US military tests new material able to increase the explosive power of warheads

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The US Navy has demonstrated a revolutionary material that increases the explosive force and lethality of warheads, during a test at the Naval Surface Warfare Centre (NSWC) in Dahlgren, Virginia.

The demonstration, observed by military, government and industry officials, took place on Friday. The test showcased high-density reactive material (HDRM), which is designed to replace steel in warhead casings with little or no compromise in strength or design. It can explode with up to five times the energy of existing munitions and mixes metals and polymers that combine and only explode when the projectile hits its target.
“Today’s test demonstrates this new material’s potential and the ability of NAVSEA Warfare Centre engineers and scientists to move it from the laboratory to full scale working prototype in under a year to meet technology development goals,” said NSWC Dahlgren Division Commander Capt. Michael Smith.

Navy scientists and engineers from NSWC Indian Head Division (IHD) developed HDRM by combining several metals and using standard manufacturing processes. The US Navy Office of Naval Research (ONR) has been working on the material for more than five years.
“It’s rewarding to see the validation of much of the theory and experimentation that led to the final material selection,” said Clifford Bedford, ONR Advanced Energy Materials programme manager. “In the applied research phase of the programme, we’ve seen 100 percent reproducibility with this experimental system.”

Unlike conventional munitions, the innovative materials approach integrates the casing with warhead explosives for increased lethality.
“In the case of a steel missile you explosively launch it, it goes through the target and all the kinetic energy is dissipated into the target,” Bedford said. “With the reactive material missile, you have the same explosive launch – however, it disintegrates within the target and liberates chemical energy, and this chemical and kinetic energy combined gives you the enhanced effect.”
“HDRM has demonstrated enhanced blast, multiphase blast, and reactive fragments effects,” said Jason Jouet, NSWC Indian Head Reactive Materials Team Lead. “With the strength of aluminium, density of steel, and more than one and a half times the energy of TNT, HDRM is truly a revolutionary enabling technology.”

HDRM can readily replace steel in existing systems and is compatible with current warhead designs, thereby maintaining the same probability of a successful target strike.
“This approach may translate to less ordnance and ultimately fewer sorties to get the same result,” said Jouet.

NSWC IHD’s Reactive Materials Team has gradually scaled up its HDRM tests to gather measurable data on the materials destructive characteristics.
“Initially, small cylinder casings were tested to help us refine the design,” said Bedford. “We used that data to fine-tune the parameters which were used to scale the charge in the later test demonstrations like the test conducted today.”

NSWC Dahlgren engineers worked carefully with device characteristics provided by their NSWC Indian Head counterparts and with target characteristics to design a complex test arena at NSWC Dahlgren’s Explosive Experimental Area.
“Rather than dynamically flying the HDRM ordnance device at a single target, we set up several tactically relevant targets,” said Jeb Brough, NSWC Dahlgren Technical and Programmatic Lead for Reactive Materials. “We inspected damage to the targets and collected performance data that will be applied to effectiveness models for specific weapons.”

Test instrumentation captured critical data and NSWC Dahlgren lethality engineers are currently assessing the target damage to judge the effects of the unique HDRM device.
“Although the arena is extremely complex, it is a cost effective method of evaluating the new material’s capability and potential,” said Brough. “With this data, the Office of Naval Research can evaluate the best potential for further development related to a specific weapon system.”



The reactive materials team at Naval Surface Warfare Centre, Indian Head Division, was recently honoured with a Top Scientists and Engineers of the Year award for developing the new material.