New gun fires 1.5m rounds a minute

Colin Blackstock meets the maker of a most efficient way of dealing death
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An Australian inventor has created the world's most devastating gun, which can fire more than 1.5 million bullets a minute - 250 times faster than the fastest conventional gun. But Mike O'Dwyer insists that his killing machine is mainly a defensive weapon and its unique design will eventually lead to greater control over the use of handguns.

Metal Storm, which has taken Mr O'Dwyer eight years to develop, has none of the mechanical parts of a conventional gun. There is no chamber, no hammer, no trigger. Just a barrel loaded with specially developed bullets which are connected to an electric contact.

The bullets are lined up one after another in the barrel, with a gunpowder charge between each round. When a bullet, which has no casing to be left behind, is fired, the pressure created causes the following round to expand and temporarily block the barrel. This prevents the gunpowder further along the gun from igniting.

If traditional ammunition was used in this manner, the gunpowder would cause the rest of the bullets in the barrel to explode in a chain reaction, but Metal Storm, using its revolutionary bullets, can spit out 4lbs of metal within a hundredth of a second. They travel at intervals of 16 inches; in a normal machine gun the interval is 100 feet.

A number of barrels can be combined, honeycomb-like, into a bundle of barrels with the ability to fire many more bullets at once, giving the weapon its incredible firing rate.

"The idea for Metal Storm was so much out of left-field," said Mr O'Dwyer, "that when we came up with the concept and looked at it with ballistic engineers 50 per cent of them told the owner of the company to tell us to go away, the idea was hopeless. The other 50 per cent said, `Look boss, if he's got the money let's try it'. When we built a prototype it worked perfectly. It staggered the engineers."

They were not alone. The Australian and US defence departments are now co-operating in the development of the gun, and Mr O'Dwyer hopes the British will get involved, although calls to the Ministry of Defence elicited a subdued response to Metal Storm.

An MoD spokesman said: "If we haven't been approached about the gun then we won't have made any moves to get involved. I must say it sounds spectacularly useless."

Retired army colonel Bob Stewart, who commanded the first British troops in Bosnia, was impressed with the gun, even though it is still in development stage. He said: "In my view this could be a very potent weapon for use over a short space of time."

A Tomorrow's World programme on Wednesday (7.30pm, BBC1) will show the full capabilities of the weapon, which can be adapted for anti-missile use, helicopter gunships, mine clearing and handguns. A 36-barrel version which can fire 1.62 million rounds per minute is shown annihilating a series of wooden targets.

The naval version could be used for shooting down missiles, such as the sea-skimming Exocets which caused problems for the British fleet in the Falklands, as well as ballistic and cruise missiles. A truck-mounted version could stop the devastating Hellfire missiles which decimated the Iraqi ground forces during the Gulf war. Another version could be used for clearing minefields.

Mr O'Dwyer said: "Because the gun is electronic it means that we can introduce security measures that will make the gun unusable unless you are authorised to use it. Development work going on in the US is looking at the use of palm and thumb print devices on gun handles, or keycode pads. If your print doesn't match, the gun won't fire.

"It could also be programmed to allow a group of people to use it which would be useful for police officers, or soldiers in a platoon. That way if a gun is stolen or lost, somebody finding it won't be able to use it."