Is China Copying DARPA's Shape-Shifting MAHEM Weapon?

Reconnaissance and development

Magneto Hydrodynamic Explosive Munition (MAHEM)
Magneto Hydrodynamic Explosive Munition (MAHEM)

For 99 years, armored tanks have been a part of modern battlefields, shrugging off bullet fire and sending footsoldiers running for cover. The development of anti-tank weapons is almost as old, with people struggling to create new tactics and new weapons that can stop the lumbering warmachines. Countries especially want anti-tank weapons light enough to be carried by a single person into battle, but powerful enough to punch through modern tank armor. For years, DARPA's been quietly working on a human-portable anti-tank railgun. And now, it appears, China's working on one too.

Here's how DARPA describes their MAgnetoHydrodynamic Explosive Munition (MAHEM) railgun:

Explosively formed jets (EFJ) and fragments and self-forging penetrators (SFP) are used for precision strike against targets such as armored vehicles and reinforced structures. Current technology uses chemical explosive energy to form the jets and fragments. This is highly inefficient and requires precise machining of the metal liners from which the fragments and jets are formed. The Magneto Hydrodynamic Explosive Munition (MAHEM) program offers the potential for higher efficiency, greater control, and the ability to generate and accurately time multiple jets and fragments from a single charge.

The MAHEM program will demonstrate compressed magnetic flux generator (CMFG)-driven magneto hydrodynamically formed metal jets and SFP with significantly improved performance over EFJ. Generating multiple jets or fragments from a single explosive is difficult, and the timing of the multiple jets or fragments cannot be controlled. MAHEM offers the potential for multiple targeted warheads with a much higher EFJ velocity, than conventional EFJ/SFP. This will increase lethality precision. MAHEM could also be packaged into a missile, projectile or other platform, and delivered close to target for final engagement.

Essentially, the weapon will use electricity to bend metal into the specific deadly form needed as it's fired. If built, a person firing the weapon could adapt their attacks if the vehicle they're attacking survived one type of shot. Beyond that, details of the weapon in American publications are sparse, but David Hambling at Popular Mechanics appears to have found a paper by Chinese researchers that details a very similar weapon. He reports:

For $28, I downloaded a scientific paper entitled "Physical Modeling of Magneto Hydrodynamic Explosive Munition and Detonation Control" from the journal Applied Mechanics and Materials. The paper was written by a team at the "ministerial key laboratory" at the Nanjing University of Science and Technology, and is a detailed theoretical breakdown of how MAHEM works. It includes block diagrams of the electronics, the complex "kinematics differential equations of kill element" that indicates how it accelerates metal projectiles, and details of the ferroelectric ceramics in the flux generator. This is more information than you can get from any US source, and appears to be based on the reverse-engineering MAHEM by a team with a very detailed knowledge of magnetohydrodynamics and muntions.

Is imitation the deadliest form of flatery? Here's hoping the battlefields of the future don't find out.

Read the full story at Popular Mechanics.