Through the years, Picatinny pioneered the development of new explosive formulations that achieved increased power and reduced sensitivity. More importantly, the explosives created have provided continuous improvement to the lethality of the weapon system they supported. Increased lethality is a fundamental capability at Picatinny, one that has endured through war and peace.
An explosive is defined as a material (chemical or nuclear) that can be initiated to undergo very rapid, self-propagating
decomposition that results in the formation of more stable material, the liberation of heat, or the development of a
sudden pressure effect through the action of heat on produced or adjacent gases. All of these outcomes produce energy;
a weapon's effectiveness is measured by the quantity of energy - or damage potential - it delivers to the target.
Modern weapons use both kinetic and potential energy to achieve maximum lethality. Kinetic energy systems rely on the conversion of
kinetic energy to work, while potential energy systems use explosive energy directly in the form of heat and blast, or by accelerating
metal as a shaped charge, EFP or case fragments to increase their kinetic energy and damage volume.
Examples of Explosives Being Developed and/or Fielded by Picatinny
During the 1920s and into the 1940s, Picatinny was instrumental in designing, modeling and evaluating such high explosive material as
TNT, RDX, and Haleite. This work greatly influenced battlefield lethality during WWII where explosives exhibiting a higher brisance, or
shattering effect, than TNT were in great demand.
During the Korean conflict, Picatinny's expertise in explosives loading led to the development of a highly
effective 3.5-inch bazooka High-Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) round.
The 1960s brought new explosives such as HMX that was chemically analogous to RDX, but even more powerful
to give soldiers greater lethality capability. Picatinny laboratories also developed precision warheads
for several missile systems, including the DRAGON-MAW, a Medium Antiarmor Weapon. In this same timeframe,
Arsenal researchers demonstrated the use of liquid explosives in a missile destruct system along with the
feasibility of liquid explosive charges for emergency exits on aircraft. In a "lessons learned" approach,
they developed the escape capsule ejection system for the XM15 rocket and undertook a pioneering effort in
insensitive munitions (IM) that led to the development of Flex-X. This explosive was significantly more
stable than dynamite. Flex-X was specifically designed for Federal agents to use in transporting explosives by car. It offered the explosive power, stability and safety necessary to carry out their missions.
Since the mid 1980s, Picatinny has developed over 24 Picatinny Arsenal Explosive (PAX) formulations.
New combinations of energetic "fill" binders and, in some cases, plasticizers continue to be evaluated in search of
the Army's next generation more powerful explosive. Most recent efforts include synthesis improvements to CL-20,
a new nitramine explosive that is 20 percent more powerful that HMX; TNAZ, a material that is more powerful, but
less-sensitive than HMX; Polynitrocubane Super Explosives, a family of new energetics; Dinitroimidazoles, a group
of very insensitive explosives; and Pollution-Free Synthesis of TNT via catalytic nitration (using zeolites as catalysts) of toluene to eliminate redwater during TNT production.
One of the most significant challenges to Picatinny was the development of a new main charge melt-pour energetic, PAX-21. This new explosive is
designed to be low cost and requires little or no refacilitization for production or projectile filling. It contains no TNT and is slightly
less toxic than the Composition-B it replaces. Not only is it safe for use in production, PAX-21 also exhibits good IM and thermal stress
characteristics and low shock sensitivity.
PAX-2A was the Army's first high performing IM (insensitive munition) explosive. It is less sensitive to initiation by outside stimuli, but retains all the requisite performance capabilities of the high explosive that was used in the past. It has matured through extensive loading, performance testing and hazard threat analysis testing in various current and future warhead configuration of the Army, Navy, and Air Force munitions systems. This IM explosive is now considered to be a viable alternative to current HMX formulations and has been successfully demonstrated in Hellfire, Javelin, M830A1, HE-WAM, SADARM, and XM915 Dual Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions (DPICM) XM80 grenade submunitions.
An extensive explosive development program is currently underway to tie in with warheads being developed for the Future Combat System (FCS) ammunition suite. Since FCS warhead will be lighter, but more lethal, a very high energy explosive is required to enable the warhead to meet lethality goals.
Picatinny has not only worked on explosives that defeat tanks but also has been instrumental in designing tank armor that will defeat enemy warheads,
the Future Armor Tile. Developed in partnership with Army Research Laboratory (ARL), this reactive tile significantly improves armor protection for the Abrams tanks. The new concept requires a novel armor configuration and a discriminating explosive; the explosive initiates when it is hit by munition that threaten the vehicle, but not when impacted by other munitions. This avoids expending the armor unnecessarily.
In yet another area, Picatinny has demonstrated it expertise in decoy flares that protect Army aircraft from heat seeking missiles and other pyrotechnic devices. As missile sensor become smarter and more sophisticated, so do the decoys that keep them from hitting their intended target. This is an area that is constantly changing, and Picatinny's job is to make sure the U.S. is always a step ahead.