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In my futuristic dystopian nightmare world, biological and chemical weapons have once again become popular in the theatre of war, and are used both by terrorist groups and militaries alike. Thus, for professional soldiers looking to stay alive on the battlefield, there is a pressing need to dispose of infected corpses. EATR units (robots which turn biomass into combustible fuel) pick up the slack somewhat, but they hardly work quickly enough to minimize your men's exposure to dangerous chemical and viral agents, and good luck cleaning up a crop-dusting or a gassacre (heh) if you only brought one of them.

Thus, a new solution to the corpse problem was needed, and flamethrowers once again became a primary tool of warfare. But despite their newfound relevance, the fact remains that asking soldiers to carry a tank full of highly combustible fuel through drone territory and into the crosshairs of snipe-happy enemies isn't exactly safe.

So my question for you is how do I make the flamethrower of the future safer for troops to use without making it a strictly vehicle-mounted weapon?

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The traditional flame throwers were heavy and dangerous because they carried both napalm or similar fuel, and a tank of high pressure gas to force the fuel through the tube to the igniter, and project the flaming fuel to the target. Lots of places to get leaks, fuel to ooze out and ignite or high pressure parts to rupture.

The former USSR used a somewhat different form of flamethrower with the LPO-50. This still used Napalm as the fuel, but carried in unpressurized tanks. A blank "Shotgun" like charge was screwed into the top of each cylinder, and when the trigger was pulled, the charge ignited and rapidly pressurized the tank, providing the force to propel the fuel towards the target. LPO-50's were capable of firing up to 70m, and considered pretty fearsome weapons for engineers to clear bunkers and so on.

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LPO-50 in action

The picture should indicate the issue with man portable flame throwers, however. The soldier si carrying a considerable mass on his back, yet only has 3 shots. Since the purpose is burning corpses, the engineers will need a lot of fuel, as Mark pointed out. Since each tank only holds 3.4l of fuel, you are not even going to make much of a dent in incinerating corpses.

Assuming the field or city is littered with dead bodies and it is dangerous to approach or handle them (although a front end loader works wonders in this scenario), you would probably need a vehicle mounted unit. Modern Russian flame weapons use Thermobaric warheads fired from rockets to create high heat and overpressure, using a metalized fuel-air mixture. Like the flamethrower, it also creates a short, sharp spike in temperature, and is probably not enough to incinerate corpses.

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Modern Russian Thermobaric missile launcher

The real issue is the amount of water in the human or animal tissue, so you need sustained heat, and a lot of it. Consider how long it takes to cook a well done steak, and that is over red hot coals or a gas flame at @ 800 degrees C. You need a way to generate that much heat and more to dehydrate the tissues and cause them to ignite and burn.

One possible solution is to simply go high tech and avoid the use of fire in the first place. High energy microwaves will "cook" the target from the inside, and the elevated temperatures can ensure microorganisms are killed, without needing flame, ignition or even necessarily oxygen (projecting a microwave beam into the firing slits of bunkers or down sewers is possible). Of course, microwave projectors will need a lot of energy as well, which explains the use of the heavy truck to carry the projector and generator in the picture.

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Current test vehicle for microwave based Area Denial Weapon

The engineers can use robots to place the microwave projectors in difficult or dangerous situations, and other robots can move through the area afterwards to take samples and ensure there is no biological activity

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Short answer: you don't.

Due mainly to the water content, as a rule of thumb, it takes a kilogram of fuel to incinerate a kilogram of organic matter. No matter how bullet-resistant you make your tanks, the problem of weight remains. A man-portable flamethrower simply can't hold enough fuel to be effective.

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Other answers have explored the actual "flamethrower" option, and seem to come to the conclusion that a future flamethrower isn't THAT much better. But, there might be another option or two.

First, when I think "future" and "setting things on fire", I can't help also thinking "laser". Produces heat, and enough heat will evaporate the water in a human body and set its fat on fire, I would think - just make it a waterhose-style continuously firing laser cannon and hold the beam on the corpse until it immolates.

The alternative might be a bit more flamethrower-like: If we're in the future and have the corresponding sci-fi tech, we could probably slap a handwavium energy source (ZPM, matter-antimatter-reactor, pick something that sounds cool) into a big backpack and use that to thoroughly energize... well, anything. Let's say air. So your backpack sucks in air and applies a LOT of energy, turning it into plasma. And THAT we spray on the corpse (or enemy, or really ANYTHING that gets in our way).

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  • $\begingroup$ For a true SF incineration weapon, don't think lasers, think plasma. If you postulate man-portable nuclear fusion, you would be able to make weapons that shoot fusion plasma to incinerate a target. Fusion isn't actually required, just some form of energy storage more efficient than using the chemical combustion that current flamethrowers do. A super-battery that held enough power to heat something to plasma temperatures and that was also man-portable would work as well. $\endgroup$ – Mark Ripley Nov 12 '16 at 13:44
  • $\begingroup$ @MarkRipley that's what I have in the last paragraph :) $\endgroup$ – Syndic Nov 15 '16 at 7:40
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binary fuels, much less chance of a stray bullet being fatal.

if they are only being used for clean up, spray the napalm over the corpses then have a second soldier fire an incendiary.

the limited range,fuel, and bulk of a flamethrower combined with the easy target effect is going to make mixed unit tactics more effective, so some with rifles and some with flamethrowers.

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