A watery blade is saving the lives of American soldiers in Afghanistan. Known as the Stingray, the device uses conventional military explosives to craft a blade of water sharp enough to slice through a metal bomb and scramble its innards.
Developed by the Sandia National Laboratories, thousands of units of this technology have already been shipped to Afghanistan to help diffuse the improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, that are so deadly to U.S. soldiers.
"The fluid blade disablement tool will be extremely useful to defeat IEDs because it penetrates the IED extremely effectively," said Greg Scharrer of the Sandia National Laboratories. "It's like having a much stronger and much sharper knife."
Unlike many explosives, which simply explode and send a wave of intense pressure (and sometimes deadly shrapnel) in every direction, the Stingray is shaped to transform 40 ounces of water into a deadly blade. The device is named the Stringray because of the distinctive barb shape the water takes when it is detonated.
Once detonated the barb of water does two things: First, it slices through the exterior casing of the IED. Metal, wood or plastic, the Stingray will cut through them all. Second, once the blade of water enters the explosive device, it courses this way, shredding wires, detonators and any other bomb parts it comes in contact with.
The water destroys the bomb without detonating it, said Scharrer, which is one big advantage of the Stingray over other explosives used to eliminate IEDs. Other shaped charges create a spear of molten metal, which penetrates and destroys IEDs. Because the metal is so hot, it can sometimes detonate the explosive instead of disarming it.
A human can place the Stingray against an IED, but so can robots. Scherrer, along with other Sandia scientists and outside experts, including Steve Todd, Chance Hughs and Juan Carlos Jakaboski, worked with soldiers to ensure the Stingray was portable and effective, said Scharrer.
"This is a very positive development," said Jimmie Oxley, a scientist at the University of Rhode Island familiar with the research but not involved in it. "They are using a very small amount of water and a very small amount of explosives (to disarm bombs)."
More than 3,000 Stingrays have already been sent to Afghanistan to disarm IEDs, which the Pentagon has called the single biggest threat to U.S. forces in the central Asian country.
"We've gotten feedback that there would be soldiers alive today if they had had the Stingray," said Scharrer.