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Von Neumann's War: Chapter Eleven

       Last updated: Friday, June 16, 2006 22:57 EDT



    "Nice test range here," Shane commented about the missile and munitions firing range on the southwest end of the Arsenal. "So what are we going to see, Alan?"

    Alan led Gries and Cady to an M240B set up on a tripod that was hard-mounted to a concrete slab. The range was set up in a valley behind two small hills on the Arsenal and was surrounded by a pasture and a pine grove.

    "The range-to-target there is about four kilometers." Alan pointed down range.

    "I assume y'all are familiar with the M240B machine gun?"

    "Top?" Gries said, bowing to the NCO theatrically.

    "Yes, sir," the master sergeant said, clearing his throat and taking a position of parade rest. "Listen up, you yard birds! The M240B is the primary platoon fire support weapon of the United States Army Infantry Units of Action, Special Operations and other units required from time to time to bring direct lethal fire upon the enemies of Good! This ultimate killing machine is a belt-fed, air-cooled, gas-operated, fully automatic chooser of the slain that fires from the open bolt position. This weapon of precision dee-struction spits out ammo like hail, spell that as you wish, with an adjustable cyclic rate of fire six hundred and fifty to nine hundred and fifty rounds per minute! It has a sustained rate of fire of one hundred rounds per minute given four to five round bursts and one barrel change every ten minutes. This harbinger of the apocalypse. . ." He paused and looked at Alan sharply. "What is the name of this weapon, yard bird?"

    "The M-240B, si-sergeant!" Alan said, grinning.

    "This harbinger of the apocalypse." Cady continued, nodding at Alan as if he was a not-particularly-bright but well-favored pupil, "weighs twenty-seven point two pounds, unloaded. One, one hundred round ammunition box weighs seven point two pounds for a fully loaded weight of thirty-four point eight pounds. The barrel of the M240B killing machine, thanks to the fine designers at FN Manufacturing Incorporated and your good Uncle Samuel, is provided with four grooves with a uniform right-hand twist, one turn in twelve inches giving its seven point six two caliber bullets a buh-listering velocity of twenty-eight hundred FEET per second and a stabilizing spin enabling you, the operator, to precisely target the enemy at up to eight hundred meters and engage groups of the enemy at up to eighteen hundred meters! You may consult FM three dash two two point six eight for further information on this master weapon of all master weapons, this Valkyrie in human form, this brutal engine of total annihilation the . . . M! . . . Two! . . . Four! ZEEEEEEEROOOOOO . . . B!"

    "Damn, that was something," Alan said, his eyes wide. "Can you do that with any weapon?"

    "Yes, sir!" the master sergeant barked. "Any weapon in the infantry inventory to include specialties in Eleven Mike and Eleven Charlie as well as Eleven Bravo, sir!"

    "What the hell are those?" Alan asked.

    "Bradley, mortars and general gun bunnies," Shane said, grinning. "We've won a lot of money off that memory and knack for weapons statistics, haven't we, Top?"

    "Damn straight, sir," the NCO confirmed, his dark face splitting in a broad grin as he dropped out of the tight position of parade rest.

    "Well, so you said that the point target effective range was about eight hundred meters, right?" Alan asked, a tad maliciously.

    "That's right," Cady affirmed.

    "Care to be proven wrong?" Alan added.

    "How?" Shane asked, frowning.

    "This is a standard M240B," Alan replied, waving at the weapon. "And that target down there is at approximatedly three thousand meters. It's locked in, don't fiddle with the aiming. Just fire off a few bursts. The major and I will watch here on this monitor at how well you do."

    "I can tell you what's going to happen," Cady said, kneeling to look through the sight. "They're going to impact about halfway between us and the target, based on this aiming and the lay of the land."

    Alan smiled and pointed Shane to the monitor in a weapons van parked behind the firing pad.

    He thumbed the walkie-talkie that had been snapped to his belt.

    "Range clear? Range clear?" Alan asked. When no one replied he keyed back in, "Range clear, we're firing, firing, firing!"

    Cady shrugged, then made himself cozy with the weapon. BBBBRRRRRRRR BBBBRRRRRRR!

    The weapon ripped out a series of bursts, all but one exactly five rounds. When he stopped he still had plenty of belt.

    "Wheew!" Gries whistled. "Top, come look at this," he added, shouting out the back door of the van.

    Alan stood back for the two men to get a good view of the monitor displaying the target. The target was a half-meter square metal plate hung from a metal rack in front of a dirt backstop. The square metal plate was full of holes, all within the central third of the half-meter square. More than fifty holes were in the plate and all could be covered with a sheet of notebook paper. There was more hole than metal left in the center of the plate.

    "You said that was three clicks?" Sergeant Cady asked in awe.

    "That's right," Alan grinned like an opossum.

    "How the hell?" Major Gries stepped back over to the weapon and began examining it closer. "It looks the same to me. What gives?"

    "Well, sir, look at the belt. The rounds look funny. I didn't want to say anything before; I figured it was part of the show." Cady replied.

    "They look like hollow-points or something, Gries said.

    "Close," Alan answered. "They're miniature jet engines."

    "Like Gyro-jets?" Cady asked. "Those things were inaccurate as hell."

    "No, not like Gyro-jets," Alan said exasperatedly. "Hell, everybody always asks that!"

    "What are Gyro-jets?" Gries asked. "And whatever they are, how the hell does this work? And why didn't I know about it with what I was doing?"

    "Here, look at this." Alan reached in the van and pulled out a cut-away version of the round mounted on a board. "The round has an intake vent in the nose that forces the air through the vent down to the throat of the engine here, then the tail is a diverging rocket, er, jet nozzle. The flow of air is accelerated out the back, giving the round a maintained velocity of about Mach three point four. Since the round is spun, it's therefore stabilized and the acceleration thrust vector cancels out lateral motion so it forces the round to stay on a straight-line path. There's a crosswind effect, but even that's muted."

    "Wait a minute. A jet engine? Where is the fuel?" Gries asked.

    "Oh that. Roger or Tom could really explain it to you in detail, but it turns out that once the intake flow reaches speeds of Mach one or above the flow is continuously accelerated out the back without added energy," Alan explained.

    "That sounds like perpetual motion," Cady said.

    "Oh no, not at all. It really is just a phenomenon of supersonic flow dynamics. Scientists and engineers have known about this for at least three quarters of a century or longer. The velocity of a supersonic flow increases in a diverging nozzle."

    "Well, where do they get the initial energy from then?" Cady asked.

    "You said it yourself, Sarge. The muzzle velocity is twenty-eight hundred feet per second. The powder in the round does that for us. Twenty-eight hundred feet per second is about Mach two point nince at sea level. So we see that the shell actually sped up before it got to the target." Alan sounded giddy.

    "Ain't that some shit, sir?" Sergeant Cady added.

    "How much range do these things have, Alan?" the major asked.

    "Well, we don't know. They've only been test fired here. We need to take them out to the desert somewhere and really test them. My guess is that sooner or later they'll reach a speed or spin that the round can't handle and they'll just fly apart. But how far and how fast, I dunno."

    "Alan, this doesn't feel like any kind of metal," Cady said as he rubbed the tip of a round on the belt between his thumb and forefinger.

    "That's because it's not metal. The nozzle design is too intricately detailed. There are side vents and stuff that I didn't get into. And trust me, we don't need to get into the CFD on this thing. But . . ."

    "CFD?" Cady asked.

    "Computational fluid dynamics. It's a horrendous amount of math," Alan said.


    "Yeah, oh. Anyway, the damned rounds are so complex that we have to build them one at a time in a laser rapid prototyping machine."

    "What the hell is a laser rapid prototyping machine?" Gries felt behind the curve. Alan was indeed knocking his socks off. He wished he'd spent more of his time working with stuff like this, rather than some of the silly shit he'd been chasing. Although Geckoman was still really cool.

    "Well, you see you design your widget up in this special CAD software. I use SolidWorks. Then you upload the file into this machine. The machine sprays a layer of this ceramic dust onto a hard steel surface and a laser beam is focused onto the powder. Wherever the part is supposed to be solid, the powder is solidified. The first solid layer is about ten microns thick. Then another layer of dust is sprayed on and the laser solidifies the next layer to the already solid layer. This is done until the complete part is finished. It takes about ten seconds per round."

    "I've never heard of anything like that," Gries said.

    "Actually, sir, I have," Cady interrupted.


    "Back about ten years ago I saw this thing on the Speed channel where these fellows were building a race-car engine the exact same way. They started out with a blueprint in a computer and some ceramic dust and ended up with an engine block a few minutes later. They put in pistons and hooked up a distributor and all to it and cranked the thing right up. I remember thinking then that if this technology ever got big it would put a lot of folks out of jobs," the sergeant explained.

    "You got that right, Master Sergeant," Alan said, chuckling. "The rapid prototyping technology has been around about fifteen years or so, maybe longer, but is just now getting developed to a useful level of application. I imagine that show you saw was a state-of-the-art system back then."

    "Hey y'all, let's go inside the hangar here. I've got more to show you." Alan locked up the van and led them to the hangar just down the footpath from the range.



    "Now here's one that I think might be useful during the ground occupation phase of an ET attack." Alan Davis showed Major Gries the small missile launcher system attached to the back of a Humvee. "The system implements the miniature nuclear bomb called the W-54 warhead, which was designed to fire from the Davy Crockett launcher. It was deployed by the United States during the Cold War and was to be used on advancing Soviet troops if the need were to arise. This missile isn't actually a nuke here, but we should make as many real ones as we can, I think."

    "Nukes," Shane said tonelessly. "Nuclear weapons."

    "Hydrogen bombs," Cady added. "Teller tea."

    "What?" Gries and Alan both asked, confused.

    "Sorry," the master sergeant replied, grinning. "Beverly Hillbillies moment."

    "Right," Alan said, still obviously confused. "More like hydrogen bomblets.

    The W-54 weighed about twenty-five kilograms, could be launched from the man-portable or jeep-portable, Davy Crockett launcher. The mini-nuke warhead would cause an explosion about two hundred times smaller than the Hiroshima bomb or about 5x1011 Joules. Still, it's a hefty bang from such a small weapon. And we think that we can update the launcher, rocket motor, and even the warhead to make it single-man portable to a total mass of about thirty-three kilograms."

    "Alan, how much is thirty-three kilograms in pounds?" Shane asked sarcastically.

    "Let's see . . . uh . . . about seventy-five pounds."

    "And, a single troop is going to carry that, his armor, comm. gear, ammo, and so on?" Shane smiled. "Ground pounders are tough, but that might be asking a little much."

    "Oh, I see. Uh, perhaps there would be a dedicated person to carry it and maybe a few others to carry extra warheads?" Alan raised his eyebrows and shrugged.

    "Well, the weapon looks good. Your CONOPS needs work. I'll get Top to brief you better on what all the troops have to carry and how they do it."

    "Uh, yeah, that would be good," Alan said. "Now, I have some more ideas about this. And, actually Alice's comment about the redneck demonstration of, hey y'all watch this, is what gave me the idea."

    Shane laughed.

    "All right, now this sounds promising."

    "Well, you see, I really think that these smaller nuclear bombs might prove useful as the active warhead on the antistarfighter, antihovertank, and antibattleoid, antialien-whatever missiles that we should equip our fighter aircraft and ground vehicles with. It's possible that such compact but high yield explosives may affect the smaller ET crafts' armor. These antistarfighter missiles most closely resemble the AIM-26A Falcon class of air-to-air missiles, some of which were tipped with the W-54 warhead. Now we'll update and odernize the sensor and missile designs so that they will be more effective."

    "Are we going somewhere with this?" Shane asked. "Last I heard, we didn't have starfighters."

    "Well, here is the fun part. I was thinking about those Saturn missile batteries that I get at the fireworks stands every Independence Day. You know, the little yellow boxes that have ten, twenty-five, fifty, or a hundred little screaming missiles in them?" Alan explained.

    "Not sure, but keep going." The major was beginning to see the redneck smile shine through on Alan's professional face.

    "Oh, well I'm sure you've seen them. They come screaming out of the little box one right after the other, yeeeeeaaaak, yeeeeeeaaak, yeeeaaaak," Alan made screeching sounds as he moved his hands up and down demonstrating how the missiles launch out of the firework.

    "You mean sort of like Katyushas?" Cady asked, smiling.

    Alan frowned.

    "What are those?"

    "Lord he'p me," the master sergeant replied in his thickest accent. "Ah's surrounded by ivory tahr intellectuals!"

    "Katyusha are a type of box missile launchers," Shane said.

    "Oh, you mean like the Multiple Launch Rocket System?"

    "Yeah, MLRS is another example," Shane agreed.

    "Got that then. We designed most of that system right here in Huntsville at the Missile Command. And the ATACMS before that. In fact, if you go down the road you came in on and turn back north for a few miles you cross ATACMS Road. But, Katyushas? Why does that ring a bell?"

    "They're the Russian equivalent, sort of." Shane was thinking he needed to steer Alan back on topic.

    "Oh yeah! Katyushas! Those are the little rockets we shot down with the Tactical High Energy Laser back in the 1990s. I remember seeing the videos."

    "Uh, Alan, back to the fireworks and the little nuke, how's that help us?" Shane shook his head, trying not to grin. He thought of Katyushas as "those damned missiles the insurgents keep firing at us." But Alan's referent was "those missiles we're figuring out how to shoot down." It was times like this that he realized just how sheltered Alan and the rest were.

    "Oh, sure, sorry. I think we could take something like a Bradley and put a battery of a hundred of these modernized W-54 warheads in the back of it. If you set this thing off all at once, you have a distributed discrete explosion the order of the Hiroshima blast. Hoo-weee! Helluva firework!"

    "Uh, yeah," Shane said, sighing. "First of all, the range of the Davy Crockett was within the blast radius-"

    "That's an urban legend, sir," Cady interrupted. "I had a sergeant major when I was a wee lad who'd actually dealt with the system. It wasn't that bad. But it was pretty damned close. You wanted to duck and cover after you fired."

    "And the Davy Crockett launcher was pretty big," Shane pointed out. "I couldn't see putting more than one or two-"

    "Not the actual missile," Alan said, sighing in turn. "Smaller missiles, maybe based on Stingers. And the W-54 is old tech; there are much smaller and more powerful warheads now. I was thinking a pack about a meter or two on a side and maybe two meters long."

    "That might work," Cady admitted. "Hell of a bang, that's for sure."

    "Uh, Alan, if you have this rain of nuclear blasts distributed all around you, how do you expect to get out."

    "Well, you're in a Bradley aren't you?" Alan said, shrugging. "What's a little radiation between friends?"

    Shane and Cady looked at each other, then at Alan and then back at each other. Finally, Cady shrugged.

    "What can I say, sir?" the master sergeant said, shrugging again. "This is what happens when you let rednecks play with nuclear weapons."

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