The 22 Weirdest Military Weapons
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Let your imagination run wildIf you can imagine it, someone, somewhere has tried to weaponize it. Humans have been trying to kill each other for our entire existence as a species, and in that time, we've developed a lot of clever and outright silly ways to accomplish that goal. From lightning bolts to dolphins, here's a list of some of the most outlandish and bizarre military weapons ever dreamed up.
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While dogs are routinely used in war for tasks like bomb-sniffing, the military has also taken inspiration from Fido to build robots. Enter the "Big Dog," a robotic creature built by the company Boston Dynamics. The large, rough-terrain robot shambles slowly up rocky terrain while carrying heavy loads, and is currently being tested in Afghanistan. The robotic beast sounds like a swarm of bees, and its mincing gait makes it look more like a show poodle than a truly large dog, meaning it's probably not all that stealthy or fast. But the goal of the 240-lb. (109 kilograms) behemoth isn't to be quiet or quick; it's to carry about 100 lbs. (45 kg) so troops don't have to shoulder their own loads. However, in 2015, the military seemed less enamored of the idea, saying the size and noise would give away soldiers' positions, according to Military.com.
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This weapon won't kill you; it will just blind you with its bedazzling laser beam. The PHASR, or personnel halting and stimulation response rifle, is essentially the equivalent of a gazillion laser pointers aimed at the eyes, designed to lead to only temporary blindness. The goal is to blind criminals or others who mean harm for long enough that they can be apprehended. However, the PHASR has one problem: The United Nations banned blinding weapons in 1995, according to an addendum to the Geneva Conventions.
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Laser-induced plasma channel
Move over Thor — the military has stolen your thunder (and lightning). Engineers at the Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey have figured out a way to harness the power of lightning, designing a weapon that shoots lightning bolts along laser beams to kill targets. The laser-induced plasma channel, as it's called, is aimed at targets that conduct electricity better than the air or the ground, according to a press release. The laser light, with its high intensity and energy, focuses the lightning bolt to keep it along a straight and narrow path, so it can be precisely aimed at a target, according to the release.
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Pulsed energy projectile
The pulsed energy projectile is yet another nonlethal weapon under development by the U.S. military. The goal? Fire a laser at people to create a little pocket of exploding plasma in the air around them. This would hypothetically create a pressure wave to knock out the person, also producing painful nerve sensations, according to Globalsecurity.org.
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Bats weren't the only animals recruited to the war effort. Another project, called Project Pigeon, was an effort to create a pigeon-guided bomb. The birds were trained using B.F. Skinner's operant conditioning to hone in on a target shown on a screen and then peck at it when they found it. The program was scrapped in 1944 and then revived in 1948 under the name Project Orcon, but eventually, newer electronic guidance systems proved to be more valuable. An exhibit at the American History Museum in Washington, D.C., details the history of this avian instrument of war.
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In World War II, the U.S. Marine Corps had an ambitious idea: Train bats to be the kamikaze bombers that the military didn't want humans to be. A Pennsylvania dentist first proposed the idea, inspired by the bat-infested caves at Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. The idea? Load the bats with explosives, and train the animals to use their echolocation to find targets. While the military used thousands of free-tailed bats in experiments, officials eventually scrapped the plan when the atomic bomb seemed more promising, Live Science previously reported.
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Soviet attack dolphins
The Soviet Union was also very interested in harnessing animals for warfare. The killer animal in this instance? War dolphins. The project, developed in the 1960s, aimed to train dolphins to search for submerged warheads or other items, according to the Sevastopol State Oceanarium, Live Science previously reported. But Russia isn't the only country training dolphins for war; the United States has its own dolphin-training program, though the adorable marine mammals are not trained to carry weapons or kill people, because they'd have trouble distinguishing between enemies and friendly soldiers, according to the website for the U.S. program.
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Chicken nuclear weapons
During the height of the Cold War, the British devised a 7-tonne (8 tons) nuclear weapon called Blue Peacock, a massive nuclear mine to be placed in Germany that could be detonated if the Soviets decided to invade from the East. One problem? The ground gets really, really cold in winter, making it hard for all the equipment in the mine to work. So, one outlandish proposal (along with wrapping the machinery in fiberglass pillows) was to heat the nuke with chickens, who would have been encased in a shell and given enough food, water and oxygen to survive for a week. The heat generated by the chickens could keep the project warm enough to function. Ultimately, the plan was scrapped because of the risk of nuclear fallout, according to the BBC.
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Kill-proof human soldiers
One way to make a deadlier fighting force is to create an invincible one. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has long been working on projects to make soldiers "unkillable," or more able to survive assaults, maintain endurance for long periods and withstand extreme environmental challenges. One project, called Inner Armor, looked at the genetic adaptations that allow other species, such as harbor seals and archaeobacteria, to travel for days without stopping, survive underwater with little oxygen, or recover from radioactive or chemical weapons without getting sick. The goal? Either manipulate neural pathways or give people special "vitamins" that could protect against such assaults, according to a 2007 presentation on the project.
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Hallucinogenic artillery rounds
Weapons don't always have to injure the body; sometimes, they can incapacitate the mind. In the 1950s, the Central Intelligence Agency investigated the use of psychoactive substances such as LSD under the agency's notorious MKUltra project. One of the "nonlethal" weapons the CIA developed was the BZ bomb, a cluster bomb filled with the hallucinogen 3-quinuclidinyl benzilate. One army recruit who underwent experiments with the substance described experiencing some bizarre dreams, as well as feeling restless, having trouble focusing and suffering headaches. The plan was ultimately scrapped because BZ's effect on the psyche was not reliable, according to an article in the Quarterly Journal of the Harvard Sussex Program on CBW Armament and Arms Limitation.
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Iceberg aircraft carrier
During World War II, the British conceived of an ice-cold killing machine: a massive aircraft carrier that was essentially a fortified iceberg, called Project Habakkuk. The idea would be to take a small amount of wood pulp, mix it with ice to make an unbreakable structure that would take months to melt but would require little in the way of raw materials. Fixes would be as easy as pouring in some water. U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill gave development the go-ahead in 1943, but unfortunately, the carriers were about as absurd as they sound. For one, making them would require giant freezers, and for another, the massive structures would be incredibly slow and heavy, and would require insulation with cork to keep from melting, according to Charles Frederick Goodeve, a Canadian scientist who was privy to the development talks.
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Sometimes, a weapon is outlandish not because of its design, but due to its size. In the 1960s, a British inventor came up with a scheme for a truly monstrous, ground-mounted "supergun." With a 512-foot-long (156 meters) barrel, the gun was known as Big Babylon and was big enough to be seen from space. Though the plans never got off the ground in the 1960s, the inventor, Canadian Gerald Bull, eventually began working on its development for Saddam Hussein, then dictator of Iraq, in 1988, and made several prototypes. Ultimately, Bull's dream was to use the guns for launching satellites, and such behemoth guns would have been impractical in true warfare, given how large and immovable they were, BBC reported.
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North Korean spies seem to be caught in the James Bond Era. When assassins from the country tried to kill the activist Park Sang-hak, the South Korean intelligence agency found a number of tiny, Bondian-weapons on the spies. Among the finds were two poison pens and a tiny flashlight with three tiny holes for bullets, CNN reported.
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Vortex ring gun
One nonlethal weapon that never got off the ground was the vortex ring gun, a weapon that would project high-energy rings of air that could knock people down or spray them with doughnut-shaped rings of chemicals. The project has been under development by the U.S. Army since 1998. A similar project, known as the whirlwind cannon, was developed by the Nazis during World War II, as a way to shoot down Allied planes using a huge projectile of air launched from the ground. But the project never came to fruition, because shooting down fighters at such high altitudes and speeds would have been impossible, Die Welt reported.
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In 2005, the Pentagon confirmed that military leaders had once been interested in a chemical weapon that could make enemy troops sexually irresistible to each other, according to Military.com. The Air Force Wright Lab received $7.5 million dollars in 1994 to develop a weapon that would harness a hormone naturally present in the body in low quantities. When enemy soldiers breathed it in or absorb it in their skin, the idea went, they would become irresistibly attracted to each other. Not surprisingly, many people found the idea offensive and impractical.
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Some outlandish weapon ideas are truly too weird to be true. In the 1920s, scientist Il'ya Ivanov in Russia had a plan to hybridize humans and chimpanzees. The project would have involved inseminating chimpanzees with human sperm. After that failed, Ivanov left for Africa, where his goal was to inseminate human women in Africa (without their consent) with chimpanzee sperm, according to a 2006 study in the journal Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences. Later, creationists claimed that these projects were part of a plan by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin to create human-zee superwarriors.
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In 2016, the U.S. put out a call for proposals to create invisible uniforms, which would cloak wearers from all angles and in all terrains. It's not clear how far that project got, but the idea of cloaking an object to be invisible at certain wavelengths isn't that outlandish. In 2006, scientists showed it was possible to bend light around objects made of certain materials, known as metamaterials, effectively rendering them invisible at certain wavelengths. And in 2015, a scientist said he had invented a ceramic, ultrathin material that was invisible at many wavelengths, the Army Times reported. The idea of making something effectively invisible isn't totally new: Stealth bombers already use a special coating that makes them nearly invisible to radar and infrared and hard to see in the visible light spectrum.
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When it comes to weapons, what doesn't kill you can still make you hurt very, very badly. The U.S. military has been working actively on a nonlethal weapon called an "active denial system," aka, the pain ray. This ray zaps people with radio waves that heat up tissue, creating a painful burn. The objective? Keep suspicious people away from military bases without having to kill the individuals, according to Wired. The current iteration is used only on mounted vehicles, but the military said it hopes to miniaturize the weapon. In 2012, ABC7 reported that a similar version of the pain ray was being tested on inmates at the Pitchess Detention Center's North County Correctional Center in Los Aneles, intended as a tool to break up prisoner fights.
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The sticky grenade
The sticky grenade was yet another of the outlandish weapons devised by the British during World War II. To use the weapon, soldiers would release a pin that removed the grenade's protective casing, revealing a sticky surface on the weapon that could be used to attach it to enemy tanks, according to the BBC. Though the explosives board disapproved of the idea, Winston Churchill was a fan, and over the course of World War II, 2.5 million sticky bombs were produced and used in North Africa, Greece and other locales. Unfortunately, sticky bombs had a number of design flaws; the grenades often failed to stick to tanks if they were dirty, but did tend to cling to soldier's uniforms. This was likely hair-raising in the 5 seconds before the fuse detonated.
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The Puckle gun was patented by lawyer James Puckle in England in 1718. The gun fired square instead of round bullets, which were apparently designed to inflict maximum pain and injury on victims. According to the patent, the point of the square bullets was to "convince the Turks of the benefits of Christian civilization." The Puckle gun, which could fire nine bullets per minute, was the world's first machine gun, according to Historic U.K., but it was never picked up by the British military, because its firing mechanism was too unreliable. Ultimately, the Puckle gun never became successful, according to Historic U.K.
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If you thought camouflage was hard to see, imagine a technology that actually bends light waves around a soldier's uniform, making them seem invisible. That's the idea behind quantum stealth, a technology still in development.
The pictures currently shown are pretty mind-boggling, with people blending into multiple types of backgrounds, but they are still "mock-ups," so it's not clear exactly how well the technology will work when it's put on the battlefield
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Why shoot at enemies with regular old air-propelled projectiles when you can use rocket fuel instead?
That was the premise behind the gyrojet carbine, which made its debut in the 1960s. Instead of regular pressurized gas, which his what ordinary projectile firing devices use, the gyrojet could be made lighter because it didn't require compressor cartridges for pressurizing gas, according to Forgottenweapons.com. Instead, the gyrojet would launch rockets that burned their fuel as they traveled down the barrel, meaning they were actually at their fastest once they had left the barrel, according to forgottenweapons.com
However, the guns were woefully inaccurate, and very few of them got made before the makers, MB Associates, went out of business.