Tech Thursday: Scorpion Armor and Exploding Bullets

The title of this week's Tech Thursday sounds like science fiction - the topics are unrelated, by the way - but actually they are just two really cool examples of applied science which come to us via The Economist. The first story is that by studying the exoskeleton of scorpions, researchers in China have discovered that a slightly irregular surface partially deflects particles blown at high speed. This helps keep scorpions alive in desert sandstorms, and could potentially reduce the wear on plane engines and helicopter blades. Also, the term 'biomimetics' is really cool.

The second article is about an advancement in military technology which utilizes exploding shrapnel rounds fired from a rifle - given the catchy name XM25 - to explode behind enemy cover. It sounds like a miniature grenade launcher, but actually the shells function more like tiny artillery. First the rifleman uses a laser sight to gauge the distance to an object behind the target's cover, then subtracts a small distance to get to the target's actual range. This programs the exploding shell with a digital 'fuse' basically. When the shell is fired just over (or next to) the target's cover, it flies just past and then the shell's internal computer tells it to explode, blasting the target with shrapnel. Apparently it "is lethal within a radius of several meters", which means it isn't exactly a tiny explosion.

The implications of this are pretty interesting - it seems like it would push opposing ground troops away from engaging in rifle exchanges within the 500m effective range of this gun, as there would be no way to hide unless the opposing gunmen had fully enclosed cover. That range "is nearly double the range of the AK-47", a cheap rifle used by many groups around the world, giving a distinct tactical advantage to technologically advanced ground troops carrying the XM25. Pretty interesting shift in ground combat that this could bring about.


  1. But scorpions don't fly or even move particularly quickly. My biggest question is whether the erosion protection from the irregular surface would outweigh the loss of aerodynamics?

  2. As for the XM25...that is really damn cool. I think you're on the right track about giving US troops such a huge advantage as to almost eliminate traditional modern fire fights.

    I wonder how much money insurgents have to significantly upgrade their weaponry? But my first guess is that they will rely on IEDs that much more.

  3. Completely agree with that last point. It shifts conflicts away from engaging with ground troops - kind of how US air superiority shifted the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan away from open combat and into enclosed city areas frequently with civilians present to attempt to negate airstrikes.

    I wonder how much an AK-47 costs to an insurgent? Do you think it even costs them $100?