US Marines Test Ultra-Destructive New Artillery Round

The U.S. Marine Corps is evaluating a new round that “produces catastrophic damage compared to existing 155mm high explosive artillery projectiles” according to a Pentagon RD document. The Enhanced Blast Artillery Projectile incorporates two new types of explosive working together to produce far a more destructive effect than the already devastating rounds in use.

The 155mm howitzer is the standard heavy artillery for the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. The caliber has been employed since WWII, with both the guns and the shells they fire undergoing steady improvements. The current projectile is the 103-pound M795, introduced in the 1990s. Only 24 pounds of it is TNT or IMX-101 explosive filler — the rest is a steel casing that fragments into lethal shrapnel when the shell detonates. The lethal radius is around fifty meters making it one of the most effective weapons available.

Improving on the M795 requires something truly brutal, achieved with the synergy of two types of explosive technologies: a double whammy of hybrid enhanced blast explosive and high-density reactive material.

Enhanced blast explosives are also known as thermobarics. These typically include a large amount of powdered metal such as aluminum. When a molecule like TNT detonates, the molecule breaks apart to release energy, but with aluminum energy is produced by burning in the air. The rapidly expanding fireball is ‘fuel rich’ meaning that there is not enough oxygen in it to fully burn the aluminum, so the outer edge of the fireball is a wave of burning metal. While the explosion of a ‘condensed’ explosive like TNT is effectively a point source, a thermobaric explosive is volumetric, meaning it takes place in a volume of space over a longer duration.

An earlier generation of thermobaric weapons, still used by the Russians, operate in two stages, dispersing an aerosol cloud of fuel before detonating it. The Russians Buratino rocket launcher can flatten an entire village with one salvo.

Thermobarics produce a more powerful and blast wave with greater duration than condensed explosives. The long duration means the blast wave flows, traveling around corners and penetrating deeply into tunnels, which is why thermobarics are used in USAF bunker-busting munitions. They are also particularly lethal; the blast wave destroys lung tissue among other effects.

Pounds for pound, thermobarics are more effective than condensed explosives. They also produce a prolonged, high-temperature fireball; thermobaric literally means ‘heat-pressure.’ This can cause heat damage against susceptible targets, though the blast is usually more significant.

The second component of the new round is a reactive material casing, replacing the existing steel one. While steel fragments are simply bits of high-speed metal, reactive material is typically a combination of metal and PTFE. When a fragment strikes something solid, the reactive material undergoes a highly energetic reaction – it is effectively explosive shrapnel.

U.S. Air Force Reactive Material shrapnel test in 2002. Note the secondary explosions from reactive … [+] fragments as they strike

U.S. Air Force

The Pentagon has been working on the technology for reactive material shrapnel for many years. Back in 2007 Dr. Judah Goldwasser, Office of Naval Research Program Officer for Energetic Materials, said work had been going on for “a long time” and there are photos from tests going back to at least 2002.

The problem has always been one of density. Reactive materials tend to be much lighter than steel, making them much less effective at penetrating targets and limiting their range. However, as the name High Density Reactive Material suggests, in recent years researchers have developed compositions which are much denser, typically with the addition of heavy metals. Reactive materials typically also produce high temperatures than traditional explosives.

The EBAP is described in a Pentagon RD document, which notes that it will allow for “less rounds to be used and visual confirmation of damage on a target.” It is not clear whether this visual confirmation will be from the scorched earth left by the fireballs, or whether EBAP is simply that much more destructive. Given that the current M795 only contains 24 pounds of explosive, and the EBAP’s 100-plus pounds are entirely higher-energy explosive, it is likely to inflict more visible damage on the target area.

The only known description of EBAP is in this DoD research and development budget document

U.S. Department of Defense

The EBAP was passed to the Marine Corps last year for user evaluation, and the Office of Naval Research is carrying out further development for further development. There do not appear to be any other mentions, suggesting that this is a highly classified development.

From the military point of view the new, more effective rounds are likely to be seen as a straightforward improvement. However, it may set off a new argument about the increasing destructive power of modern munitions. When the Marine Corps fielded their new shoulder-launched SWAW-NE in Iraq 2005 it was a great success: the bazooka-like weapon’s thermobaric warhead can disintegrate a building with one shot. However, some human rights groups objected to the ‘thermobarbaric’ weapon. Since then the Pentagon (and the MoD) has preferred to use the blander term ‘enhanced blast.’

Explosives like TNT have been in use for over 150 years. We may be about to see an upgrade to something more effective – and we will find out what that “catastrophic damage” looks like on the battlefield.

Article source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidhambling/2021/02/22/marine-corps-tests-ultra-destructive-new-artillery-round/

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Posted by on Feb 22 2021. Filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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