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New tool headed for Afghanistan disables IEDs with a precision blade of water


September 13, 2010

Airman 1st Class Patrick Connolly of Dayton, Ohio, demonstrates the placement of the water disruptor in a simulated village used to train soldiers heading overseas (Image: by Randy Montoya)

Airman 1st Class Patrick Connolly of Dayton, Ohio, demonstrates the placement of the water disruptor in a simulated village used to train soldiers heading overseas (Image: by Randy Montoya)

According to the Pentagon, improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, are the number one killer and threat to troops in Afghanistan. Now a new tool that shoots a blade of water capable of penetrating steel is headed to U.S. troops in Afghanistan to help them disable these deadly devices. Developed by Sandia National Laboratories researchers, the fluid blade disablement tool produces a high-speed, precise water blade to perform some precision type destruction on whatever IED it’s up against.

The fluid blade disablement tool is a portable clear plastic device that is filled with water, in which an explosive material is placed. When detonated, a shock wave is created that travels through the water and accelerates it inward into a concave opening. So when the water collides, it produces a thin blade. The precision water blade is then immediately followed by a water slug, which performs a general disruption and tears everything apart.

“The fluid blade disablement tool will be extremely useful to defeat IEDs because it penetrates the IED extremely effectively,” said Greg Scharrer, manager of the Energetic Systems Research Department at Sandia. “It’s like having a much stronger and much sharper knife.”

Focusing the energy

Unlike traditional explosives, which release energy equally in all directions when they go off, researchers use shaped-charge technology to deliberately manipulate the explosives so that they create a certain shape when they explode, allowing the operator to focus the energy precisely where it’s needed. The inventors of the fluid blade disablement tool took a different tack. Rather than changing the shape of the explosive, they used an explosive modeling tool to figure out how to change the shape of the water when designing the water disruptors.

The fluid blade disablement tool was invented by Steve Todd, a mechanical and materials engineer with extensive Navy experience fighting IEDs, Chance Hughs, a retired Navy SEAL explosives expert on contract to Sandia, and mechanical engineer Juan Carlos Jakaboski in Sandia’s Energetic Systems Research Department for a National Nuclear Security Administration sponsor.

“We’re putting the explosive in a flat tray and we’re shaping the water,” Scharrer said.

The process happens in microseconds and can’t be captured by the human eye, so researchers used computer simulation and high-speed flash X-rays, which can view the interior of imploding high-explosive devices and record the motion of materials moving at ultrahigh speeds, to fine tune the design.

Troops lend a hand

They also used another approach. Soldiers rotating out of Afghanistan and Iraq worked hand-in-hand with researchers and developers to test the device for several months in the New Mexico desert. The company improved the tool based on the soldiers’ input after it was exposed to dust, water and banging around by the troops. The improvements included providing a better seal and redesigning the water plug so it is easier to insert.

Sandia licensed the patent-pending technology to a small minority-owned business, TEAM Technologies Inc. The Albuquerque-based company made its first shipment of about 3,000 new water disruptors to Afghanistan this summer. Eventually the company would like to sell the device to law enforcement and airport security agencies. It says the device could also be used for forced entry into buildings.

Paul Reynolds, TEAM Technologies’ program manager, said the tool can be placed almost in contact with the target or a distance away without losing its effectiveness. It uses minimal explosive material, its plastic legs can be attached in various configurations so that it can be placed in different positions to disable bombs and it’s built so that robots can easily place it near a target, he said.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

I\'m thinking in order to use this device, you have to locate and perhaps uncover the IED in the first place. I hope the technology to do that has made advancements as well. It\'s the IEDs that you don\'t discover that get you!

Will, the tink

And why don´t just shoot the IED? From a safe distance? Missed? Shoot again. But what would be really nifty is a scanner that sniffs out possible IED´s before it they get a chance to snuff you out.


Shooting the IED may detonate it. If it is inside a building you do not want this - unless your mates have a video recording the event and the building is an insurgent hideout ;-)

A water blaster, provided you can find out the configuration of the bomb will blow it apart without detonation (hopefully!).

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