Resurrected Weapons: Project Babylon

Back in the 1950s, when rocketry was extraordinarily difficult, and TV was full of videos of NASA rocket tests failing miserably, Gerald Bull had an alternative idea: Use a giant gun to put a payload in orbit. This led to Project HARP, which got a lot of great research done. By the 1960s, we had figured out (mostly) how to make rockets that work. It was still hard, but now we could generally expect launches to work. And so the plug was pulled on HARP, but Gerald Bull still dreamed of using a giant gun to put a satellite in orbit. Eventually, in the 1980s, he found someone with money willing to back his dream once more. That man was Saddam Hussein.

Project Babylon came in two phases. Stage one was “Baby Babylon”, a proof of concept model with a 350mm bore and a barrel length of 46 meters. This was initially used for horizontal testing, and was then erected on the side of a mountain. The full size “Big Babylon” would have been the biggest gun ever, with a one-meter bore and a barrel length of 156 meters. The original design was intended to be suspended from a steel framework by a system of cables.

Testing of the Baby Babylon cannon showed issues in dealing with seals between the barrel sections. While these were being fixed, Gerald Bull was assassinated outside of his Belgian apartment on March 22, 1990, which crippled the project. It would not be resumed after the First Gulf War.

Bull’s assassination was almost certainly not due to his work on Project Babylon. The superguns were massive, fixed targets. Easy to spot with aerial or satellite reconnaissance, easy to destroy. But Bull was also working on improving the range of Saddam’s Scud missiles. Those are much more effective than a giant gun. This was the project that most likely angered Saddam’s enemies enough to get an assassination. The most likely candidates are Israel or Iran, both of whom have intelligence agencies with lots of experience in liquidating potential problems.

Project Babylon itself is also extremely problematic. It’s a lousy weapon, as we’ve mentioned before. But I’m also extremely skeptical of their utility as a launch system. Even with a 156 meter barrel, the acceleration is going to be absolutely brutal. This is going to seriously restrict the payloads you can launch. A rocket is going to be far gentler on the payload, and much less likely to wreck a satellite. Plus, rockets can accept oversize shrouds to handle larger payloads, or be clustered to lift more weight. You’re pretty stuck with the weight capacity and payload diameter restriction here.

Verdict: Funding Request Denied by the Borgundy Ordnance Board

6 thoughts on “Resurrected Weapons: Project Babylon

  1. Steve

    100% agreed that a supergun isn’t a cost-effective and viable platform in 2018 for Borgundy’s defense needs, but would it have made sense at any point in Borgundy’s history? Perhaps a V-3 style battery could have helped to defend Borgundy in WW2, or threaten Soviet assembly points, airfields, and munition dumps deep in East Germany in the early days of the Cold War.

    1. parvusimperator Post author

      Haha, maybe I should just do a ResWeaps on the V-3. The answer depends on how super your supergun is.

      Re: the V-3, my problem with WW2/most of the cold war is that you have (a) giant fixed gun(s), which can’t really be targeted all that well. So you can lob shells in the general direction of a large area target and hope that scares them, but that’s about it. I’m honestly not a fan, though super guns are still super cool. I would rather spend the money on other things.

      By the time you get shells that you can steer, you’ve had missiles for quite a while. These are cheaper, easier to aim, and have launchers that you can move.

      A railway gun makes quite a bit of sense if you want to reduce heavy fortifications (assuming of course that your opponents have built such fortifications). Something like Big Bertha for instance. These are good for smashing big fortifications (e.g. recapturing Douaumont, Sevastopol), during the early twentieth century. By about 1943 or so, you get aircraft big enough to haul really large bombs, and those are considerably more cost effective, not to mention more flexible.

  2. alvin

    I don’t think the V3 gets enough credit for how destructive it could have been. Out of all the V-series Wunderwaffe, none really delivered a meaningful payload relative to cost, but had the V-3 reached full operating capability, I saw a figure of 600 shells fired per hour. Churchill was even reportedly concerned more about the V-3 than any other German threat in the late war. Had it gone online in 1942 before the Allies had massive air superiority, London could have been devastated.

    1. parvusimperator Post author

      “Relative to cost” is key. It’s not worth the cost, which is true for all of the wunderwaffe. What can you do with that money instead? How many panzer divisions? How many Bf-109s?

      Anyway, the proposal claimed a rate of fire of 600 shells/hour, which is impressive on paper. Given all the problems in the design, I’m incredibly skeptical of this without barrel wear issues. And that assumes you can get reasonable muzzle velocity out of the shells.

      Regardless, devastating one city is hardly war-ending. I would still rather have conventional materiel instead.

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