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US Defence Developing More Explosive Missiles

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On impact, the new High-Density Reactive Material reacts with explosives and creates a chemical explosion. (Photo: A. Akbar)
On impact, the new High-Density Reactive Material reacts with explosives and creates a chemical explosion. (Photo: A. Akbar)


  • US military successfully tests new substance five times more explosive than current materials
  • High-Density Reactive Material is a mix of metals and oxidizers that could replace steel casings in traditional missiles
  • While increasing explosive power, HRDM could also reduce collateral damage

The US Office of Naval Research successfully tested a new explosive substance that has five times the explosive power of materials available today. The revolutionary new High-Density Reactive Material (HDRM) is a mix of polymers and metals that is reported to have the density of mild steel but the strength of aluminum.

Traditional military projectiles, like missiles and shells, are built with a steel casing that houses explosive materials that explode on impact. The new method replaces the steel casing with HDRM, which combines with warhead explosives and only explodes once the target has been penetrated, explains Clifford Bedford, a scientist working for the Office of Naval Research (ONR) on the development of the new substance.

On impact, HDRM reacts with explosives and creates a chemical explosion. "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," Bedford said in an ONR statement.

"With the reactive material missile, it disintegrates within the target and liberates chemical energy, and this chemical and kinetic energy combined gives you the enhanced effect."

Reduced Collateral Damage

In addition to augmented destructive capability, the ONR believes it could also lower civilian casualties in densely populated areas. Because HDRM reacts and is consumed once it hits the target, there is potential to control the explosion. “If this can be focused, which I know we can do, we can really reduce the collateral damage for these systems," said Bedford.

The HDRM could eventually be introduced into grenades and bullets for high-caliber machine guns and larger weapons, but researchers say it is likely to be used first in anti-missile warfare.

Currently anti-missile systems require three or four shots to be fired because the high amount of steel fragments in traditional warhead explosions make it difficult to determine if an incoming projectile has been destroyed.

HDRM’s increased explosive power would raise the probability of taking down incoming munitions faster and with fewer missiles. "Hopefully, with the reactive warhead, we fire once, look and can determine a catastrophic kill. We still have the option for a second fire. But it saves a great deal of cost if you can take out the target with one missile versus three,” said Dr Bedford.

More HDRM tests have been scheduled for September. But five times the explosive power costs up to four times as much to develop, which means budget may also be a factor with the eventual introduction of the new technology.

Key Statistics – Global Missile Market

  • In 2010, the global missile market was worth over $10.2 billion. (source: Visiongain)
  • China has the most active land-based ballistic and cruise missile program worldwide, according to the Pentagon.

Key Players – Leading Companies in the Missiles Market

  • Alliant Techsystems (ATK), Almaz-Antey, BAE?Systems, Bharat Dynamics, Boeing Defense, Space & Security (BDS), BrahMos Aerospace, Denel Dynamics, Diehl BGT Defence, Eurosam, Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd (IAI), Israel Military Industries Ltd (IMI), Konstruktorskoye Byuro Mashynostroyenia (KBM), KBP Instrument Design Bureau, Kongsberg Defence Systems, LIG NEx1 Company, Lockheed Martin, MBDA, Novator Design Bureau, NPO Mashinostroyeniya, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd, Raytheon Company, Roketsan, Saab Bofors Dynamics, State Kyiv Design Bureau (Luch), Thales, Vympel NPO

By James Mulholland for
James Mulholland is a Paris-based internet and broadcast journalist specializing in sports, current affairs and technology news, while also freelancing as a photographer.

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