The Odd Tale of Allah’s Balls

I did a bit of curiousity research following a comment by Commentariat(tm) member DrVanNostrand [stderr]

He tells the story of “allah’s balls” an electro-interference IED detonator-device:

“Allah’s Balls” are two giant metal spheres that create some kind of electromagnetic discharge that fries or blows up IEDs. It looks like a giant pair of metal balls. The problem is that it’s not as reliable as brute force methods like mine rollers. If you do a great job with 90% of the IEDs, but miss 10% or whatever, it’s a bad solution. The way they were mounted to the Buffaloes, they were also too close to the front of the vehicle, so the drivers would get concussions and other brain injuries because the IEDs would explode when they were too close. My brother (a Captain), tossed them into a scrap heap, even though he had been directed to use “The Balls of Allah” for route clearance. A Lt. Colonel came by late one night after my brother had a bad day, and demanded to know why they were in the scrap pile. Since he referred to them by their official name, my brother was initially confused, but eventually realized what he was talking about. “You’re talking about The Balls of Allah?!?!?!? It doesn’t fucking work! You idiots are trying to kill us!” Then there was a long expletive-laden argument about how they worked great in “field tests” (my brother’s reply: “THIS IS THE FIELD, MOTHERFUCKER!!!”).

I am fairly sure, from the description, that we are talking about the: JOLLER-C IED Experiment. The US military, with infinitely deep pockets, went on a buying-binge in which they tried a bunch of scammy woo-products. [stderr] – they even bought some dowsing rods that were supposedly tuned to high explosive. I hope nobody got killed trying to use this sort of bullshit technology.

Through the magic of the internet, I found a copy of the manufacturer’s pitch deck. [ae-ip] It’s typical unreadable DoD-compliant powerpoint, but here are a few slides:

“patent protected” is procurement code for “sole source”; they are implying that they’re going to be the only people offering this solution against a $1.82 billion market. Uh huh.

It’s possible that these people are sincere. They may be bad scientists. Or, they may be charlatans. If the military was deploying this stuff and experimenting with it in the field, I hope that nobody got hurt; I’d be pretty annoyed if someone was expecting me to use experimental woo-products instead of something that might actually work. Note: IEDs are a difficult problem, especially if they are remote-fired by a human controller. They work and they work because they are hard to detect. The solution is to use magic:

“are considered certified viable new technologies of the future by agencies of the US Government.”

Certified viable? I am aware of no government agency that certifies technologies as viable or not, let alone “technology of the future.”

Laser guided energy sounds interesting. What does it do, ionize a candidate path with a laser, to make it easier to arc where you want it? I thought that getting energy through air is a big problem for energy weapons so I’d want to understand how laser guiding helps and how much. If.

Here’s the “Banshee”:

The photo at the bottom left looks like it’s been photoshopped (or more likely they left the camera’s shutter open and captured an extended set of discharges). But the thing that jumps out at me is the rows of mine-sweep wheels – a normal add-on for an MRAP in some places – I wonder if they’re what is really sweeping the IEDs. Note that it’s a “future” version of Banshee that will have laser-guided energy; this version has the good old-fashioned unguided energy.  [publicintegrity]

After receiving more than $50 million in government contracts, a company that once promised to revolutionize warfare with a weapon that shoots lightning bolts is seeing its hopes for further federal funds vaporized.

The U.S. Marine Corps recently ended a contract with Applied Energetics, a Tucson-based firm that has been working for years on directed energy weapons for the military, iWatch News has learned. The company’s efforts were detailed earlier this year in a Center piece on the Pentagon’s troubled unit designed to fight roadside bombs, the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, or JIEDDO.

The terminated Marine contract was for an Applied Energetics weapon designed to zap roadside bombs with bolts of lightning guided by ultra-short pulsed lasers; the company’s work on the weapon and similar systems had attracted $54 million in federal funds since 2005.

The latest contract was terminated “for convenience of the government due to the material solution not adequately meeting the requirement,” wrote Jim Katzaman, a spokesman for Marine Corps Systems.

“terminated “for convenience of the government due to the material solution not adequately meeting the requirement,”” is great justification for discontinuing the use of a technology, or even a president. It’s not exactly that the solution doesn’t work; it just doesn’t work on this problem. Go find some other problem you can sell us this thing for, and we’ll buy another $50mn worth.

I believe the current generation use ground penetrating radar and magnetic field measurement. It seems as though pressure-triggered IEDs are tripped by having a wheeled vehicle designed to resist explosions towed across them.

Back to the unfortunate Banshee – I am also curious about the mechanism by which the IED is defeated. So, it looks like a lot of high voltage current running around between the scrotum-probe and the ground, and …? Does it heat things up? That might destroy the firing circuit of an IED so that it won’t go off. Or, what if it makes blasting caps detonate? Or if it destroys the batteries in the firing circuit so that it will never go off. Do we know there is an IED there, if there’s no massive explosion? I assume yes, but this is an army we’re talking about. If someone already knows the IED is there, why not drag a roller over it and try to set it off? No need to bake it through the ground – I’m not sure I entirely see the point of doing that. I also assume that the Banshee wasn’t beaming death-rays at the ground the whole time, so there was some other kind of IED detection in place before the Banshee came along (in which case: why have the Banshee). It doesn’t make any sense to leave unexploded explosives in the ground so they need to be detonated – digging them up sounds riskier than watching a large explosion from a distance.

What I’m getting at is that I’m having trouble seeing the purpose of the Banshee. Never mind whether it works or not, why is it, at all? I know “its purpose is to transfer money from here to there” is always a good answer for something to do with defense procurement, but it doesn’t appear anyone asked the basic question about this thing. “So what?”

You’re probably shocked to hear this, but the laser directed energy guys are still around under a newer, better name. [popsci] Now they are testing laser guns for airplanes. Imagine mating one of these things to an F-35! It looks stealthy and aerodynamic as all tootsie.

I wonder what the taxpayers paid for those.


  1. Reginald Selkirk says

    What does it do, ionize a candidate path with a laser, to make it easier to arc where you want it?

    That would be my guess.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    … low level wireless Taser effects …

    Great riot control gear! I betcha the Trump™ administration would love to buy … oh wait.

    And those goodies in the bottom pic seem ideal for sweeping mines at the Bonneville Salt Flats; not so much for terrain involving uneven surfaces, trees, fences, villages, and such encumbrances.

    Back in the Bush years, a friend for some reason got me to read Col. Doug Beason’s The E-Bomb: How America’s New Directed Energy Weapons Will Change the Way Future Wars Will Be Fought, a book-length sales brochure for large aircraft packed with generators to power big lasers ‘n’ masers to zap whatever target needed zappification. (I got so tired of the phrase “at the speed of light” repeated endlessly…) Haven’t seen any follow-up since, but I’m sure our esteemed host would enjoy it – or at least the chapter and scattered remarks dissing the F-35.

  3. fusilier says

    aaah dowsing….

    Aeons ago, when John Ghod Campbell was still alive and editing _Analog_, he touted some Marines dowsing for tunnels in Viet Nam. Campbell, of course, was famous for many things, including his promotion of whackadoodle stuff like L.Ron’s Hubbard’s “Dianetics,” and reaction-less spacedrives involving rotating masses. All at the same time insisting on SCIENCE and ENGINEERS!!!!! Since The Corps was using dowsing, and were only interested in results, it was obvious that There Was Something To It.

    Of course since the entire country of South Viet Nam was riddled withVC/NVA tunnels, it wasn’t hard to stumble on one, just by chance.


    James 2:24

  4. DrVanNostrand says

    “It’s possible that these people are sincere. They may be bad scientists.”

    Since I work for a small defense contractor, I bet that they are sincere, and probably even good scientists. The government is throwing millions of dollars around to find ‘better’ solutions for damn near everything. If what you do is actually any good, upgrade that millions to billions. You can get the government to foot most of the bill for R&D, so you have the opportunity for massive rewards without having to risk much of your own capital investment. My company has one of those “patent protected” technologies that could make the best directed energy weapons (i.e. big ass lasers). There are a ton of technical challenges to get to the finish line, and in the end, I’m not even sure how useful they’ll be, even if the DOD eventually gets all the specs they’re demanding. But they’re promising to spend billions of dollars acquiring these lasers when someone makes what they want, and they’re willing to shovel millions into developing them. So we take their money, and (try to) make big ass lasers. It’s the world’s least efficient jobs program.

  5. Jazzlet says

    Back in the 80s in the UK being certified meant being officially declared mad [enough to require locking up] by the necessary two doctors. Sounds about right for Allah’s Balls.

  6. says

    sez fusilier @3:

    Aeons ago, when John Ghod Campbell was still alive and editing _Analog_, he touted some Marines dowsing for tunnels in Viet Nam. … Since The Corps was using dowsing, and were only interested in results, it was obvious that There Was Something To It.

    Minor correction: Campbell’s long-standing fascination with Weird Shit (i.e., psionics, the Dean Drive, and suchlike), had very little to do with whether or not the military was using any examples of said Weird Shit.

  7. komarov says

    Regarding the why of the device, I think you’re being too unfair. It’s entirely reasonable and useful for the military to invest in systems that use methods which are essentially orthogonal to established kit like a roller. You never know what’s headed your way, technologically speaking, so if rollers suddenly became problematic it would be nice to have some alternatives ready to go.
    New approaches might also offer other advantages. E.g. electronic devices might be easier to miniaturise, which doesn’t work for rollers if they’re supposed to trigger stuff. Rollers wear out while systems that avoid explosions don’t. There’s even a “hearts and minds” argument: Caring enough about the locals that you avoid detonating things that create hazards and dangerous waste. If someone (eventually) managed to build a system that is able to reliable render any IED inert without actually detonating it that would be pretty good actually. Depending on how it works there might even be other security applications, e.g. zappifying luggage to disable any concealed explosives someone might be trying to smuggle into sensitve places.

    All that said, deploying kit that by the sound of it isn’t ready is of course idotic, plain and simple. “90%” sounds like it’s too early for field-testing. It also suggests that your test lab might be a bit too unrealistic if home-testing convinced you to head out into the real world.

    P.S.: Re: Lightning guns: It doesn’t matter how silly your weapons look or how impracitcal they are if they don’t leave any survivors. However, if you get laughed off the battlefield its time to go back the drawing board (and count your blessings)

  8. sonofrojblake says

    “There’s a gun that shoots shurikens and lightning. I wish I could make something like that up. It shoots shurikens and lightning. It could only be more awesome if it had tits and was on fire”.

    I had thought that was a videogame review, not a description of DoD procurement policy.

  9. says

    “Patent protected” — WTF?

    The Military is owned by the Government. The Government grants and revokes patents.

    If some piece of technology that makes the difference between winning a war and losing it is patented, then how is the patent holder not effectively holding their Government to ransom, and how is that not treason?

    Anything used by the Government, including taxpayer funded education and healthcare and the Military, should be free of all “intellectual property” encumberment.

  10. Pierce R. Butler says

    bluerizlagirl . @ # 9: Anything used by the Government… should be free of all “intellectual property” encumberment.

    Only if invented by The Government – no?

    The Government winning its wars is not the be-all and end-all of US national purpose – especially considering the Gov’s poor taste in wars over the last several decades.

  11. lochaber says

    Wouldn’t have that many high-voltage arcs to the ground consume a fuck-ton of energy?

    Probably a lot more energy than some sort of rotating chain-flail type device?

  12. DrVanNostrand says


    If they’d rather start doing all their own R&D in house, they’re welcome to do it. They’ve chosen a strategy to let private companies do that R&D instead, and an integral part of accomplishing that is respecting intellectual property.

  13. lorn says

    I suppose some people might want, need, to think those units work as advertised.

    From a sales and profit perspective there is little new here beyond these ubits being larger and sparkier than the previous nonsense devices:

    It wouldn’t surprise me to find some subset of scientists, engineers and users who think they have observed positive results. People in high risk situation often become self-deluding so desperate for anything that might tilt the odds in their favor that they essentially deceive themselves. Read up on the ADE-651 and how many people really believed in them.

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