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NNS020307-03. Navy Scientists Instrumental in Developing New Thermobaric Weapons

By Chief Journalist David Nagle, Naval Sea Systems Command Public Affairs

INDIAN HEAD, Md. (NNS) -- The March 2 air strikes on al Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan marked the first use ever of thermobaric weapons, a new bomb developed by explosives engineers at Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Indian Head Division.

Thermobaric explosives create sustained temperatures and overpressures in a confined structure, such as caves, tunnels or hardened structures. They are fuel-rich explosives that use oxygen from the target to create a longer burn time than conventional explosives, making it more effective in caves and tunnels, while, in a sense, sucking the air from the confined space. Thermobaric weapons are designed for use on laser-guided missiles, to detonate either at the opening of or inside a cave or tunnel.

The Navy began developing thermobaric explosives in the late 1980's and resumed research and development in the mid 1990's, responding to the need for internal blast explosives to defeat hard and deeply buried structures as evidenced during Operation Desert Storm.

NSWC Indian Head scientists developed the PBXIH-135 thermobaric explosive, which not only offers effective blast and thermal effects, but also is extremely insensitive to factors that may cause accidental detonation during transit or storage.

In response to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) organized a 60-day joint project with NSWC Indian Head, the Air Force and Department of Energy to identify, test and integrate a solution to deliver a new capability for tunnel defeat. NSWC Indian Head was responsible for the payload and booster design, as well as loading of the new bombs.

After static and flight tests at full-scale tunnel facilities at the Department of Energy's Nevada test site, the program culminated in December with a successful flight test of a laser-guided weapon, containing Indian Head's PBXIH-135 thermobaric explosive, launched from an F-15E Strike Eagle.

NSWC Indian Head, along with DTRA and the Air Force, are engaged in a three-year advanced Concept Technical Demonstration of another thermobaric weapon. Indian Head is developing the new payload, which will have superior performance to that of PBXIH-135.

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