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Metal Storm Rifle System
Breaking the Small-Arms Technology Barrier
by Virginia Hart Ezell

It has no moving parts. Yet, it can fire standard, small-caliber projectiles from multiple barrels at speeds up to one million rounds per minute. Is it still a gun?

Its creators call it Metal Storm. No moving parts mean no jams in the traditional sense and a quiet operating mechanism. The high rate of fire is not just a function of the number of barrels. The cartridges are initiated with an electronic impulse.

Building on earlier technology, successfully demonstrated over the past three years, Metal Storm continues to try to drag small arms technology-some might suggest kicking and screaming-into the computer age. Inventor Michael O'Dwyer said his Australian-based company, also named Metal Storm, has found additional applications and new ways to incorporate other technologies with its own.

Metal Storm still is ranked as a high-risk technology among the latest in a string of efforts to achieve a real leap ahead in small-arms technology. Prototypes have been demonstrated to the apparent satisfaction of the U.S. Defense Advance Research Projects Agency. Metal Storm's owners have received more than $50 million in development dollars from the U.S and Australian governments.

Looking beyond the traditional, a single, or multi-barreled Metal Storm device could be added to an existing weapon on a Picatinny rail, or current optics and fire-control systems could be added to a Metal Storm platform. The company has taken its 9 mm pistol and incorporated a key control device to create its own version of a "smart gun" for possible law enforcement applications. This variant could fire multiple rounds with a single trigger pull. On activation, the weapon could send out a "help" signal on a radio frequency to call for backup.

The Australian company is partnered with the U.S.-based SAIC in a DARPA-led contract to develop a new, lightweight advanced sniper rifle, based on Metal Storm technology. Rather than depending on larger calibers-such as .50 caliber or 20 mm-the Metal Storm advanced sniper rifle would use .45 caliber ammunition, with thousands of rounds fired at a high rate of fire.

The ammunition developed for the sniper version of Metal Storm comes in two versions. One has a .17 caliber tungsten sabot fin stabilized projectile. The second variation has a .22 caliber sabot round that is spin stabilized. Both variants are caseless and electronically primed.

Some of the advantages of the sniper application noted by its developers include a rapid reload, since the rounds come in a pre-loaded barrel. This same technology allows the shooter to quickly change calibers or ammunition type. It also offers the user the option to make a quick shift to less-than-lethal, as a scenario evolves. Because Metal Storm can be programmed to fire multiple rounds with a single trigger pull at an extremely high rate of fire, it is conceivable that a sniper could deliver multiple rounds, a double or triple tap, at long range, with no recoil between rounds.

Metal Storm's creators reduced the rate of fire in the sniper version to a more manageable 60,000 rounds per minute to improve the accuracy of a sniper rifle version. The company has been experimenting with the sniper rifle for the past year.

Australia's Defense Science and Technology Organization is looking at various applications for the technology, including area denial, vehicle self-defense and a close-in weapon system. The company also is looking at civilian applications, such as firefighting.

Australian Weapon

Most recently, Metal Storm was selected as a component of Australia's Advanced Individual Combat Weapon, that country's version of the U.S. Objective Individual Combat Weapon. Still in the concept stage, the Australian AICW looks like an over-under system, with the upper barrel firing an air-bursting munition and the lower firing standard 5.56 x 45 mm ammunition. The standard Australian-built, Austrian-designed AUG bullpup will provide the foundation for the new weapon. The air-bursting munition will be based on Metal Storm technology. O'Dwyer said it should be possible to apply the technology to the larger 20 mm round.

Metal Storm was listed on the Australian stock exchange in 1999 and has raised over $215 million from private speculators. The corporate strategy to date has been to concentrate on research and development and aggressive international marketing to improve the technology's long term chances of survival.

As with any new technology, Metal Storm does not come without skeptics. Many of them are small-arms designers and engineers with years of experience in research and development, as well as production engineering. The weapon's inventor is not from the milieu of the small-arms world. He is an inventor with "out-of-the-box" ideas.

Most of the questions from experienced small arms manufacturers involve the physics of firing multiple rounds simultaneously down a barrel. Manufacturers wonder about the effects of the gases, which inevitably must be initiated to thrust any projectile down the barrel. What impact do the gases propelling one projectile have upon subsequent projectiles, as they travel down the barrel and out the muzzle? The high rate of fire also has some asking about the effects on the mechanics of the barrel, including wear.

Metal Storm's primary sources of funding, however, are from government agencies and capital investors who are used to gambling on promising concepts and recognize the high-risk nature of this new and different technology.

Video Presentation Downloads
Metal Storm is a 100% electronic operating system which allows for a wide variety of projectiles grouped in tube containers such as barrels, to be stored, transported and electronically fired. With no mechanical moving parts, Metal Storm has the capability to fire a wide variety of material including fire retardant, bullets, fertilizer and explosive charges.

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Copyright 2008 Tony Rogers