In the Cold War the Army dreamed up these weapons to fight on the Moon


The US military likes to be prepared for any situation or scenario. Because of this, the army worked on developing secret space weapons for possible battles on the lunar surface. It wasn’t just a one-off idea either, the Army commissioned a full study examining several space-ready weapon options for use at a proposed lunar military base.

Travel back in time to the 1960s. The Soviet Union’s successful launch of Sputnik launched the space race, President John F. Kennedy promised to put a man on the moon, and the imagination of the jet age and nuclear age was in full effect. Technology had developed so rapidly in recent years that anything seemed possible. And with that can-do mentality, the future-is-now mindset, the US Army had an idea for space.

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The study, released since 1965, “The Meanderings of a Weapon Oriented Mind When Applied in a Vacuum Like the Moon” – a title that sounds far more like an early 20’s science fiction novella the army to a military force with revolutionary weapons set up on the lunar surface. The paper is from the US Army Weapons Command, Directorate of R&D, Future Weapons Office.

As it says in the foreword:

The purpose of this booklet is to stimulate the thinking of firearms professionals, from those responsible for setting requirements, to those responsible for funding, to the firearms designer himself.

(C) Although man’s primary purpose in space (on the moon or other planets) will not be fighting, he will need the ability to defend himself if necessary. There may be other countries that want to prevent US access to the moon and other planets. If space is truly for peace, we must be as strong there as we are on earth.

This weapon proposal has some context. Since the 1950s, the Department of Defense has been exploring space as a possible front for both national security and the Cold War. A 1959 report outlined ideas for a lunar base and ways to move troops from terrestrial locations to the outpost – remember this was all before Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space, it was still unclear how all of this happened would actually affect people.

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The study outlines some of the problems in deploying a military force in space. Although not as bad as initially feared, the lunar surface is experiencing extreme temperatures and the vacuum of space poses problems with the use of weapons.

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This was the Army's Cold War plan for a war on the moon and the weapons they would use to win it
(US Army Weapons Command/Screenshot via Document Cloud)

In addition to bases, this Army rapid reaction force would also need weapons, and that had its own challenges. As the paper outlines, space could create a “second evolution” of weapons. This was the era of fantastic sci-fi B movies and pulp adventures, after all, so the army considered laser cannons. But the Army decided these futuristic weapons were at least two decades away – at least an optimistic assessment in hindsight – and so proposed several ways to make kinetic weapons effective in space.

This was the Army's Cold War plan for a war on the moon and the weapons they would use to win it
(US Army Weapons Command/Screenshot via Document Cloud)

The ideas in the “Possible Weapon Concepts Whose Feasibility Is Not Determined But Presented As Food For Thought” section attempt to address these different concerns. These included the fear that a conventional rifle’s recoil could send a soldier flying backwards. So the weapon concepts try to address this with pre-loaded arrow tubes or other novel ammunition. These include two types of “sausage guns”, a “micro-cannon” and a close-range weapon that would fire gas from a high-explosive detonation. They even looked at a spring-loaded gun that would fire a spherical projectile that, while intended for space, feels a lot retro in its kind of ammo. Along with the proposed schematics, the Army even had some artwork drawn to show what it might look like in action.

This was the Army's Cold War plan for a war on the moon and the weapons they would use to win it
(US Army Weapons Command/Screenshot via Document Cloud)

Yes, this is a drawing of an army soldier carrying two space guns. Yes, that was a genuine suggestion from the US Army Weapons Command.

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Although the pop culture image of space warfare usually involves Space Marines – thanks Starship Troopers and the James Bond film moonraker – In 1965, the army was convinced that they would be the combat force on the moon. Granted, this is an Army study, and at the time the US military had yet to coordinate its various space programs into a unified US space command.

Although the study was intended to stimulate ideas, it was apparently scrapped. The United States sent military pilots to the moon in 1969, but as far as all historical records show, without the proposed space guns or lunar bases, the paper outlines. In the more than five decades since its publication, the ideas in The Meanderings of a Weapon Oriented Mind When Applied in a Vacuum such as the Moon have never been fully realized, but it offers a unique perspective on how the Army might envision future wars take place in the last frontier.

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