MAHEM Metal Jets Like Clarke's Stiletto Beam

The MAHEM (Magneto Hydrodynamic Explosive Munition) program is a new DARPA project, but to science fiction fans, it is an old, familiar idea. Arthur C. Clarke described the idea in his 1955 novel Earthlight.

DARPA is initiating the MAHEM program to try to create compressed magnetic flux generator (CMFG)-driven magneto hydrodynamically formed metal jets and self-forging penetrators (SFP).

Self-forging penetrators, as they are currently used, result from a conventional chemical explosion directed against a specially-shaped metal liner. When the device is set off, the blast causes the metal liner to achieve a new shape, suitable for penetrating deep into even moderately armored vehicles, and driven forward at a high velocity. The technology dates back to WWII.

This kind of weapon can be highly effective (it is currently being used against troops in Iraq). The drawbacks of this kind of weapon are that they are one-time-use weapons, and cannot efficiently form multiple SFPs from a single charge.

If it is possible to use a powerful electromagnet to accelerate a molten jet of metal, it could overcome the drawbacks mentioned above, and even achieve higher velocities and better targeting. DARPA hopes that it could provide the following capabilities:

This could provide the warfighter with a means to address stressing missions such as: lightweight active self-protection for vehicles (potential defeat mechanism for a kinetic energy round), counter armor (passive, reactive, and active), mine countermeasures, and anti-ship cruise missile final layer of defense.

Science fiction readers have known about this idea for more than a half-century. In his excellent 1955 novel Earthlight, Arthur C. Clarke makes use of exactly this idea in a battle between a stationary facility on the Moon and several attacking space ships.


(Earthlight cover)

Wheeler saw it strike upward, a solid bar of light stabbing at the stars... He did not have time to reflect on the staggering violation of the laws of optics which this phenomenon implied, for he was staring at the ruined ship above his head. The beam had gone through Lethe as if she did not exist; the fortress had speared her as an entomologist pierces a butterfly with a pin.
(Read more about the stiletto beam)

The "beam" was a molten jet of metal hurled into space by enormous electromagnets.

Via MAgneto Hydrodynamic Explosive Munition (MAHEM); thanks to MrX_TLO and Winchell Chung for the tip on the story and references.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 4/23/2008)

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