Navy's Deadly New Darts

venom release.jpgThis is a new piece of Navy hardware: a modified satellite-guided bomb, releasing thousands of darts, each carrying a payload of a powerful chemical called DETA. It sounds fearsome, but it's a new countermine technology for taking out mines in the surf zone which I describe in New Scientist here.One of the interesting features is the .50-caliber Venom dart, which hits at relatively low velocity, but can still go through ten to twelve feet of water or two feet of stand and retain its effectiveness. The secret is in the blunt nose: its another one of those cavitating designs, a relative of the Russian Shkval and its Iranian cousin that caused so much stir last year. These form a bubble around themselves to reduce water friction, and as a result the Venom dart goes way deeper than a conventional design.Perhaps more significant is how effective it is against sand making it a kind of miniature version of Lockheeds bunker-busting Cavity Penetrator I described in 2005. However, the big difference is that sand can act as a fluid, whereas hard rock which the Lockheed design is supposed to glide through at high speed - is another matter. My suspicion is that this approach will not work well in solids, and we will see if Lockheed can make good on their claims of increasing penetration thriough rock by a facot of five or more.The Office of Naval Research design releases the cloud of darts from a thousand feet or so, but they all impact in an area just sixty feet across. That in itself is an indication of the level of precision guidance which is now possible with this technique one which might be adapated for a other munitions attacking small targets without collateral damage.The other interesting thing about the Venom dart is this idea of neutralizing ordnance by chemicals means. Of course its been tried before, but in this case there seems to be a genuinely effective means of delivering it from a safe stand-off distance. It would not take too much brilliance to design a hand-held launcher for the darts, a useful option for quickly and reliably dealing with mines and IEDs without having to get close to them.-- David Hambling

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