Metal Storm – What May Have Been And May Be

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Metal Storm was a brand name for a an emerging electronic ignition concept pioneered just before and actively marketed after the turn of the century. Known for its ability for near insane rates of fire, the technology peaked around 2003 and fizzled commercially with bankruptcy in 2012.

Funny name aside, Metal Storm was and still is a highly interesting technology. By using electronic ignition, one can precisely control the moment of combustion and thereby create a more accurate weapon systems. If one were to pull the hammer or striker assembly out of a TrackingPoint, it’s fundamentally the same idea/ concept – at least for the timing of ignition.

metal-storm

But where the electronic ignition truly had its moment was in the ability to rapidly expel multiple projectiles with minimal mechanical movement required. Imaging a minigun without the requirement to have multiple barrels and 1,000s of opportunities for a mechanical malfunction. In a rifle, two projectiles arriving near simultaneously in the near same location defeats most modern body armor – no AP ammo required. This idea was also achieved mechanically – look to the Russian AK-94.

But, the technology did have its issues. It was not able to be “topped off” as all the projectiles were loaded into a single barrel – which also created a second issue, it was near impossible to create a precision weapon with Metal Storm. By using different barrels, there was no repeatability between barrels.

But, the concept of electronic ignition is continuing to get research and development. In fact, I would contend that it will be the method by which “smart guns” of the future are controlled, given their likely electronic base. Further, for sniper rifles using electronic ignition can make them more accurate as even the slightest mechanical vibration can pull shots at extreme distances.

While MetalStorm may be out of the picture (though their Wikipedia states they are still around, just in a different form), the electronic ignition technologies they pushed are not likely to go away anytime soon. Firearms are one of the few industries still largely unaffected by circuitry. Yes, this is for various good reasons, but I would contend that electronics will continue to push into firearms over the next few decades.

 



Nathan S.

One of TFB’s resident Jarheads, Nathan now works within the firearms industry. A consecutive Marine rifle and pistol expert, he enjoys local 3-gun, NFA, gunsmithing, MSR’s, & high-speed gear. Nathan has traveled to over 30 countries working with US DoD & foreign MoDs.

Nathan can be reached at Nathan.S@TheFirearmBlog.com

The above post is my opinion and does not reflect the views of any company or organization.


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  • Anonymoose

    “One hit from this and it’s all over.” *hits the targets with 2000 explosive shells in a single second*

  • dnepr0mike

    that’s AN-94 not AK-94

  • mechamaster

    Did anyone say MetalStorm.. ? 😉

    I see the benefits of Metalstorm technology is :
    1. the non-moving / reciprocating parts
    2. electronically controlled- programmable-rate of fire
    3.”caseless ammo” design
    4. And potentially “Smart-Airburst 40mm grenade” too.
    5. Remote controlled weapon system ( weaponized Drone )

    * The MAUL Shotgun can subtitute the 5-rounds semi-auto shotgun in CQB scenario
    ** The 3GL Grenade Launcher can subtitute the Milkor MGL 6-Round grenade and has more capacity than M203 too.. And it’s caseless too.. like the 3-rounds Russian GP-34 grenade.

    The MetalStorm is really shine in “non-precision type” firearms like the 2 example ( shotgun and grenade launcher )

    — And the last is.. It’s cool for Video-game weapon system too like the Crysis3 TYPHOON…
    Except the Typhoon is stacked rounds “gauss-gun” electromagnetic acceleration-type MetalStorm guns. LoL https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/00ae2e1af386bf92af02b6abbc6a954a41dcacdcfe5c8c9d8a364b7ccbcc3263.png

  • Major Tom

    I could see electric ignition and electronic control over the weapon’s functions being useful for caseless small arms. Plus depending on battery you could add all kinds of doodads and innovative bits like ammo counters, compasses, diagnostic systems, temp gauges (including emergency stop if too hot), and the ultimate safety against negligent users or the enemy using your weapons. (No battery or dead battery = non-functional gun.)

    Obviously a couple things would have to remain purely mechanical such as a charging handle and its association with an ejection port in case of misfire or misfeed.

  • Juice

    You meant “AN-94” right?

  • Kevin Riley

    This may be a stupid question, how would an EMP pulse impact the ability to use these weapons during combat?

    • TheNotoriousIUD

      That would just piss it off.

    • RickGnVA

      That was one of the achilles heels of this entire family of systems. That along with uber expensive munitions…

    • mechamaster

      Sure, the electronics can be protected / shielded from weak EMP, but there are limit…

    • JustAHologram

      On top of if someone hijacked the frequency that controls the detonation of the propellant

    • An EMP is going to frak up so many other sytems so completely at the same time that it’s kind of like asking how a house fire is going to affect the internet connection; it probably won’t be good, but that will undoubtedly be among the least of your worries.

    • iksnilol

      You do know that as of now only nukes cause EMP attacks?

      And a nuke would sorta bring other problems.

      • Mystick

        Depends on the desired footprint. There are many non-nuclear options out there for “localized” EMP…. some are “solid state” and reusable, and some are expendable and utilize explosives.

        • Owl

          And how many are often seen or used on a battlefield? I don’t recall seeing any EMP bombs/grenades when I was in service.

          • Mystick

            They were used in Iraq to disrupt C3…

          • Owl

            Nope, the only ones really “exotic” were the wire bolos filled Tomahawks that were fired into the Iraqi power generators.

            The closest I’ve seen in an experiment was a charged up Van De Gaff generator but those are seriously impractical in the field.

            Just because it is “possible” does not mean it is done or practical, like jet pack infantry. Possible, yes. Useful and probably? No.

            Same with the Metal Storm/Redback unfortunately. Or the Gyrojet line of weapons. Very nice concepts but didn’t pan out.

  • Beardedrambler

    I always thought this technology could be used in under barrel grenade launchers, it makes sense to have a barrel per loaded with 3 or 4, 40mm grenades and just change the barrel. I don’t understand why this hasent been worked out. To me it makes the best use of the system and could easily replace the m203, and the accuracy issues wouldn’t be as big an issue.

    • Kyle

      Cause that would make the weapon quite a bit nose heavier for a negligible overall improvement. Really it seems like the only applications metal storm had was in defensive situations where weight and ammunition expenditure are less of an issue.

    • CommonSense23

      Except now you have a increased weight in the weapon. Have overall more weight with the additional barrels.

      • iksnilol

        I dunno, composite tube with the equivalent of 3 40mm grenades and an electronic trigger would probably be lighter than a m203.

        • RA

          EXACTLY.

        • CommonSense23

          Except you could make the next generation M203 out of composite also. Not to mention now you are stuck carrying around tubes instead of grenades which are so much easier to carry. The whole idea of metal storm is a gimmick for anything that is carried.

          • iksnilol

            Can’t get around the fact that the loose 40mm grenades would be heavier and slower to use.

  • TheNotoriousIUD

    Updated version of the 16th century volley gun.

    Wiki: In June 1835, Giuseppe Marco Fieschi used a home-made, 25-barrel volley gun to attempt the assassination of King Louis Philippe I in Paris.[4] He fired the weapon from a third floor window while the king and his entourage were passing in the street below. Although 18 people were killed, the king only received a minor wound. The gun barrels had been sold as scrap by a government arsenal after being labeled as defective and four of them burst when fired.[4] Fieschi was badly injured and was quickly captured. He and two others involved in the plot were condemned to death and guillotined in 1836. His volley gun, known as the Machine infernale, is preserved at the Museum of French History.

  • MrBrassporkchop

    Snub nose slowly becoming a full barrel length pistol with every trigger pull.

  • Jim Slade

    I know they’re dumping money into lasers, but would this thing make an effective CIWS system for the Navy in a big turret system tied into a ships computing, sensors and power?
    Assuming you could reload the thing, that is.

    • A naval CIWS version could be reloaded as easily as a turret mounted TOW launcher on land, just pull out or release the expended barrel and load a new one. The problem there is that any navy which can afford it is moving away from projectile-based point defense in favor of small self-guided missiles like the RAM.

  • Swarf

    2003? That looked like an A-Team episode.

  • roguetechie

    Without requiring multiple barrels…

    The metal storm uses multiple preloaded barrels…

    Normally I don’t complain about things like this, but this time it’s pretty easily seen that you’re blindly copy pasta ing a damn press release.

    No other information source would try to square the circle like that…. And fail so bad at it consistently to boot.

  • iowaclass

    Here’s a hard reality check for all you tinkering firearms enthusiasts who think you are going to innovate your way to wealth and fame: the military and police will be very interested in your new technology — as soon as your patent expires. Until then, they will make do with their obsolescent last-gen weapons.

  • b0x3r0ck

    Wait until we have smart homing 40mm rounds. 2000 shot able guide themselves to a target.

  • Bierstadt54

    I like innovation in firearms, but Metal Storm was a dead end. There are some parts to a firearm that are expendables, but the damn barrel sure isn’t one of them. Unless you have a big machine gun, I suppose. However, I like electronic ignition. It certainly solves the bullpup trigger problem, but until electronic primers can be made more cheaply than percussion-fired ones, I doubt anyone is going to be keen on adding the need for a battery in exchange for a slightly faster trigger response.

    If someone figures out how to make an Iron Man-esqe power source, we could have little railguns though. So, magic.

  • Joseph Smith

    So… Who’s going to write the ATF letter?

    • Mystick

      Is it technically a firearm? I mean, a case could be made that it is a muzzle-loader.

      • Joseph Smith

        The ATF would respond “it depends on how it’s used.”

        • Mystick

          or “only on Tuesday”

  • Voice from East

    This concept is still pretty valid for low pressure firearm like shotguns. But with certain addition – ammo stacked in solid sticks, may be in single long shell. Coach gun with 5 shots in each barrel, what would be neat.

    • Tassiebush

      I really like a similar approach but imagine it for combination guns. Seriously imagine a triple barrel combo with a shotgun, large bore rifle and small bore rifle with as many fire configurations as you like so it could use a small bore burst like buckshot or just behave like a .22lr perhaps the shotgun could be like a .410 but if you wanted bigger then fire close bursts to match a 12g payload (patterns might or might not be good enough) and of course the large bore rifle barrel would be like a semi auto big bore rifle. all in a gun that points like a light drilling. Electronic sights with multiple zeros could match whatever mode was set. Basically I reckon it could be really awesome gun that does nearly everything! I’m thinking no constraints hunting gun scenario.

      • Voice from East

        +1
        also as a backup gun in 2brl derringer format.
        Perspectives is quite wide, but R&D of ammo and standardization will be a nightmare.

        • Tassiebush

          Yeah re-imagining a deringer or coach gun using the concept would definitely be cool! I think those would be quite forgiving platforms for intended range.
          For longer range it’d need to cater for the fact that each shot is from a slightly different barrel length and doing that across lots of brands would be interesting to say the least. Either vary the charge down the loaded column to give consistency or have a smart optic sight that moves slightly per round in sequence. Possibly both. I actually think it’d still be quite doable but the key is to have the smart sights with multiple zero settings because with economy of scale would be more achievable with the sight rather than trying to regulate multiple barrels. Good thing is that a lot of this has already been done so it’d only be a matter of putting the different features together on the one scope and given the ignition system is electronic anyway the gun and scope would easily sync up on firing order. The scopes brain would probably be housed in the firearm.

  • gunsandrockets

    Electronic sights (laser spots, Red dots, laser rangefinders, thermal imagers, etc.) are already changing the form and handling of firearms, and that potential is just beginning to be tapped. That’s where the action is, not so much with electronic ignition.

  • Tim Pearce

    Well, as I understood things, there was another issue with accuracy. As a failsafe against bad charges, the next round back could push the round ahead of it out of the barrel. That means the bullet to barrel fit is intentionally fairly loose, or, perhaps, there’s no rifling in the barrel at all.

  • Blake

    I swear the whole “aint gonna be no circuits in mah gun!” mentality will be the “revolvers are the only reliable option” of the next decade or so. It’s such a ridiculous way of thinking, and being resistant to change is being resistant to progress. I seriously hope this mentality dies off much sooner than usual.

    • Spoken like someone who’s never tried to download OS updates on a laptop, or spent ten minutes trying to convince an iPhone to recognize the same thumbprint that’s unlocked it a hundred times before.

      • Iggy

        You don’t have to put programming in it, the trick is to use high tech manufacturing to make rugged hard wired circuitry. The trick is clever integration of ‘simple’ electronics, calculator level smart (if that) not iPhone.

        • Mystick

          But they will because EVERYTHING has a microcontroller in it nowadays.

    • n0truscotsman

      it wont, and, if anything, it will be validated.

      Technocrats often are gobsmacked by the reality of diminishing returns and the limits of applied technologies, even if they dont admit it at first.

  • Rick DeLotto

    As a former stockholder I am glad to see the ideas aren’t dead.

  • ozzallos .

    John Ringo’s Posleen series postulated Metal Storm enabled tanks. I could likewise see it as being useful as naval artillery or point defense in a cartridge-like system. In terms of man portable firearms, people complain about the weight, but you could easily work this as a squad automatic weapon.

    Seriously, if you can’t think of at least half a dozen relevant uses for this technology, you’re not trying. Costs to implement it versus ‘good enough’ on the other hand…

    • Owl

      Singapore did try for a Thunderbolt 120(?)mm turret on a light tank they were developing, the Bionix. Problem was that such a powerful weapon on a light vehicle caused tears and cracks around the turret ring when fired, the recoil was fearsome.

      So while a Metal Storm tank may be nice, practically, there is a chance your tank may be left without a turret by the end of the shoot. The alternative then is to develop recoilless ammunition etc etc and you end up with a lot more R&D to get a new idea working rather than use simple old stuff.

  • Joe

    IIRC DOE OST put Metal Storm weapons systems on their big rigs for special materials transport as a last line of defense against malicious intrusion.

  • demophilus

    IMHO, Metal Storm tech might fit niche and specialty applications. For example, clandestine/disposable guns, recoilless or semi-recoilless weapons for legacy CCTV mounts or small UAVs, or weapons for purpose dedicated UGV systems, or maybe EOD applications. If you could stack EFP or MEFP loads in a tube, that would make for a nasty command detonated mine. You could set off a MEFP to take out a tank or IFV’s ERA, with an EFP milliseconds behind it.

    Not that legacy systems can’t do all that and more, but there’s something about a weapon with no moving parts, with an unconventional form factor…