Australians unveil the fastest killing machine in history

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The Independent Online

Defence Correspondent

An Australian gun that can fire 20 times as fast as the world's fastest- shooting machine-gun is likely to revolutionise weapons technology.

The gun, which has already been tested, can shoot 135,000 rounds a minute at a target - so much metal that it could even be used to defeat laser- guided "smart" bombs. The Australian government's export agency, Austrade, is looking at selling the design, though it is unlikely to be available soon.

Senior Australian officials said they were still evaluating the new weapon but that it was potentially a "most significant" development.

Since the 1982 Falklands war, when the Argentines used Exocet "sea-skimming" missiles to disable HMS Sheffield, warship designers have made ships bristle with rapid-firing guns such as the American Vulcan Phalanx, which can pour out up to 6,000 rounds a minute, as a last-ditch defence.

But the technology used in the new weapon, which has already fired 20 times faster than the Phalanx, could also be significant in defeating incoming ballistic and cruise missiles, which are of increasing concern to developed countries. It could also defend important targets against the "smart" bombs widely used in the Gulf war.

The Australian inventor of "Metal Storm", Mike O'Dwyer, went back to the origins of firearms in the 14th century to build a weapon that "threw more lead than existing technology".

The principle is extremely simple, and eliminates the need for moving parts. MAB Engineering, which makes rifles for Australia's Olympic shooting team, has built prototypes of the weapon which cost 1.5m Australian dollars (pounds 723,000) to develop, a minimal cost compared to most defence developments.

Whereas conventional rapid-fire Gatling guns have multiple barrels, each of which fires a round and is then reloaded, each barrel of Metal Storm has many rounds - the latest prototype has 90 - stacked one behind the other in each barrel. That way, the six-barrelled "pod" can fire 540 rounds very fast. Instead of reloading, a new pod is then substituted.

"We have been able to put multiple rounds in an individual barrel separated by propellant loads,'' said Mr O'Dwyer, ''and develop a simple means of then firing the leading rounds and preventing the ignition of high-pressure hot gases sneaking round past the following round and igniting its propellant.''