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Metal Storm

Metal Storm Limited (ASX : MST) is a research and development company that specializes in electronically initiated superposed load weapons technology. Metal Storm is both the name of the company and the technology.

The company is based in Brisbane, Australia with a subsidiary in Arlington, Virginia, U.S.A. Metal Storm owns the proprietary rights to the electronic ballistics technology invented by J. Mike O'Dwyer. The company has over 30 worldwide patents covering aspects of ballistics technology.

Technology

The concept of stacked projectiles (multiple projectiles loaded nose to tail in a single gun barrel with propellant packed between them) predates Metal Storm. Roman Candle, a traditional firework design, employ the same concept. However, in the case of Roman Candles the propellant which propels the leading projectile from the barrel continues to burn in the barrel, igniting the charges behind each subsequent projectile in turn, ensuring that all projectiles in the barrel are discharged sequentially (and inevitably) following from the single ignition. Various methods of separately firing each propellant package behind stacked projectiles have been proposed which would allow a 'single shot' capability more suitable to firearms.

Mike O'Dwyer, an Australian inventor, observed that these methods did not eliminate the problem of unintended propellant ignition caused by hot gases 'leaking' back up the barrel. Mike O'Dwyer's original Metal Storm patents demonstrated a method whereby projectiles placed in series along the length of a barrel could be fired sequentially and selectively without the danger associated with unintended propellant ignition.

In the original Metal Storm patents the propellant immediately behind the projectile closest to the muzzle of the gun barrel was ignited by an electronically fired primer, the projectile was set in motion, and at the same time a reactive force acted on the remaining stacked projectiles in the barrel, pushing them backwards. By design, the remaining projectiles would distort under this load, expanding radially and sealing against the gun barrel wall. This created a seal which prevented the hot propellant gases (expanding behind the lead projectile) prematurely igniting the remaining propellant charges in the barrel (blow-back). As each of these propellant charges was selectively (electronically) ignited, the force 'unlocked' the projectile in front and propelled it down the gun barrel, and reinforced the radial expansion (and hence the seal) between the projectiles remaining in the barrel and the barrel wall.

Subsequent designs discarded the 'distorting shell sealing against the barrel' concept in favor of containing the propellant in 'skirts' that form the rear part of each projectile. These skirted projectiles differ from conventional 'shells and cartridge' units in that the skirts are part of the projectile, and in that the skirts are 'open-ended' (at the rear). The rearward seal to the skirt is provided by the nose of the following projectile in the barrel. As in the previous design, the firing of a projectile results in a rearward impulse on the remaining projectiles stacked in the barrel. This results in the skirts of the remaining shells in the barrel being compressed against the following shell heads, effectively creating a seal that prevents hot gases in the barrel triggering unintended propellant ignition ('blow-back') along the length of the barrel. Metal Storm also introduced inductive electronic ignition of the propellant, effectively from outside the barrel. This overcame technical issues in maintaining physical contacts with the propellant charges, which due to the compression effectively 'shift' slightly backwards within the barrel during firing.

The skirt-to-nose joint has in recent designs incorporated an easy-release arrangement which allow the shells to be clipped together to form robust ammunition 'tubes' which can be transported more readily than individual shells, and inserted directly into Metal Storm barrels. Metal Storm have indicated the tubes can be 'pulled apart' and reconstructed in the field to make up custom combinations of ammunition, and to facilitate 'topping up' a partly discharged tube that is still in the barrel.

Features

The distinguishing features of this technology are the absence of ammunition feed and, casing ejection systems (the only moving parts are the projectiles), and the electronic ignition of the propellant charges. The relatively simple external shape of the Metal Storm barrel allows for the clustering of Metal Storm barrels into a barrel array or 'pod', or for their attachment (as single units) 'bolted on' to existing weapons mounts, including infantry weapons. The absence of a mechanical feed mechanism and the inherently compact lightweight nature of Metal Storm systems also makes them suitable for attachment to light robotic ground and aerial vehicles. The electronic ignition allows for the firing of the stacked ammunitions at 'electronic speed' without any delays caused by mechanical ammunition feed mechanisms. The electronic firing also creates the potential for tighter integration with electronic targeting systems, with electronically programmable fuses in air burst ammunition, and with (in the case of hand guns) electronic grip recognition technology.

The clustered barrel array has been further developed with the design and building of prototypes of electronic firing control systems, allowing selective firing from any barrel in a cluster, and within each barrel the ability to control the rate of fire. This allows for responses which range from the equivalent of a volley gun discharge (all projectiles 'at once') to using (selectively) individual munitions with increasingly serious (but non-lethal) effects and lethal munitions including high explosive and air burst shells (all from different barrels in the array). The ability to deploy a range of munitions from effectively 'one' weapon system, and to selectively escalate responses from the non-lethal to lethal without reloading, has been put forward by the company as an advantage in urban warfare and insurgency situations where a range of responses may be quickly required in close quarter fighting and crowd control.

A patent exists for a design where the gun tubes at the edges of the array are angled outwards from the main axis so that a gun tube array mounted on a tracking platform would have the potential to engage a target before the bulk of the centrally located gun tubes reached the optimal aiming position. This feature, combined with the 'always loaded' nature of the technology, and the potential to rapidly produce a very high density (low distance of separation) of projectiles 'in the air' is put forward by the company as an advantage for this technology in close-in weapons support roles.

Manual, automatic and semi-automatic reloading concepts exist, incorporating breech and muzzle loading into permanent barrels, replaceable barrels (and barrel arrays), a belt-fed stacked-cartridge gun patent, and a patented breechless continuous feed gun with injected propellant. With the exception of the belt-fed and the breechless gun patents, all of Metal Storm's gun concepts are limited to bursts of no more than the number of projectiles pre-loaded into the barrel(s). That said, a barrel array might contain more projectiles in fact than a traditional 'clip' or 'belt'. Latest projectile designs (2007) incorporate a head to tail clip-together feature, allowing the rapid construction and deconstruction (in the field) of ammunition 'tubes' from individual shells. These tubes can be inserted directly (and locked) into Metal Storm barrels.

Products

Metal Storm technology is not currently deployed. Potential applications, reflecting patent applications, company statements, and prototypes under development include remotely operated weapons station (Redback); 3 shot grenade launcher (3GL), area denial (replacing fixed minefields); minefield destruction; close-in weapons support for ground vehicles, airships and ships; anti-torpedo defense; combined gun/grenade launcher for infantry - the Advanced Individual Combat Weapon (AICW); unmanned ground vehicle offensive capability; unmanned aircraft (fixed and rotary wing) offensive capability; and 9mm handguns incorporating grip recognition.

Metal Storm has since 2004 concentrated on developing weapons in the 40mm range, having previously undertaken work across a range of calibers including 60mm and 9mm. Information from the company suggests that the 3GL and the Redback products are the focus of the bulk of current development efforts.

3GL

The 3GL weapon system is being developed under a teaming agreement with Electro-Optic Systems (EOS), Metal Storm (MS) and Singapore Technologies Kinetics (ST Kinetics). The 3GL is a 3 shot under barrel grenade launcher intended to replace the M203 under barrel grenade launcher. The 3GL can also be detached from the 'host' rifle and operated as a stand-alone weapon. The 3GL is intended to be able to be mounted to the bulk of military rifles currently in use (while maintaining existing mounting points such as a picatinny rail) including the M16, AK-47, SAR 21 and Steyr AUG. Load, unload and top-up of projectiles can be done individually via a sliding breech mechanism.

Redback

The Redback weapon system is being developed under a teaming agreement with Electro-Optic Systems (EOS), Metal Storm (MS) and Singapore Technologies Kinetics (ST Kinetics). The Redback is a 4 barrel, 16 shot remotely operated weapon system that can automatically track targets and slew at speeds of up to 700 degrees/second (almost 2 complete revolutions per second). The primary role of Redback is as a lightweight vehicle or fixed asset mounted 40mm weapon system.

The Redback can utilize high explosive, enhanced blast, and air bursting munitions all of which have been successfully test fired as well as a suite of less lethal munitions such as gas, smoke, sponge, CS (Capsaicin) and illumination. An enhancement to undertake autonomous engagement and intercept of multiple Rocket propelled Grenades (RPGs) is being developed and tested.

36 Barrel Prototype

Metal Storm has created a 36 barreled stacked projectile machine gun, boasting the highest rate of fire in the world. This weapons system has a firing rate capability of slightly more than one million rounds per minute. However, the recoil is so great that it cannot be practically mounted on any kind of vehicle, and no device has yet been proposed to reload the gun automatically.

Limitations

Widespread public awareness of Metal Storm technology was due to media coverage in relation to the theoretical 1 million rounds/minute rate of fire. In the United Kingdom it was featured along with its inventor on the popular BBC show Tomorrow's World. As a result of this, and other publicity, there have at times been unrealistic expectations of the technology, particularly in regard to the ease with which such technology might be developed and implemented.

Some limitations with the technology became apparent during the late 1990s as development continued. Much of the detail of the technology remains classified but it is understood that:

  • While the simplified mechanics and relative light weight of Metal Storm gun/barrel array suggested that they might have advantages when deployed on light unmanned aerial vehicles, it was anticipated that recoil management may become a significant issue relative to the light weight of the vehicle and consequently to flight stability. However, a Dragonfly Pictures DP-5X unmanned helicopter (in free flight) has since been demonstrated firing Metal Storm 40mm weapons.
  • High barrel pressures were noted in early testing when multiple shells were 'fired' so rapidly that the second (and subsequent) shells were in motion within the barrel before the first had left the muzzle of the gun. While this resulted in very high muzzle velocities (the origin of the Mach 5 technology that was investigated by DARPA) it also (appeared) to cause concern about barrel wear and barrel integrity. Metal Storm took out a patent on a barrel pressure relief valve system; but has concentrated in recent years on the development of low pressure 40mm systems, and has in recent demonstrations deployed a microchip at the barrel muzzle which detects the passage of each projectile and locks the firing mechanism (of each subsequent shell) until the first shell has cleared the muzzle. This still allows for much higher rates of fire than conventional weapons, but appears to guard against unintended high pressure situations in the barrels.

Financials and funding

The company was founded in 1994, listed on the Australian Stock Exchange in 1999 and on the Nasdaq in 2001. In mid-2008, Metal Storm received notice from the Nasdaq that the company was below the minimum threshold levels for market capitalization, shareholders equity and net income needed to maintain its NASDAQ listing. In response, Metal Storm removed its American Depositary Shares from the Nasdaq and relisted them on the U.S. Pink Sheets Market.

On February 28, 2008, Metal Storm's auditor, PricewaterhouseCoopers ("PwC"), issued an adverse going concern opinion regarding Metal Storm. Specifically, that Metal Storm has "Significant Uncertainty Regarding Continuation as a Going Concern." The reason cited by PwC is uncertainty whether the Company can "continue to comply with the terms of its Trust Deed in relation to the covenants set out for minimum cash levels." On May 19, 2008, Metal Storm announced that it was "giving consideration to extending the maturity date of its listed convertible notes from 1 September 2009 to a later date" and "raising approximately A$6 million by the offer of new convertible notes."

For details of the company's financial position please refer to the Metal Storm Annual Report, and the company's filings with the Australian Stock Exchange, the Australian Securities and Investment Commission and the US Securities and Exchange Commission

Key personnel

Directors:

  • Terence James O'Dwyer, since 1998, Interim Chairman May 2004-September 2005, Chairman since September 2005
  • Peter D. Jonson, PhD, since February 2006
  • John R. Nicholls, since September 2006
  • Lee John Finniear, PhD: Managing Director since May 24, 2007 & CEO since February 19, 2007
  • Trevor William Tappenden, Since July 1, 2008

Ex-directors:

  • Brigadier Michael Harris, Australian Army (retired), 1994-2000
  • J. Brett Heading, Chairman, 1988-March 2003
  • Brigadier Peter Pursey AM, Australian Army (retired), 1994-March 2003
  • Kevin Dart, 1994-October 2003
  • Lt General Daniel Christman, US Army (retired), June 2002-June 2004
  • Admiral William Owens, US Navy (retired), 2000-May 2004, Chairman of the Board, November 2001-May 2004
  • Charles A. Vehlow, CEO, March 2003-December 2004
  • J. Dennis Heipt, October 2004-February 2005
  • J. Michael O'Dwyer, Founder, Managing Director, CEO, Executive Director, Director of Scientific Innovation, Principal Technical Adviser (retired February 2005)
  • David A. Smith, CEO, February 2005-May 2006
  • Daniel Lewis Alspach, PhD, August 2003-July 2006
  • General Wayne Allan Downing, US Army (retired), October 1999-October 2001, Deputy Chairman, October 2002-November 2006
  • Bruce Sinclair McComish, October 2004-March 8, 2007
  • James Michael Crunk, September 2005-May 23, 2008

Other key personnel:

  • Brett I. Farmer: Chief Financial Officer
  • Peter R. Wetzig: Company Secretary
  • Arthur David Schatz: Vice President - Business Development
  • Peter D. Faulkner: Senior Vice-President – Director of U.S. Operations

Total Personnel

In a Form 20-F filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission dated June 30, 2008, Metal Storm reported that it employed 30 staff as of December 31, 2007.

Patents

Patent holders:

  • J. Michael O'Dwyer
  • Vinod Puri
  • John Ramon Bambach
  • Sean Patrick O'Dwyer (J. Michael O'Dwyer's son)

International Interest

In October 2006, the Australian media and New Zealand media reported that Mike O'Dwyer had rejected a US$100 million offer by the Chinese People's Liberation Army to go and live in China, where he would have provided all of his knowledge, and that there had been other attempts to acquire the technology. Under Australian law, it would have been illegal for Metal Storm to sell the technology to the Chinese military, but it would not have been illegal for O'Dwyer to have gone to China to work for them. US and Australian Government military sources have stated that there are arrangements in place to prevent knowledge from being transferred.

In popular culture

  • Metal Storm plays an important role in the alternate-history novels of the Axis of Time trilogy by John Birmingham, as an important element in future naval close-in weapons systems and also in a combat rifle, the Remington G4.
  • The O'Dwyer VLe, a prototype Metal Storm handgun, is featured in the John Ridley novels What Fire Cannot Burn and Those Who Walk In Darkness
  • Metal Storm weapons mounted on the chassis of an M1A1 Abrams tank are featured in When the Devil Dances and Hell's Faire books by John Ringo as stand-alone weapons. They are also installed on the upper deck of the SheVa Self-propelled artillery vehicle 'BunBun' as an improvised secondary weapons system.
  • Metal Storm weapons were also mentioned (and used by the IG-88 bounty hunter team) in the Matthew Reilly action novel Scarecrow. They tear through everyone, and give an advantage to their users.
  • A Metal Storm pistol was briefly mentioned in the 2007 novel The Judas Strain by James Rollins.
  • Metal Storm and its weaponry were alluded to in the CSI: Miami episode "Guerillas in the Mist" (mid-sixth season).
  • A remote controlled combat vehicle mounted with a Redback weapon system is available for use in Frontlines: Fuel of War.
  • An anti-personnel tank equipped with twin Metal Storm guns is set to feature in CNC Fallout, a modification for Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars

See also

References

External links

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