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Metal Storm reveals pocket bunker-buster test outcome

Grenade-gasm gun couldn't shoot load on hot, wet range

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Australian deathtech firm Metal Storm, which uses a centuries-old idea to produce amazing weapons which can empty themselves with exceptional suddenness, has announced tests of a new handy-size thermobaric bunker buster man-cannon. The company has also issued half a million Aussie dollars' worth of new shares.

In a release yesterday, Metal Storm revealed it had carried out range test firings of what is probably its most saleable product, the so-called "3GL" three-shot repeating grenade launcher, designed to be mounted under the barrel of a standard assault rifle.

Normal underbarrel launchers, popular in many armies, hold a single 40mm cartridge. The 3GL uses Metal Storm's superimposed all-burned-on-launch rocket projectile tech to stack three rounds on top of each other in the launcher barrel, and looses them off one after another from the top of the stack by electrical ignition.

According to Metal Storm, "3GL effectively trebles the reactive grenade firepower of an infantry squad, making it a compelling upgrade". Three shots is surely better than one, and the nature of 40mm launchers obviates the reloading issues that would normally crop up with superimposed rounds.

Just to jazz things up some more, it seems that the Metal Storm guys were looking to test 3GL with trendy thermobaric or enhanced-blast explosive (EBX) grenades, rather than dull old regular frags. These are also known as "fuel-air" weapons. Rather than simply exploding, such a warhead first bursts and spreads a cloud of fuel which mixes with the surrounding air to form an explosive mixture. Then the entire volume of fuel-air mix is ignited in a single rapid event, producing massive heat and overpressure.

EBX weapons are thought especially useful for smashing bunkers and buildings, as their relatively prolonged pressure pulse affects structures especially severely. Also, in a confined space the blast is often followed by a near vacuum, further helping to collapse containing walls and ceilings. Pocket-size 40mm thermobarics were developed by US munitions shops as a rush job in 2003, for use clearing caves in Afghanistan.

EBX rounds are very trendy in military procurement just now, so you can see why Metal Storm wanted to add this as an option for their kit. But it seems that in fact all did not go smoothly on the firing range.

"We had originally intended... to complete the engineering tests, then build up to a non-engineering 'marketing video' shoot of 3GL firing 3 EBX warheads in rapid succession," said Lee Finniear, Metal Storm CEO.

But it seems that there were some snags with getting the grenade-gasm weapon to shoot its load reliably on a warm, wet firing range.

"We were firing during a two-day tropical rainstorm," said Metal Storm engineer Daniel Green. "We observed that the excessive humidity was resulting in inconsistencies in the way our munitions were performing."

In the end the triple bunker bust shot was not achieved. But Metal Storm reckon they've now "completely eliminated" the heat and dampness performance issues.

By way of celebration, the company issued more paper today on the Australian Stock Exchange, including 7.7 million ordinary shares for sale at 6¢, and almost two million more as part of payment to a "consultant".

Metal Storm has never made many sales and is taking a long time to bring a combat-ready product to market. The company was formed in 1994, went public in Australia in 1999, and listed on NASDAQ in 2001. The stocks have plunged to a fraction of their original value. ®

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