Navy Seeking Oxymoronic 'Safer' Bombs With Variable Power

The Navy wants pilots to select power levels before dropping bombs. Sort of like a massage chair, only one that kills people with subsonic burning. They say it will be safer. There is no such thing as a safe bomb.

The firm behind the prototype ordinance, ATK, is offering a variable-blast bomb that can explode via detonation—the traditional way that causes a massive, fiery blast—or via deflagration, which burns explosives at subsonic speeds, without a blast. So the reasoning here is that a pilot can load up a "dial-a-blast" bomb (Pentagon PR folk certainly earn their paychecks!) and save both money and weight, deciding which setting to use once a target has been identified. In unpopulated areas, go nuts! The bomb will fully detonate, leaving you with a nice crater. But in civilian-dense areas, ATK says their low-power setting reduces blast radius by 40%, while the subsonic mode left a mirror unbroken from two meters away. Right.

The appeal of such a technology should be obvious. According to the Afghanistan Conflict Monitor, coalition forces have been responsible for 39% of Afghani civilian deaths—and this is using the lackluster "safety" of laser-guided ordnance. Human error and unproven technology make for a deadly combination, and the presence of the former will only be heightened when pilots are responsible for changing settings every single time they have to drop a bomb—"There is always the risk of selecting the wrong yield" says defense analyst John Pike. Pilots are highly trained and highly skilled, but they are imperfect, and under an enormous amount of psychological strain. Technology has probably made war less savage than the days when we were clunking each other over the head with maces, but the notion it can ever be made safe is one that should be met with skepticism. [New Scientist]

Photo by Marion Doss