The U.S. military is famous for getting inspiration from science fiction — witness the not-very-aptly-named Star Wars defense system — and now they're turning to comic books too. Unfortunately, they're learning from the bad guys. DARPA has just announced a new project called the Magneto Hydrodynamic Explosive Munition (MAHEM), named after Magneto, one of the supreme bad guys from X-Men. And it's exactly the sort of weapon the magnetic-fields-manipulating Magneto would use: a jet of molten metal propelled by magnetic fields into its target. Could it really work?
Over on the New Scientist technology blog, David Hambling points out that the MAHEM also resembles a weapon called "Stiletto" conceived by Arthur C. Clarke. He describes the DARPA project:
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 . . . They will come from a device that generates a powerful electromagnetic field from an explosion . . .While DARPA is making Magneto weapons, could they also make an adamantium skeleton for me, please? Shouldn't Wolverine be fighting for the military too?
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.