The discussion below represents just words on an Internet page. The knowledge behind this discussion is derived simply from using normal internet search engines. There is nothing special or even complicated discussed in the items below. The items below are absolutely dangerous and should not be created either in part or in whole, and should not be used, either in part or in whole, except by institutions with all applicable authorities to do so from all the applicable controlling legal authorities, and these items should be created only by those institutions with knowledge, training, and experience to create and/or use these items where they would reasonably be expected to be appropriately safe in their creation and/or use.  The purpose of this discussion is just to create a document and an idea for people to think about. I do not advise or recommend that anyone should try to create or implement with physically real items any of the discussion below. If someone wants to be a part of actually creating this technology, then my opinion is that they should absolutely go to the institutions discussed above and they should always proceed in a manner that is legal, safe, and reasonable.  pg


Take a look at this “Ice Cannonball” from MythBusters

Drawing Note: I’m currently wrapped up in the pistonrobot stuff, but I do plan to get some drawings on the Ice Cannon, at some point.

Consider the issue of open seas piracy. This represents an unfortunate reality of the current world condition.

The effects of this type of piracy include the potential injury that can occur to the ship’s crews involved (both psychic injuries that result from having to work in an environment of fear, and any physical injuries that crew members could sustain during an actual piracy event), the costs of repairing ships damaged by the actions of the pirates, and the excess costs for shipping that are incurred because of piracy that are attached to the products involved and passed on to the end consumers.

As one considers these issues, the question immediately arises, “Why are the ships and shipping companies involved allowing this piracy to occur?”

Many issues are involved, beginning with running down the ramifications that would flow from an attempt to make ships more protected from piracy. We can list some of these issues:

Maritime law has fairly specific designations of what constitutes a shipping vessel (that is an ocean-going ship) that is to be listed as existing for commercial non-combat operations. There is great emphasis on not allowing a creep to occur between ships configured for military operations, especially offensive or war fighting capabilities vs ships configured for the simple commerce activities of the transportation of goods for sale.

The ease of access of ocean-going vessels to ports is tremendously complicated if these vessels have a possibility that these vessels are potential war-fighting machines. Many ports wish to remain simply commercial operations existing in an atmosphere of just moving goods for eventual sale. Once military considerations are added, then the ports have to consider the politics of what the governing national authority that controls the ports wants to do vis-à-vis “With respect to the nationality of the owners of military seagoing vessels at this port, which nations are allowed to have vessels of this type here at this port?” In addition, once military type designations are applied, then issues arise about potential explosive munitions and what needs to be done to insure that explosive materials are safely controlled, made non-operational, and stored while these munitions are present in the port.

  • Maritime law is fairly specific about what types of activities are allowed for the crew of a non-military ocean going commercial vessel with respect to behaviors to avoid, stop, repel, manage, defeat, etc., the actions of “pirates” against this commercial non-military ocean going vessel, if the vessel is to retain its designation as involved in commercial non-military commerce activities.
  • The effects of these maritime laws is to essentially set out that ocean going vessels that want to have the designation as existing as commercial, non-military vessels do not have permission to carry or use any type of “military” or “combat effective” equipment on the ships, and the crews on these ships do not have permission for the crew members to engage in any type of “military or police style” behaviors that would be seen as directing offensive action against persons attempting to board, take over, or otherwise alter the course and objectives of the vessel in its ocean going activities.
  • It is not immediately clear to those of us who do not practice maritime law exactly how these conventions discussed above were established, or set up, or managed. There seems to be some communication if one reads about this topic, that the commercial maritime legal authorities seem to have an objective that they do not want commercial ocean-going vessel traffic activities to be “morphed” into an environment where no one, either at the vessel ownership level, or the port level, or the governmental level has a clear advance knowledge of just what type of “military or police action” capabilities and policies and procedures any one vessel may or may not have. That is to say, as the vessels move around either near to each other or alone in the sea lanes, and as they move into and out of ports, and as they exist unmoving in a port, the legal authorities do not want a situation where they are unsure with respect to “military or police type actions” just exactly what any particular vessel may or may not do, and what would be the events that would trigger any of these types of actions by the vessels and/or their crews.
  • In addition, there seems to be a sense of thinking in the maritime legal discussions that in some manner, if there were an “escalation” of the military/police capabilities of commercial ocean going vessels and their crews, at least with respect to the topic of responses to pirates and piracy, that this escalation on the behalf of the vessels would force an escalation by the pirates. There seems to be a discussion by the legal groups which represent the vessels (or at least the owners of the vessels), that (for example), if the vessels add small arms firing capacity, then the pirates will “bump up” their small arms capabilities. That if the vessels add heavier caliper weapons, so will the pirates obtain and use heavier calipers in their piracy actions. This thinking even includes upgrades to rocket powered grenades, rockets, missiles, etc. It’s never been clear to me where the pirates were going to get all this advanced military style capabilities, but it seems there are arguments for state sponsorship of piracy and that these sponsoring states could help to enhance the offensive capabilities of these pirates right up to the point where the pirates are essentially being militarized.
  • There is also an undercurrent of acknowledgement in these discussions that the encouragement of what would be essentially an “arms war” between the vessel owners and the pirates would clearly represent another expense that the vessel owners would need to meet. It almost reads some times that the thinking that a few piracy losses here and there, while sad and irritating, are not as much of a problem as the expense of a globally spread and managed offensive fighting upgrade to all the commercial vessels of the sea. There is also the acknowledgement that this escalation of armament amounts and capabilities of the ocean going vessels would absolutely require the hiring, initial training and on-going training, and control and documentation of all the people who would be required to maintain and use all this armament.
  • Finally, there is a port issue in that the creation of ports full of vessels when some or probably all of these vessels are extensively armed, are carrying and maintaining explosives and have on board collections of very valuable military technology items, well, this becomes a thorny logistics issue. Some sort of control and verification system would need to be in place to prevent unwanted detonation of the explosives, and also to force and manage that all this military technology is maintained and monitored in a manner to make it very unlikely that it would be stolen away from the port or used in the port inappropriately.

So anyway, I was just wondering if there were any way around all this. I would say in advance, if it is really true that any enhancement of the capabilities of the commercial vessels is strictly off limits, then there is no way to offer any help.

I decided to work through whether a technology exists that does make the vessels much less attractive to piracy, but that implementing this technology would not trigger any of the problems listed above.

We can make a list of what the technology would need to contain:

  • This technology would make an ocean-going commercial vessel less attractive to pirates. In fact, to be realistic, it would need to make the vessel a lot less attractive to piracy, almost to the point that this technology would make (at least low or moderately sophisticated) pirates come to the conclusion that they should just forget attempting piracy on the vessels with this technology.
  • This technology needs to be completely uninteresting to military forces and other types of organizations. These other organizations would include that no one in a port would get any real benefit from this technology, and the technology would have features that would make it so that no one would really want to try to remove it from a vessel and take it anywhere. In addition, the technology would benefit greatly if, by the nature of its action, it really lost most of its ability to function if it was not near a body of water. Finally, the technology, in its application, must not give a group that possessed it the ability to “threaten a government” or “take over” anything of any governmental or military value.
  • It would be wonderful if the technology was really effective against the type of maritime assets and capabilities that pirates tend to have, but the technology, if applied against true military type ocean going vessels, or against large commercial type ocean going vessels, well the technology would not represent any meaningful threat to these classes of vessels.
  • There are tremendous benefits to the technology being simple, both in its implementation and in its principles of operation. It would be difficult to use propaganda style campaigns against the technology or against supposed “secret possibilities” of the technology if anyone could understand it, particularly if any governmental or port or media authorities could simply walk on a vessel and see the technology and see that there were no big secrets residing on or with the technology.
  • The technology really needs to be kept simple enough in its operation that the normal operating crew of an ocean going commercial vessel could simply go to the technology, turn it on, wait for it to bring itself into readiness for use, and then just use it without the need for any special operators or extensive training sessions.
  • It would be wonderful if the technology had a “standoff” capability. My use of “standoff” here is in the sense that the technology should be able to project its action out to a distance far away from the ocean going vessel. There are multiple advantages to this capability. The most important is the fear factor for the pirates. If the pirates know that the vessel can damage the pirates at distances way in excess of the effective striking distances of the armaments that the pirates are most likely to have, then (hopefully) the technology will have that perfect action plan that the technology would stop the pirate attack before it even started. Another major advantage of “standoff” action is that the pirates could witness the technology in action from a distance far away from the ocean going vessel. It is such a clear message, “We can do this to you when you are that far away from us,” “Do you really want to approach us so that we can do more and more of this to you as you approach us?” And, of course, with standoff capability, the vessel has time to use the technology against the ocean waters near to the pirates just to show the pirates   “Hey, do you see what we just did to the ocean water next to you?” ….”You’re ship is next”, without actually damaging anything other than the pirates pride. (We should note: the technology will be totally non damaging to the ocean or the ocean environment).
  • There must be the perception that with respect to the vessel’s use of this technology, there is essentially an unlimited scale for the vessel’s use of the technology. The scale I am referring to here is the scale of how long the vessel can use the technology from a time viewpoint, and how many times the vessel can use the technology from a repeated action viewpoint. The pirates must know that with respect to this technology, if the vessel has it, then they can use it for days and days and days on end, that there will not be any equipment that “wears out” and there won’t be any “expendables” that get used up. The pirates need to understand that if they engage this technology on this vessel, then the vessel can use it until the pirates run out of fuel or food, or until the pirate vessel is breached and sinks.

I know absolutely you’re saying, “Yeah, what a fantasy”, “I’ll give you an ice cream cone if you can show me this type of technology”

What I will reply is that you’ve got your thinking tied up in the world of the pirates and their manner of action and effect. They have a small, rapid boat, they zoom up, do a lot of violence in a short amount of time, bring everyone to submission by doing that, then they get whatever they want as their payments for leaving the vessel.

You need to back your perspective up somewhat. Just ease yourself back in space toward the vessel. Let’s compare the vessel against pirates. The vessel is large, actually huge. The vessel is so large that any solutions to the technology issue really don’t need to be concerned with size. The solutions don’t need be concerned with weight. They don’t need to be concerned with supplies or energy sources. None of these issues have any meaning on a vessel as large as a commercial ocean going transport.

We need to wonder, is there anything out on the open ocean that would be a threat to a pirate? What is available for the open ocean to offer?  I would say again, keep your eyes open, I would advise expand your mind here. We can certainly state, we have one thing that the open ocean has in abundance….it’s just ocean water. We can state, out in the open ocean, there is a limitless availability of ocean water. And, from an environmental perspective, providing that the water handling systems of the vessel are clean, there is zero environmental impact from the vessel pulling up some ocean water and then putting that water back in the ocean.

“Ok, OK you say,” “It’s the firehose thing, we’ve all seen that.” “There aren’t going to be any pirates worried about firehoses.”

Well, if you have space, equipment, and energy, then I would suggest that we should more carefully consider the water that we removed from the ocean. There is absolutely no requirement that ocean water has to be sent back to the ocean as water. You could consider sending it back as steam, but you will have zero standoff capability that way. I would suggest, go in the other direction. When one turns water into ice, at that point, you have a solid material that can really do damage if one properly uses some of the physical properties of ice.

“Ice?”, “Are you kidding?” you might say. I would advise you, let us look at ice. Surprisingly, there are studies of ice as a solid material. Mostly, ice in Northern industrialized settings tends to create issues that need study. As ice runs into physical structures such as ports, the walls of breakwaters, or the parts of offshore machinery, then equations are needed to allow calculation of how these structures should be built so that they are reasonably expected to withstand the impact and thrust forces that are placed on them from moving ice.

Ice has been described with respect to standard physical parameters like modulus of elasticity, shear strength, compressive strength, tensile strength, etc. There is the phase diagram of water, and this diagram has been taken out to truly extreme values on all sides of pressure and temperature.

“Where is this ice coming from?” you may say. Ice is not hard to acquire if you have our triad of capability that I already explained to you about the vessel. We have space, energy, and equipment. The technology of refrigeration and cooling is very well understood, it is reliable, available and robust. You give me the triad of capability that I mentioned above, and I’ll give you all the ice that you could ever want.

There are some weird events that roll around with water, especially if we wander out into extreme environments. As we consult the phase diagram of water, it is my understanding that the physical properties of water are affected by temperature, as we are all aware of water changing from a liquid to a solid (ice) as we cool it. However, the transition temperature for water shifting from liquid to solid is also related to pressure. My understanding of the phase diagram implies that with increasing pressure at constant temperature, water that was ice undergoes a transition back to a more ductile physical form.

“Well, so what?” you say. I would reply, let’s take some water, bring it to -20 degrees F (it would be ice), and place this ice into a metal cylinder. Add a ram to the cylinder and bring the pressure in the cylinder up to 6000 psi. It is my belief that there will be a phase transition of the ice back to a more ductile material at that pressure. I feel it would have the same physical characteristics as does the toothpaste that you squeeze out of your toothpaste tube at night. And, weirdly enough, these phase transitions could care less how one gets to them. Let’s put the water (being sure it is just water and no air) in the cylinder at 40 degrees F (it’s a liquid), now bring the pressure of the water in the cylinder up to 6000 psi (the water is still a liquid) and then take the temperature of the water down to minus 20 degrees F (ah Ha, the water is still a liquid). My guess is, you would not have guessed that state for the water.

If the cylinder happens to be shaped just like a bullet, except a pretty big bullet, what would happen? We’ll let it be a bullet 8 inches in diameter and 28 inches long. Let’s say the walls of the cylinder are machined to a smoothness of 1/100th of an inch. So what is that water going to do? It will assume the exact shape of that cylinder, and the smoothness of the water/cylinder interface will be at 1/100th of an inch. Let the pressure now drift down until it’s at normal atmospheric pressure. The water, at this point, will be ice, probably a pure, clear, colorless, crystalline ice… complete solid piece of ice, shaped exactly like a very big bullet, with a smoothness of its surfaces of 1/100th of an inch. And if you put a brief pulse of heat to the walls of the cylinder, then that ice bullet would just slide right out of there.

We’ll carry that “ice bullet” over to a length of duplex stainless steel tubing. We’ll machine that tubing so its inner diameter is straight and true, and has just a faint trace of rifling. We’ll have a breech, and a compressed air reservoir and sudden release valve all worked into this thing. We have here, an “ice cannon”. All that’s left is the calculations of just what could be done with this setup.

Before going to the calculations  (and they are just the ballistic projectile calculations that cannon makers have put together since forever), we should make one more quick trip to our triad of capability. The conversion of water to ice is basically just a refrigeration calculation. You tell me how much water you want to convert into ice over a unit of time, what temperature you want that ice to be at, and what temperature the liquid water was at when we started, and I can tell you what cooling unit you need to supply that much cooling. With respect to the compressed air issue, you tell me how many cubic feet of air you want to start with, how many you want when its compressed, what pressure you want it at, and how much of that compressed air you need per unit of time, then I can tell you what type of air compressor you would need.

And here’s the neat part, there are combinations of chiller units and air compressors that can make these bullets of ice from ocean water at the size specified, with a 1500 psi pressure setting, and a firing rate of 1 “shot” every 20 seconds. And, guess what? If you have that capability triad that I mentioned a while ago, then you can install this setup in  a spot somewhere on the surface of the vessel and get off one shot of your ice bullet every 20 seconds until the fuel runs out. (Because in the industrial world, these air compressors and chiller units are designed to run continuously for years and years on end). The specifics of the capability calculations for the compressor unit and the chiller unit go as follows:

  1. Cooling capacity – You will need to take about 50 pounds of seawater from its ocean temperature to -20 degrees F in a short enough time interval to keep up with a firing rate of once every 20 seconds. Since it takes a little bit of time to cycle the ice cannon, then you will need to create the ice projectile in somewhat less than 20 seconds. We will choose to make one ice projectile every 15 seconds. Then you need to factor in some over capacity for your cooling system so that it is not under any “strain” from you are asking it to do. This over capacity sizing action will help to ensure that your cooling system can be expected to run for days and days on end. We will triple size the cooling unit for this issue. Thus, we need the seawater to go from whatever the seawater temperature is down to -2o deg F in 5 seconds. Just to try to include all the oceans that might be involved, we will set the seawater temperature at intake to be 80 deg F. Thus, 5o pounds of seawater from 80 deg F to -20 deg F in 5 seconds. This is a cooling capacity calculation. The unit will be about 10 feet high by 15 feet wide by 18 feet long and its power source will be a diesel engine of about 300 horsepower.
  2. Pressure capacity – Again, using the same logic as above, we will need to recharge the pressure reservoir so that repeated cycling of the ice cannon will be feasible with little chance that the compressor system will be “strained” in any way. The reservoir is 8 inches in diameter and 120 inches long. Again, as above, we need to be able to re-pressurize the pressure reservoir from 1 atmosphere (15 psi) up to 1500 psi in 5 seconds. The compressor that can reliably do this is (as we saw for the cooling system) going to be unit about 10 feet high by 15 feet wide by 18 feet long, and it too will need its own separate diesel engine of about 300 horsepower.

So, there you have it, this is how we calculated out what the equipment specifics will be for the “power parts” of the ice cannon. Of course, there will also need to be included the electrical generator, the control room, the computers, the FLIR units for sighting and targeting, the ice cannon and its (targeting) movement platform, and the hydraulics system for moving the ice cannon as it satisfies the firing solution.

By the way, your ice bullet would leave the muzzle of your ice cannon at about 300 mph and would have a max range in the air of about 4600 feet. This becomes your standoff…4600 feet. We could go over how many fiberglass boats are going to take an ice bullet weighing 50 pounds hitting them at 300 mph. That might even penetrate some metal.

It’s my feeling this is the technology that meets all the specifications listed above.

I would like to suggest creating the following device as a more effective repelling agent for use against piracy attempts.

I propose to create a stainless steel (SS) tube device of 316 type SS pressure pipe. I would suggest use of the schedule 160 grade. The 160 schedule creates a high strength pipe by requiring much thicker pipe walls than the lower grades.

I propose that this tube would use compressed air to launch a cylinder of ice and I would call this device an “Ice Cannon”.

The following descriptive comments apply to this ice cannon:

If the ice cylinder were 8 inches in diameter and 28 inches long then it would weigh 50 pounds.

If the SS ice cannon had an 8 inch inside diameter and was 120 inches long, then if the cylinder were launched using air at 1500 pounds per square inch (psi), then the ice projectile would leave the ice cannon at about 504 feet per second (fps).

It seems reasonable to me that a 50 pound block of ice traveling at 504 fps and hitting any type of fiberglass hulled boat would put a fairly devastating hole in the hull.

In addition, any humans (pirates) on this boat would be almost surely lethally injured by this block of ice, and would probably be severely injured even from fragments of this block of ice that would arise after the block of ice hits the pirates’ boat.

The effect of this projectile of ice with these parameters of flight hitting the water anywhere near a pirate boat would (I think) be a tremendous water splash. I feel most normal seafaring people present in a boat on the open ocean that witnessed an ice projectile creating this sort of a “near miss” display would clearly determine the threat posed by the projectile and would have little interest in sticking around for the next projectile and the clear possibility of a direct impact upon the boat of the next ice cannon shot.

The reason I am proposing an ice cannon involves some considerations of what type of device would be best as a defensive item for a merchant ship.

The merchant ships very much do not want explosive or flammable items on the ship because of the frequency with which they transport flammable merchandise.

The ice projectile of the ice cannon is frozen seawater. It is not possible for frozen seawater to burn, or spark, or explode, or decompose in a manner that would promote any type of ignition or would release any destructive energy.

The merchant ship does not want accusations that it caused pollution from something or some item that it shot into the open ocean. Again, the ice projectile is made from seawater suctioned up into the merchant ship via a stainless steel input using the seawater present around the merchant ship. It is not possible to pollute seawater by placing into that seawater a block of ice that is made from that seawater, providing the equipment that created the ice projectile does not add any chemical pollutants to the ice. This is easily accomplished using SS materials throughout for the acquisition and processing of the ice projectile.

The merchant ship does not want to arrive to a port with a weapon system that would be attractive to thieves. The merchant ship would not want a device that could be used as a weapon somewhere distant from the port, or that has special hard to duplicate capabilities that could cause damage.

Again the ice cannon is a tube of SS connected to a reservoir of compressed air. The equipment to make this ice cannon functional on the merchant ship would be about 20 feet wide by 20 feet long by 9 feet high. This equipment would include a cooling source, an air compressor, and the ice cannon, and the entire package would weigh about 5 tons. All of these parts are easily accessible anywhere in the industrial world and no one would even think to go to the trouble to remove a 5 ton item of this size off a merchant ship as a thievery operation when the parts could be much more easily and cheaply just purchased and delivered to any industrial location.

The ice cannon would probably need to be certified as an acceptable pressure vessel with acceptable safeties and launch controls before anyone could pressurize it and attempt an ice projectile launch.

It is entirely possible that the air blast from this ice cannon could be sufficiently large and violent to damage ears and perhaps lungs and intestines. It would be mandatory that proper pressure spike tests be done with all people properly far away from the ice cannon on its first few ice projectile launches in order to characterize the air pressure spikes and determine just how close people could be to the ice cannon when it is firing.

There is a program on the internet that allows variables to be put into the design of  a compressed air cannon to determine the results on the projectile. The web site for this calculation program is   But I should point out that I cannot get this web address to go to the GGDT program anymore. I think GGDT stands for Gas Gun Design Tool.

Using the parameters that I have given you, let me use this GGDT program to describe the following ice cannon (I mention that the standard configuration of these types of compressed air cannons consists of a reservoir of air present in one tube with this reservoir connected to the cannon via a valve that vents the air into the reservoir through the valve and into the breech of the cannon. The initial position of the ice projectile is that it sits at the end of the breech of the cannon.)

The parameters I chose are as follows:

Reservoir size 8 inches inside diameter by 120 inches long

The air in the reservoir initially is at 200 degrees F and at 1500 psi.

The valve has a seat diameter of 5 inches, it takes 20 milliseconds for it to fully open, it stays open for 48 milliseconds, and the volume of the valve is 1205 cubic inches.

The ice cannon barrel is 8 inches inside diameter and 120 inches long.

The ice projectile is 8 inches diameter and 28 inches long.

Using these parameters and via the GGDT program, the results are:

The ice projectile would leave the ice cannon at 504 feet per second (343 miles per hour).

The maximum range of the ice projectile would be 4619 feet and it would take 17 seconds to travel this far.

Now I just want you to close your eyes and imagine your crew placing the ice cannon on a flat bed trailer, trucking it to a remote open area, pressurizing the reservoir to 1500 psi, heating the reservoir to 200 deg F, moving the ice cannon breech away from the valve, placing an ice projectile in the breech, reseating the breech to the valve, defeating the safeties, and launching a 50 pound block of ice at 343 miles an hour to an impact point 4619 feet away.

And, it is my guess that, of course the technology companies (example, General Dynamics), would be happy (for a price) to fit the ice cannon with an optical sighting device and a firing solution computer that would allow the crew to just put the crosshairs on a pirate boat, or near it to get a “shot across the bow” and the optics and computer would use a laser rangefinder and gps track to set into the ice cannon a proper offset of the barrel to satisfy the firing solution.