Monday, January 31, 2005

Dropping 'da Bomb

On the new Battlestar Galactica series airing on SciFi Channel, this week's episode involved a military munition of some sort, a guided missile or somesuch, falling off a rack, activating, and blowing up a bunch of people.

Okay, once and for all: Modern, solid-state munitions cannot activate or detonate themselves by falling a couple of feet, being jarred, or even by being dropped from an airplane. They can't. They have to be armed by the onboard electronics in order to detonate. The explosives in modern munitions are not sensitive to mechanical force. They can't be jarred or struck into exploding. And the arming mechanism won't activate itself by being jarred either. That would be like taking your computer and dropping it in the hopes that the impact will make it open Microsoft Word. It doesn't work that way.

A US bomber having engine problem dumped its payload of nuclear bombs into the Mississippi river delta in the 80s. Was there a big nuclear explosion in Lousiana in the 80s? No. Since the bombs weren't armed, they just fell into the water and buried themselves in the seabed.

Would you really want to fly around in a fighter plane or bomber where if your munitions take shock equivalent to a four-foot-fall, as in the Galactica episode, they explode? For one thing, if any of your bombs or missiles take a bullet, you would go up like a roman candle. For another, modern fighter aircraft can pull maneuvers that would exert enough G-force on your munitions to make them blow up. And, finally, whenever one of your planes crashed you'd end up with one hell of an explosion when the munitions hit the ground.

Modern munitions do not tick. They do not blow up if you hit them with a shovel. They do not activate themselves. Munitions in the future will doubtless be as safe or safer.

The scene in this week's Galactica episode was just so ridiculous and stupid that it really did break my suspension of disbelief. The idea that a rocket could fall off a rack and blow up twenty people is just nuts. Come on. If your munitions were that easily activated, wouldn't you at least think not to put them on a rack high enough that a fall will activate them?



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