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New High-Density Reactive Material increases weapons explosive force

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January 3, 2012

A test of a U.S. Harpoon anti-shipping missile (Photo: Jason C. Winn)

A test of a U.S. Harpoon anti-shipping missile (Photo: Jason C. Winn)

On December 2, 2011, U.S. Military, government and industry officials witnessed a demonstration of a new missile warhead casing material at the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) in Dahlgren, Virginia. The material, known as High-Density Reactive Material (HDRM), is the result of collaboration between the Office of Naval Research (ONR), NSWC Dahlgren and NSWC Indian Head Divisioncan and can be employed within existing designs, but with added destructive power.

When a steel casing is employed, kinetic energy is dissipated through the target on impact. HDRM will also dissipate kinetic energy but the material disintegrates within the target with an additional release of chemical energy. That is, damage is caused to the target not only by a high speed collision with dense material, but by a release of further energy as the material reacts.

Dr. Jason Jouet of the NSWC Indian Head Division stated, "with the strength of aluminum, density of steel, and more than one and a half times the energy of TNT, HDRM is truly a revolutionary enabling technology."

It should be noted that the comparison of the material's strength with aluminum here is likely in reference to strength per weight, not volume which is significant considering the material offers the same density as steel. Likewise the comparison with TNT refers to the energy released as the material reacts in a high-speed impact.

Why HDRM?

The implication of the technology is that a given target can be destroyed more easily as the material increases the probability of what is termed a "catastrophic kill." As Dr. Jouet states, "this approach may translate to less ordnance and ultimately fewer sorties to get the same result."

It should also be noted that the material will not explode unless involved in a high energy collision, which presents an obvious safety advantage over chemical explosives. Also, as fragments of the casing material explode on impact, there is likely to be less collateral damage effects as compared with the use of existing materials.

According to the BBC, HDRM is a combination of metals, polymers and oxidizers. The only apparent disadvantage of HDRM in comparison to existing materials appears to be its cost, with HDRM being some three to four times as expensive. HDRM may also have implications for improved interception of hostile missiles. With time, the material may be used not only for missile warheads but for large caliber small arms rounds and other similar applications.

Source: Naval Sea Systems Command

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