From our friends across the pond comes this report on a high-yield material for projectiles:

The US Office of Naval Research says that it has successfully tested a new type of explosive material that can dramatically increase weapons’ impacts.

Missiles made from the high density substance can explode with up to five times the energy of existing armaments.

The material mixes metals and polymers and is said to be as dense as steel but have the strength of aluminum.

US Navy scientists say that projectiles made from the new compound are less likely to kill innocent bystanders.

Here’s the 411: The material replaces the inert material inside a projectile with HDRM (High-Density Reactive Materials), in this case a cocktail of metals and polymers that explode on contact with the target. Think of it as sort of the inverse to a Raid Roach Motel – Bullets go in…but they don’t go out. The idea is that the casing penetrates the target and the material explodes – with 5x yield of existing materials. Clifford Bedford, a researcher with the project explains:

“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,” he 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.”

Why is this cool? Well, first of all, in larger sizes, you’re talking something that could take down a missile in mid-air, the Holy Grail of anti-missile defense systems. Trouble is, current systems need three or four shots just to be sure. With a warhead that explodes with this much energy, any kind of hit would be, um, catastrophic.

But enough about what the best-dressed tanks will be wearing in the 2015 collection. What about rifles and handguns? A bullet that could kill with one shot, and would never exit whatever it hit sounds as if it could be a lot safer for innocent bystanders, et cetera. Well, good news (sort of): the materials could ultimately be used for larger caliber cartridges.

Unfortunately, we’re talking LARGE caliber here. Like .50 BMG or Desert Eagle calibers. (Although, I’d argue a .45 ACP could be big enough. Please?) The researcher said no to 5.56 NATO rounds, but “in higher calibre machine guns, they are definite possibilities.”

And for the bad news: All this super-high-efficiency bang bang stuff doesn’t come cheap. 5x yield = 4x pricing. Oh, and it will be restricted to military use for years to come.

Of course, if/when it IS available, you can safely assume that the ATF/Brady Bunch/Bloomberg/VPC (a.k.a. “all the usual suspects”) will do their damnedest to make sure that this never sees the light of day for personal/self-defense use. Why? because bullets exploding inside people are one of those things that will make it easy for them to paint a mental image of every movie special effect you’ve ever seen. And their campaign won’t be pretty.

Remember the dust-up over “plastic guns,” “cop killer rounds” and “assault rifles.” Well get ready boys and girls, because if this stuff ever hits the shelves, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.

I know there are rounds out there that claim to be “exploding.” Um, not like this stuff. We’re talking internal evisceration or liquefaction here. Now you’d think that a bullet that can destroy a bad guy without endangering the lives of others would be a good thing. But I’ll bet you a trip to your local gun range that these guys will foam at the mouth if “exploding rounds with five times the explosive power” ever come close to a commercially-available product.

But at least its nice to know that our tax dollars are, in this case, funding research that will quite literally give our military a bigger bang for our bucks.

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9 Responses to The Big(ger) Bang Theory.

  1. That’s nothing. Two words: Californium bullet.

    Californium-251 has a very low critical mass, roughly 5kg. While that’s too heavy for actual bullets, it’s definitely not too heavy for artillery and tank shells. Probably not too heavy for autocannon shells, especially 30mm and up. A Forty Super 40mm autocannon round made out of Californium-251 would have the yield of a very small tactical nuclear weapon, which is exactly what it would be. I don’t know the maths to figure yield, but I’d guess anywhere from .01KT to .1KT, the latter being substantially larger than any conventional weapon in anyone’s arsenal.

    Unfortunately (or furtunately depending on how one looks at it) Californium-251 is both very expensive to produce and has a very short half life. These shells would be good for a period of days, maybe two or three.

    • If it’s all the same to you, I’d just as soon not be throwing radioactive material around in a battle. After the fighting’s done, then you have a nasty cleanup to do, or you have a huge nuclear waste site forever. No thanks.

      • They’re already throwing a material that is both slightly radioactive and extremely toxic around the battlefield; depleted uranium. I don’t know how much damage the radioactivity does, probably little, but it’s poisonous aspects are very problematic if injested.

        Any Californium-based weapon is basically impossible at this point. I don’t know exactly what world wide Californium production is, but it’s probably in the micrograms. Even if you had a massive nuclear economy far into the future, you’d still have the decay problems.

        Besides, the whole concept may be obsolete with the coming of Fourth Generation Nuclear Weapons with yields in the .01KT to .1KT range.

  2. Maybe I’m being a little dense this morning but there’s something I don’t quite understand. Are they talking about soft or armored targets?

    “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,” he said.

    Okay, that’s a kinetic projectile without explosive. There are many designs but with some anti-armor projectiles, they become molten upon impact, burn through the armor and emerge as a solid. Nasty-ass shit.

    “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.”

    Liberating chemical energy sound like an explosive round. Are they saying it will penetrate armor AND explode?

    • That was the way I read it. They’re talking about a steel case with this material inside it, so it drills through the target and explodes immediately after penetration. Or that’s the theory, anyway.

  3. Ripley: Lieutenant, what do those pulse rifles fire?
    Gorman: 10 millimeter explosive tip caseless. Standard light armor piercing round, why?

    My low-powered brain shut-off while reading this. Can someone break this down for me? How is it “new and improved” over what we have been shooting at the bad guys? And how does it reduce collateral damage?

    • I think the “new and improved” part is the “five-times more explosive power” cited in the BBC article. The “reduce collateral damage” part is their assertion that if you hit your target, it will die (internal organ damage, presumably), thus reducing the need for multiple shots, with their accompanying risk of missing and hitting something else. Or it could be that the projectile explodes internally, rather than creating an exit wound. Color me skeptical, but intrigued.

  4. Looks like it can be used solid (detonated simply by forces due to deceleration on impact with hard stuff), or as fragmentation-type casing (ditto for the fragments, or perhaps fragments-in-reactive-phase), or as a shaped-charge liner instead of the common copper ones (where the jet is not just hot copper but stuff in the process of reaction & therefore socialistically “spreading out the wealth” of heat-energy)
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