The Metal Storm Variable Lethality Law Enforcement pistol is fully electronic and can fire three rounds in 1/500th of a second. Plans for the prototype weapon include a fingerprint detection system for additional security.
SYDNEY, Australia -- It may not be ready for George Bush's "first war of the 21st century." But it may well be ready if there's a second.
In perhaps the most audacious upgrade of high-speed weaponry since the introduction of the Gatling Gun, Australian inventor Mike O'Dwyer has developed a machine gun that can fire bullets at a rate of 1 million rounds per minute.
Firepower like this is causing the U.S. and Australian militaries to sit up and take notice.
Both are funding deeper research into O'Dwyer's ideas, which he cooked up in his garage during more than a decade as an Australian retail store executive.
Osama bin Laden, however, needn't worry. The research is long-term and isn't expected to yield any new lethal weapons anytime soon.
Even so, the implications of the new technology's ability to change warfare are immense. And somewhat amazingly, the theory is pretty simple.
Rather than use mechanical firing pins to shoot bullets one by one, O'Dwyer's gun holds multiple bullets in the barrel -- one behind the other.
Electronic charges set off in different parts of the barrel, just fractions of a second apart, fire the bullets in blindingly fast succession using traditional gunpowder.
The result is akin to a laser beam of lead and it offers several advantages over a regular machine gun.
First, the new gun is solid-state and electronic, meaning there are few mechanical parts to jam.
Second, more bullets can be fired with one squeeze of the trigger before the gun recoils.
But perhaps most remarkable of all, the unique ballistics of firing projectiles close together means that the bullets farther back of the pack actually push those in front of them, thereby increasing bullet velocity.
O'Dwyer has filed for at least 58 patents on the invention, and the U.S. and Australian militaries together have put up roughly $50 million for further research.
In the United States, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the central research and development organization for the Department of Defense, is engaged in several studies of the technology, says Jan Walker, a spokesperson for the agency.
DARPA's primary interest is developing a high-performance sniper rifle for special operations, Walker said.
"The technology offers high accuracy, low weight as compared to a .50 caliber rifle, increased lethality, a high rate of fire and electronic controls," Walker said.
Just how lethal? That depends on how many rounds you want to fire and how many barrels you want to put to use. In a test firing of 36 barrels, lashed together and firing full bore, the gun reduced a series of 15 wooden doors to toothpicks in just two-tenths of a second.
The feat earned O'Dwyer's technology a place in the Guinness World Records for the fastest firing ballistic weapon, said company spokesman Peter Wetzig.
However, DARPA has also been examining the technology as a potential replacement for landmines.