforcement.
Years of work in O’Dwyer’s backyard garage/laboratory ultimately yielded what would become the internationally patented Metal Storm System. A breakthrough came in 1996 when a formal study by US defense giant Lockheed Martin provided essential third-party validation for the radical concept.
Building on success of his single barrel prototype, constructed with the help of a local Australian engineer named Graham Bugden, O’Dwyer’s next breakthrough came in captivating media attention with a dramatic demonstration video. News organizations worldwide picked up the demo clip showing an incomprehensibly fast burst of 9mm rounds from a box of 36 bullet-stacked barrels that O’Dwyer had whimsically named “Bertha.” A lightning strike blast of 180 rounds stormed out in about one hundredth of a second. Yes, that’s a rate of fire better than one million rounds a minute.
Bertha showed the way to a variety of devices utilizing O’Dwyer’s clever stacked munitions principle. Prominent among these are a “smart” handgun, remotely fired munitions to replace traditional minefields, close-in protection for vehicles against ambushers and incoming rockets, plus gun pods for robotic vehicles.
But, thus far, none of these has achieved commercial success.
Finally, after many years of work, fueled by multimillions of dollars in developmental funding from private investors, industry partners and various military entities, the radically unconventional Metal Storm system seems on track for fielding in key roles in the Global War on Terror.
We recently talked to Metal Storm to separate the truth from the fiction and get an update on how the company has progressed from the patent office to the marketplace.
Peter Faulkner, General Manager of Metal Storm Incorporated, the U.S. licensee of Metal Storm Limited in Australia, told us, “The company has become intensely focused on product development over the past three years and the work is beginning to pay off. We are close to offering the military and law enforcement communities real products rather than ideas.”
The real products Faulkner is referring to are the MAUL, 3GL and FireStorm. Not nearly the million rounds per minute, battlefield clearing supergun once imagined by the Metal Storm inventor, but certainly more relevant to current tactical applications.
MAUL Underbarrel Shotgun
Breaching shotguns of various types are in widespread use by American forces; all relatively heavy and mechanically actuated in form and function essentially unchanged for more than a century.
The Office of Naval Research, acting on behalf of the US Marine Corps, turned to MS for a better solution. Of particular interest was the need to more efficiently launch the devilishly effective FRAG-12 fin-stabilized high explosive 12 gauge projectiles.
This was a Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory project to see if these specialized breaching rounds could be stacked. MS delivered a bench test gun that proved successful as seen in live fire video linked on the MS website. This has led to an ONR contract to actually build a weapon for the M4 carbine, the weapon of choice for MOUT scenarios, along with lethal and non lethal rounds.
It’s now known as MAUL, a particularly appropriate acronym derived from its formal name of Multishot Accessory Underbarrel Launcher. Backed by funding of nearly a million dollars from ONR, this slim, light, electrically-fired semiauto clamp-on quickly loads with slip-in tubes pre-packed with up to five rounds of various types. MAUL is fast tracked for delivery to the Navy by June 2009 for more detailed operational evaluations.
Caliber: 18mm (12 gauge)
Ammunition: Lethal and less-lethal
Capacity: Up to 5 rounds in preloaded sleeves
Operation: Manually reloaded, electrically fired, semiautomatic
Weight Unloaded (underbarrel): 2 pounds
3GL Three Shot Grenade Launcher
The 40mm grenade launchers currently in US and allied military service that are suitable for mounting to a primary weapon such as the M4/M16 family are single shot devices. Critical seconds are lost in reloading during intense firefights.
MS offers an alternative in the light and fast-firing 3GL, a semiautomatic grenade launcher with a trio of beefy 40mm rounds stacked in a single barrel.
While externally similar to recent modular grenade launchers with a pistol grip and rail mount points, the 3GL can be manually loaded by the soldier with three rounds in any combination of ammunition types, potentially from irritant cloud to high explosive.
Battery-powered electronic ignition cuts weight and complexity, allowing ultra-fast firing and improved reliability. The grenadier can immediately engage up to three targets, “walk” his rounds to a precise impact point, or put multiple rounds into a single target for maximum effect.
Ammunition: All common less lethal to lethal payloads
Capacity: 3 rounds
Operation: Manually loaded, electrically fired, semiautomatic
Weight Unloaded (underbarrel): 5.1 pounds
Configuration: Stand alone or attached to host weapon
The 3GL weapon and a new family of 40mm grenades that can be individually loaded by the grenadier are developing rapidly in close partnership with Singapore Technologies Kinetics (STK), known as one of the largest defense firms in Asia.
Dr. Lee Finniear, Metal Storm Limited’s CEO, confidently anticipates system safety certification so that sales demonstrations can begin soon. “We can confirm that early in the New Year (2009) we expect to qualify the 3GL and ammunition for safe man-firing….”