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Militarizing hagfish

August 24, 2018

A recent article in Popular Mechanics details progress on the manufacture of synthetic hagfish slime that the Navy hopes can be used to disable enemy vessels. Although I have doubts about slime being able to stop a spinning propeller, slime would be very effective in clogging intakes and cooling pumps, which would result in engine overheating. The challenge will be delivery. It reminds me of some work done in the late 1960s, when calculations were made to determine how much shark repellent would be needed to create a sphere of protection around a swimmer. When you factor in the speed of an attacking shark, the concentration of noxious chemical sufficient to trigger an avoidance response, and the exposure time required for avoidance, it was impractical -- it could work initially given a massive dose of the chemical agent, but additional chemicals had to be introduced continuously to keep pace with diffusion and dispersal. In this case you have synthetic slime that needs to become fully hydrated, and a 10,000-fold increase in volume isn't instantaneous. A target moving at a modest flank speed of 20kt will cover 2000' (615m) per minute. Given that it can change course rapidly, setting a slime trap that covers an area broad enough to be unavoidable will be extremely difficult, especially as opposed to the low-tech plastic-rope method.  Hagfish slime is cool, and its mechanical properties could have multiple industrial uses, but in terms of weaponization I'd predict that slime-mines used to incapacitate enemy divers would be much more effective that attempting to slime vessels underway. 

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