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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Inventor Hopes to Alter State of Modern Warfare

NEW YORK -- Will a former grocer with only a high school education profoundly transform the nature of modern warfare?

Several American patents and patent applications published recently suggest that James O'Dwyer, an inventor in Brisbane, Australia, aspires to do just that.

Both the U.S. Defense Department and private investors appear to have confidence in O'Dwyer's revolutionary ideas. They have already sunk several hundred million dollars into his basic invention -- an electronic gun -- and its many spin-off applications.

By O'Dwyer's sights, his gun is the key to utopian warfare of the future, when precision bombing, robotic soldiers and virtual land mines minimize human casualties, military or civilian.

The basic component of O'Dwyer's weaponry is an electronic gun that is vastly different from conventional weapons. The M-16 assault rifle used by the U.S. Army, for example, uses ammunition stored outside the barrel in a magazine. The weapon fires only after a series of mechanical operations have occurred.

"That system works very well, and it's worked very well for a couple of hundred years," he said. However, the technology being developed by his company, Metal Storm, is "something very, very different and something very, very new."

With O'Dwyer's gun, the rounds of ammunition -- whether they are 9-millimeter bullets or 40-millimeter grenades -- are already packed single file in the barrel, like tennis balls in a can. Explosive charges, wedged between each round, are ignited electronically.

This allows extremely rapid fire (at a rate of up to a million rounds a minute) and also makes for a lightweight, compact and modular weapon, O'Dwyer said. "The value starts to come when you bundle them together like a bunch of tubes."

A system that can fire 100 60-millimeter rounds -- which with conventional weapons would "fill a number of rooms" -- can fit into a small box.

"The size difference is simply amazing," O'Dwyer said.

Do his inventions have implications for the war in Iraq? "In the current conflict, soldiers are fighting in a close-quarter, urban type of warfare, and the systems that we are developing do appear to provide some significant advantage in this area," O'Dwyer said.

He is evasive, however, about specifics. Speaking generally, he said a robotic soldier could use the gun.

"It's difficult to put conventional guns on robots because they have to be tended and oiled and looked after."

Another application is in precision bombing. O'Dwyer makes an analogy to the way a bubble-jet printer works.

"It has a bunch of small barrels, each one of which fires a little blob, a little projectile of ink," he said. "The system itself fires very rapidly and it's electronically fired, and you can organize your printer to fire at the appropriate time to print a very defined picture on a page."

A drone aircraft, he said, could be programmed to fire its barrels on an urban "page" -- say a city block -- in a synchronized manner. Like a bubble-jet printer, it could "absolutely saturate one area without putting so much as one single dot" on an adjacent area that is supposed to be left untouched.