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Born in the wake of an American panic over the 1957 Soviet launch of the Sputnik satellite, DARPA set to work keeping the Pentagon ahead of potential adversaries on the technology front. It counts the Internet and the Global Positioning System among its triumphs, and psychic spying and a mechanical elephant designed for use in the jungles of Southeast Asia among its many failures. It also boasts a long legacy when it comes to creating and enhancing lethal technologies, including M-16 rifles, Predator drones, stealth fighters, Tomahawk cruise missiles, and B-52 bombers, which have been employed in conflicts across the globe.
Unfortunately, Americans can’t begin to have an honest conversation about any of this until DARPA comes clean about exactly what billions of their tax dollars are being spent on -- and why. Only then can the taxpayers begin to consider what message their future weapons plans are sending to the world and whether the U.S. really should be spending increasingly scarce dollars on making MAHEM.
It’s the farthest thing from a fair fight. A man peers through an advanced telescopic sight. He zeros in on his prey, a figure without a sporting chance who has no idea that he’s being targeted for death. The sniper, who has lugged his 30 pound, .50 caliber rifle up a ridgeline in order to kill with a single shot, breathes slow and steady, focuses, waits, waits, and finally pulls the trigger. A breeze he never felt, somewhere in the 4,000 feet between him and his target, sends the round off course. The sniper doesn’t log another kill. The human target gets to live another day.
I had the crazy idea after the Soviet Union broke up that we would do just that and abandon all this military ascendancy nonsense.
DARPA is focused on creating a maneuverable bullet (controlled by a guidance system) that moves with the target, adjusting in flight to slam into a human head and turn it into a red mist -- thus writing an upbeat ending to tomorrow’s sniper stories.
Instead of using high explosives (HE) to punch a hole in vehicle armor, this weapon takes an almost ludicrously high-tech approach, using a magnetic field to launch a spike into the target. As the round travels, a flux compression generator generates a mega-amp of current, and a powerful magnetic field. When the nose hits the vehicle, the round explodes, and the energy released by the sudden collapse of that magnetic field creates a "self-forging penetrator," or a metal jet. In theory, that spike has more kinetic energy than an HE-driven projectile. And as grisly as the result sounds--a rod that impales the vehicle and its occupants--it's no less gruesome than the magma squirted into a tank by a Hellfire missile.