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In my setting, there's a faction known as International Front that combines guerilla and para-militarism with advanced technology (for a guerilla group).

Their main goal is to fight and conquer the whole world through soft power or military action, and they know that NATO and other conventional forces have the training and technology to defeat or at least suppress an insurgency in the developing world they operate in, let alone the developed world they seek to control in the future.

They have knowledge of advanced technologies from another world, contained in a device of theirs known as the "Book of All Things," but it's encrypted on a level that even teams of experts in cryptography can't break it, and its "ICE" is strong enough to brick the computers they used to install a rootkit.

However, the Book of All Things managed to get hacked open by an ally, and they have full access to the contents within for civilian and military technologies in a variety of fields.

One of those technologies is special type of compound that was used in the other world for firearm parts. It was a lightweight, high-strength material that's often used in a variety of firearm parts.

It could be used for barrel and bolt to lessen weight while retaining the ability to fire high-power ammo without breaking the parts or wearing them away with heat and pressure.

In ammo, it can be used for the case with flexibility modification to withstand larger amounts of powder without case rupture and firearm damage while weighing less than conventional brass, or as part of the bullet itself as a lightweight penetrator for short-range AP ammo that relies on velocity (not mass) to penetrate armor.

It has secondary uses in armor, where in a modified state to increase flexibility and resistance to spalling, it could be used as lightweight body armor plates or armoring for light vehicles to resist AP ammo from HMGs. It can also be used in planes (similar to titanium) to form the body, and does not require sourcing said titanium or special tooling to mill and form titanium.

International Front- once they have the full recipe- use this in a variety of applications. They use this to make a new service rifle based on the AK platform that takes advantage of the material to overcome the AK's limitations.

They start mass producing MANPACs- man-portable autocannons- that can be wheeled like a PM 1910 machine gun and used like a super-HMG against enemy light vehicles and armored fortifications with effective hard-core penetrators that don't require sourcing tungsten and DU. They also start making AT guns like the Sprut-B anti-tank gun that move faster and weigh less making for easier logistics.

Finally, that material lets them start planning for an air force with their own domestic designs and doctrines, planes that aren't copies of the outdated Migs and Sus with the technological limitations of the Soviets, allowing them to counter the air superiority of enemies with F-15s, F-16s and the like.

With all this said, what kind of materials or manufacturing techniques would I be looking at for that kind of lightweight, high-strength wonder material?

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  • $\begingroup$ On the last point - it doesn't matter what kind of wonder material you have, it requires a major investment in all kinds of technologies to be able to manufacture engines for combat fighters. After a sustained effort for decades the Chinese are maybe able to make engines comparable to those produced by US, Russia and some Western European nations. Just in time for drones to be the "new" way to control the air, with manned combat aircraft on their way out. Problem for any advanced manufacturing technique is that number of people required to produce exceeds chance of maintaining secrecy. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 9:56
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    $\begingroup$ Your question boils down too "I want a rifle that can shoot through a tank. What are the gun and bullets made of?" You can get rid of all the extra stuff. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 10:38
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    $\begingroup$ (a) I completely agree with @Daron. That was a lot of fundamentally unrelated background material to get to the Q. (b) You're asking for a Real World material that can substitute for your fictional advanced alien tech? It isn't advanced alien tech anymore - it's a material that would be known and used by the other side without hacking the BAT. There's a reason scifi authors use things like "unobtanium." It's the MacGuffin that's used to forward the story, nothing more. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 15:53
  • $\begingroup$ Ah okay, I see the issues. I'm overcomplicating it, am I? $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 16:02
  • $\begingroup$ since you don't give use any real indication of what kinds of stress or strength you need, the answer is whatever magic you want to use. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 21:32

3 Answers 3

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For armor, graphene.

Graphene has amazing tensile properties, and is extensively modifiable. So why don't we use it? Graphene can just do about anything except leave the lab. It's very fiddly to handle and very expensive. The aliens have a cheap and effective way to make it. This allows you to make extremely tough armor from raw carbon.

For explosives, graphene.

Aluminium is a very good explosive if you can get it to explode. Graphene nanoparticules allow this, letting you get more bang for your buck. This means you can make more powerful guns with it.

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  • $\begingroup$ I was thinking of that but a big issue I read about is graphene and other CNT-adjacent materials is that when abraded and turned into dust and breathed in, they end up acting like asbestos (which it shares physical shapes with causing the same effects), which is a health hazard IF would want to avoid. In that case, how could I remedy that issue and keep my troops using graphene materials from suffering asbestos-like issues? $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 15:43
  • $\begingroup$ Wear gas masks. An advanced race probably has pretty good battery technology, so you can wear a face mask that stops any damage and recycles your air so you don't breathe anything external. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 23:58
  • $\begingroup$ Hmm...I can't change the material of graphene to reduce the effects of asbestos-mimicking? $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 22, 2022 at 2:32
  • $\begingroup$ You can do whatever, but there's no way around it, and no similar material that can do the same. It's not a massive disadvantage if you wear rebreathers. It damages the lungs of enemies when you shoot at them. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Commented Sep 22, 2022 at 12:19
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The material doesn't matter.

You want a magic material for bullets that make a rifle round shoot through a tank. The problem is, even if you have such a material for the gun and bullet, it will still go plink against the armor.

Why? Because the bullet was not heavy or fast enough to penetrate.

The limiting factor is not the bullet material, but the amount of propellant. Cartridges are already mostly propellant.

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The bullet (1) is what comes out the gun. The rest (3) is full of gunpowder. If your bullet material can withstand 10 times more force coming out of the barrel, then you need 10 times more propellant to make it go ten times as fast. So the cartridge needs to be 10 times the size and you cannot fit it inside a rifle.

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  • $\begingroup$ Oh no that wasn't what I was looking for tbh. I'm aware that current rifle rounds aren't good enough to use against tanks, it's just that it's used in their autocannon rounds as a penetrator because they can't get access to tungsten or DU. In rifle and pistol rounds, its use as a penetrator core is like the 9x21mm Gyurza. It's a round with a lightweight hardened core that does not have the mass needed for long range, but has the speed necessary to go fast and the hardness needed to resist deformation and impact the target with enough force to penetrate. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 15:54
  • $\begingroup$ @HelterSkeletor So you want a rifle that can shoot through a tank at SHORT range? $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 17:26
  • $\begingroup$ No, I'm not looking for a rifle that can shoot through a tank at any range. I don't see where I'm mentioning that. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 17:33
  • $\begingroup$ You mention something like it in ". . . as a lightweight penetrator for short-range AP ammo . . ." and ". . . against enemy light vehicles and armored fortifications. . . " $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 19:08
  • $\begingroup$ Oh I didn't clarify lmao. For small arms level bullets, it's used as a lightweight penetrator for short-ranged AP ammo like a steel core, where it has less range than DU or tungsten due to less mass that gives it less inertia. When it's used against enemy light vehicles and armored fortifications, it's with at least an HMG or more typically an autocannon or cannon round as the penetrator with more lead than a standard rifle or pistol round that would compensate for the lack of mass of the core. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 19:42
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Cementite

Cementite is iron carbide: FeC3. It is real.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cementite

The name cementite originated from the research of Floris Osmond and J. Werth, where the structure of solidified steel consists of a kind of cellular tissue in theory, with ferrite as the nucleus and Fe3C the envelope of the cells. The carbide therefore cemented the iron.[3]

Cementite

...This is because (cementite) is hard at ambient temperature, as we shall see, due to its crystal structure that has a much lower symmetry than all the forms in which the iron occurs... The longest single-span suspension bridge in the world, the Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge, utilises exceptionally strong ropes to suspend the deck. The bridge connects Kobe with Awaji Island and has a span of 1.9 km between the towers. There is enough steel wire used in the bridge to circle the earth seven times, with the bridge being designed to withstand an earthquake of Richter 8.5 magnitude. The bridge represents a magnificient triumph of engineering and steel containing substantial quantities of cementite, without which the ropes would be nothing short of feeble...

I was hoping to find the full text of the Floris and Werth but no luck yet.

Your special metal is cementite: iron carbide. The difference is in the structure of the cemetite: hexagonal (possible real) instead of orthorhombic. Also as opposed to typical cementite which contains more iron within the shell, within the cementite shell of your metal is nothing (made up for this idea). This markedly reduces the weight at the expense of long term stability - as opposed to millenia this form of cementite has a half life of a few years.

The manufacture of this material is partly biological (iron biochemistry is real though not with cementite AFAIK), laying down the iron carbide matrix around a protein core which arranged the atoms appropriately and is then digested.

The cementite particles in powder form are then cold pressed (cold pressmetallurgy is real) into the desired shapes.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure if this would be effective for military equipment that's designed to be used in rugged, long term conditions. I don't think having advanced planes such as air superiority fighters or armored cars decay in a few years is a stable or economically viable proposition beyond the aspects of attrition warfare, which IF is not undergoing. They're looking for long-term equipment, and while this can be used in disposable equipment like ammo, I'm not sure if it would be the case for vehicles. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 16:00
  • $\begingroup$ @HelterSkeletor - it is a good thing the half life thing was totally made up by me! I thought it seemed more realistic to give the stuff a flaw. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 16:30
  • $\begingroup$ Ah okie-dokie homie, lmao. In my case, my main weakness is that it's lightweight and strong, but not as strong as tungsten or DU for use in heavier armor or denser penetrators, so you need more of it to equal the protection on a tank. It's lightweight too, but it also means recoil is going to suck when firing bigger rounds, and in ammo the bullets don't go far unless they have a lot of lead to compensate for the missing mass in something like an HMG round or autocannon round, meaning AP small arms ammo will be too light to go far. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 16:35
  • $\begingroup$ Cementite is already used in gun barrels, if you try to make the thing out of nothing but cementite it becomes super brittle. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 21:19

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