Arthur C. Clarke’s 1955 novel Earthlight introduces “The Stiletto,” a weapon that spews “a jet of molten metal, hurled through space at several hundred kilometres per second by the most powerful electro-magnets ever built.”
Now DARPA are working on a weapon called MAHEM – Magneto Hydrodynamic Explosive Munition – that uses the same principle as Clarke’s fictional device.
Using magnetic fields it will propel either a narrow jet of molten metal or a chunk of molten metal that morphs into an aerodynamic slug during flight. Unlike Clarke’s Stiletto, they will come from a device that generates a powerful electromagnetic field from an explosion, not giant capacitors.
The concept resembles existing weapons which use an explosive charge to squirt out a jet of high-velocity molten metal on impact. Known as High-Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT), this type of round has been widely used since the WWII bazooka.
Like HEAT devices, MAHEM is currently envisaged as something delivered by a warhead rather than a cannon: “MAHEM could be packaged into a missile, projectile or other platform and delivered close to target for final engagement and kill,” says DARPA.
MAHEM would apparently be useful against tanks and other missiles. And who knows, it might even work against spaceships. Notch up another one to Clarke – but here’s hoping his next idea to see reality is less hazardous to health.
DARPA’s explanation of MAHEM:
The Magneto Hydrodynamic Explosive Munition (MAHEM) program will demonstrate compressed magnetic flux generator (CMFG)-driven magneto hydrodynamically formed metal jets and self-forging penetrators (SFP) with significantly improved performance over explosively formed jets and fragments. Explosively formed jets (EFJ) and SFP are used for precision strike against targets such as armored vehicles and reinforced structures. Current technology uses chemical explosive energy to form the jets and fragments. This is highly inefficient and requires precise machining of the metal liners from which the fragments and jets are formed. Generating multiple jets or fragments from a single explosive is difficult, and the timing of the multiple jets or fragments cannot be controlled. MAHEM offers the potential for higher efficiency, greater control, the ability to generate and accurately time multiple jets and fragments from a single charge, and the potential for aimable, multiple warheads with a much higher EFJ velocity, hence increased lethality and kill precision, than conventional EFJ/SFP. MAHEM could be packaged into a missile, projectile or other platform and delivered close to target for final engagement and kill. 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.