An Australian company developing a revolutionary super-fast weapons system has been approached secretly by China in an attempt to secure the technology, the company said yesterday.
The weapon, with an electronic firing mechanism which enables it to fire at a rate of up to a million rounds a minute, is partly funded by the US and Australian governments, a Metal Storm Ltd executive said.
"The company confirms that it has received phone calls from a particular individual who it turns out was acting on behalf of the Chinese," chief operating officer Ian Gillespie told reporters.
Confirmation of the approach comes after inventor Mike O'Dwyer told Australia's Nine Network television last week that the Chinese military had offered him more than US$100 million to move to Beijing.
O'Dwyer, who left the publicly listed company two years ago, said China had been pursuing the technology for several years.
He said a Chinese official told him in a telephone call in which the US$100 million was offered: "We don't need any Metal Storm weapons, we don't need any of the paperwork, none of that. What we want is you. We want you and your family in Beijing."
O'Dwyer said he refused the offer and informed the Australian government, which has invested some US$10 million in the project.
A spokesman for Defense Minister Brendan Nelson said after the program was broadcast that Australians need not be concerned that the technology or the weapons could be provided to China.
"This will not happen and there are safeguards to prevent it," he said.
Gillespie said he could not comment on the approaches to O'Dwyer. But he confirmed that about a year ago the company received several calls on behalf of a man identified in the television program as acting for the Chinese government.
"We are simply confirming that, yes, we had an approach from these people," Gillespie said.
"It's not an isolated case, but at the same time we didn't consider it a threat or consider it a problem.
"What we're doing is well known -- we have a Web site and as a public company we're obliged to disclose what we're doing."
Gillespie said Metal Storm was "very clearly focused on the US and related markets" and the weapon would not be for sale to China.
The US government had put about US$20 million into the weapon's development along with resources "of a very high value" such as engineering facilities and firing ranges, he said.
At the earliest the weapons, which can be adapted to fire a range of ammunition, could be available in a year's time, with the focus currently on the development of 40mm grenade launchers.
"We're in the final phases before the product will be available," he said.
The weapons could revolutionize warfare in some respects, Gillespie said, confirming oftencited reports that the gun can fire at a rate of a million rounds a minute.
Metal Storm's weapons have no moving parts, and projectiles stacked in the barrels are fired electronically, not through the conventional percussion cap and firing pin method.