It’s called a “hafnium bomb”, and it uses a new type of stimulated nuclear isomer technology so deadly that the Pentagon doesn’t want you to even know that it exists – and according to Sharon Weinberger, it doesn’t. We join the intrepid editor of Aviation Week’s Defense Technology International as she takes us on a journey through the Pentagon’s scientific underworld. Weinberger is the author of “Imaginary Weapons”, and shares with us her thoughts on money, oversight, and scientific literacy in military research.

Weinberger was intrigued by some of the strange notions floating around the higher levels of the defense community, and wrote the book “Imaginary Weapons” to examine the culture of military research that funds innovation within our $600+ billion a year defense establishment. The book itself features the halfnium hand-grenade as a prominent example of military research gone wrong, but the larger scope of her work is also to take on how military research is conducted and funded in the United States, as well as to point out examples of a breakdown in funding oversight for some projects.

“One of the things I learned from that experience is that the defense industry is itself an “underworld” in many ways, and I try to give readers a feel for this is my book. It’s not the vaporware per se that makes this an underworld, but the very odd culture of technology and national security. I was inspired to try to describe this underworld – and my experience being in it – to others.

The book talks about some of the more controversial areas of science that have attracted military research interest, including remote viewing (psychics), cold fusion and antimatter weapons. I do not list these areas with the idea of lumping them together as bad science, but rather, to point out how each of these subjects tends to attract support from the underworld.

I think the insular culture (or what I refer to as an underworld) can be a part of the problem with things going off track with some of the more wild ideas, but it’s not the only issue to consider. If you get a defense official who is dead set on an idea – to the exclusion of outside review, you can do some serious damage. I think that’s what happened with the hafnium bomb to a large degree. Is this a universal problem? I think the issue of “vested interests” of program officers in defense projects is a problem, but one that extends far beyond “fringe science” and into the mainstream defense establishment. There’s also a larger issue here: the general scientific decline that many are observing within our defense establishment.” – Sharon Weinberger