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Sectioned H.E.A.T. round with the inner shaped charge visible
1: Aerodynamic cover; 2: Empty room; 3: Conical liner; 4: Detonator; 5: Explosive; 6: Piezo-electric trigger

A shaped charge is an explosive charge shaped to focus the effect of the explosive's energy. Various types are used to cut and form metal, initiate nuclear weapons, in the oil and gas industry and to penetrate armor. A typical modern lined shaped charge can penetrate armor steel to a depth of 7 or more times the diameter of the charge's cone (cone diameters, CD), though greater depths of 10 CD and above are now feasible.



Shaped charges are frequently used as warheads in anti-tank missiles (guided and unguided) and also gun-fired projectiles (spun and unspun), rifle grenades, mines, bomblets, torpedoes and various types of air/land/sea-launched guided missiles. Perhaps the earliest shaped charge weapon to be introduced into service being the British No. 68 AT Grenade anti-tank weapon of 1940. The common term in today's military terminology for shape charge warheads is HEAT (high explosive anti-tank). They are also used to demolish large obsolete structures by implosion with precisely placed and timed cutting charges with the intent of causing an inward collapse that confines the debris to the structure's footprint. Shaped charges are today used most extensively in the petroleum and natural gas industries, in particular in the completion of oil and gas wells, in which they are detonated to perforate the metal casing of the well at intervals to admit the influx of oil and gas.[1]

A typical device consists of a solid cylinder of explosive with a metal-lined conical hollow in one end and a central detonator, array of detonators, or detonation wave guide at the other end. The enormous pressure generated by the detonation of the explosive drives the liner contained within the hollow cavity inward to collapse upon its central axis. The resulting collision forms and projects a high-velocity jet of metal forward along the axis. Most of the jet material originates from the innermost layer of the liner, about 10% to 20% of its thickness. The remaining liner material forms a slower-moving slug of material, which because of its appearance is sometimes called a "carrot."

Because of variations along the liner in its collapse velocity, the jet so formed has a varying velocity along its length, decreasing from the front. This variation in velocity stretches the jet and eventually leads to its break-up into particles. In time, the particles tend to lose their alignment, which reduces the depth of penetration at long standoffs.

Also, at the apex of the cone, which forms the very front of the jet, the liner does not have time to be fully accelerated before it forms its part of the jet. This results in its small part of jet being projected at a lower velocity than jet formed later behind it. As a result, the initial parts of the jet coalesce to form a pronounced wider tip portion.

Most of the jet formed moves at hypersonic speed. The tip moves at 7 to 14 km/s, the jet tail at a lower velocity (1 to 3 km/s), and the slug at a still lower velocity (less than 1 km/s). The exact velocities are dependent on the charge's configuration and confinement, explosive type, materials used, and the explosive-initiation mode. At typical velocities, the penetration process generates such enormous pressures that it may be considered hydrodynamic; to a good approximation, the jet and armor may be treated as incompressible fluids, with their material strengths ignored.

The liner

The shape most commonly used for the liner is a cone, with an internal apex angle of 40 to 90 degrees. Different apex angles yield different distributions of jet mass and velocity. Small apex angles can result in jet bifurcation, or even in the failure of the jet to form at all; this is attributed to the collapse velocity being above a certain threshold, normally slightly higher than the liner material's bulk sound speed. Other widely used shapes include hemispheres, tulips, trumpets, ellipses, and bi-conics; the various shapes yield jets with different velocity and mass distributions.

Liners have been made from many materials, including glass and various metals. The deepest penetrations are achieved with a dense, ductile metal, and a very common choice has been copper. For some modern anti-armor weapons, molybdenum and pseudo-alloys of tungsten filler and copper binder (9:1 thus density is ~18t/m3) have been adopted. Just about every common metallic element has been tried, including aluminum, tungsten, tantalum, depleted uranium, lead, tin, cadmium, cobalt, magnesium, titanium, zinc, zirconium, molybdenum, beryllium, nickel, silver, and even gold and platinum. The selection of the material depends on the target to be penetrated; for example, aluminum has been found advantageous for concrete targets.

For the deepest penetrations, pure metals yield the best results, because they display the greatest ductility, hence postponing the breakup of the stretching jet into particles. In charges for oil well completion, however, it is essential that a solid slug or "carrot" not be formed, since it would plug the hole just penetrated and interfere with the influx of oil. In the petroleum industry, therefore, liners are generally fabricated by powder metallurgy, often of pseudo-alloys, which if un-sintered, yield jets that are composed mainly of dispersed fine metal particles. Oxide glass liners produce jets of low density, therefore with less penetration depth. Double-layer liners, with one layer of a less dense but pyrophoric metal (e.g. aluminum or magnesium), can be used to enhance incendiary effects following the armour-piercing action; explosion welding can be used for making those, as then the metal-metal interface is homogeneous, does not contain significant amount of intermetallics, and does not have adverse effects to the formation of the jet.[2]

The penetration depth is proportional to the maximum length of the jet, which is a product of the jet tip velocity and time to particulation. The jet tip velocity depends on bulk sound velocity in the liner material, the time to particulation is dependent on the ductility of the material. The maximum achievable jet velocity is roughly 2.34 times the sound velocity in the material.[3] The speed can reach 10 km/s, peaking some 40 microseconds after detonation; the cone tip is subjected to acceleration of about 25 million g. The jet tail reaches about 2-5 km/s. The pressure between the jet tip and the target can reach one terapascal. The immense pressure makes the metal flow like a liquid, though x-ray diffraction has shown the metal stays solid; one of the theories explaining this behavior proposes molten core and solid sheath of the jet. The best materials are face-centered cubic metals, as they are the most ductile, but even graphite and zero-ductility ceramic cones shown significant penetration.[4]

During World War II, liners were made of copper or steel, though other materials were tried or researched. The precision of the charge's construction and its detonation mode were both inferior to modern warheads. This lower precision caused the jet to curve and to break up at an earlier time and hence at a shorter distance. The resulting dispersion decreased the penetration depth for a given cone diameter and also shortened the optimum standoff distance. Since the charges were less effective at larger standoffs, side and turret skirts (known as Schürzen) fitted to some German tanks to protect against Russian anti-tank rifle fire[5] were fortuitously found to give the jet room to disperse and hence reduce its penetrating ability.

The use of spaced armor skirts today may increase the penetration of some warheads. Due to constraints in the length of the projectile/missile, the built in stand-off on many warheads is not the optimum distance. The skirting effectively increases the distance between the armor and the target, providing the warhead with a more optimum standoff and greater penetration if the optimum stand-off is not drastically exceeded. Skirting should not be confused with cage armor which is used to damage the fusing system of RPG-7 projectiles. The armor works by deforming the inner and outer ogives and shorting the firing circuit between the rocket's piezoelectric nose probe and rear fuse assembly. If the nose probe strikes the armor, the warhead will function as normal.

The spacing between the shaped charge and its target is critical, as there is an optimum standoff distance to achieve the deepest penetration. At short standoffs, the jet does not have room to stretch out, and at long standoffs, it eventually breaks into particles, which then tend to drift off the line of axis and to tumble, so that the successive particles tend to widen rather than deepen the hole. At very long standoffs, velocity is lost to air drag, degrading penetration further.

The explosive

For optimum penetration, a high explosive having a high detonation velocity and pressure is normally chosen. The most common explosive used in high performance anti-armor warheads is HMX (octogen), though it is never used on its own, as it would be too sensitive. It is normally compounded with a few percent of some type of plastic binder, such as in the polymer bonded explosive (PBX) LX-14, or with another less-sensitive explosive, such as TNT, with which it forms Octol. Other common explosives are RDX-based compositions, again either as PBXs or mixtures with TNT (to form Composition B and the Cyclotols) or wax (Cyclonites). Some explosives incorporate powdered aluminum to increase their blast and detonation temperature, but this addition generally results in decreased performance of the shaped charge. There has been research into using the very-high-performance but sensitive explosive CL-20 in shaped-charge warheads, but, at present, due to its sensitivity, this has been in the form of the PBX composite LX-19 (CL-20 and Estane binder)

Other features

A waveshaper is a body (typically a disc or cylindrical block) of an inert material (typically solid or foamed plastic, but sometimes metal, perhaps hollow) inserted within the explosive for the purpose of changing the path of the detonation wave. The effect is to modify the collapse of the cone and resulting jet formation, with the intent of increasing penetration performance. Waveshapers are often used to save space—a shorter charge can achieve the same performance as a longer one without a waveshaper.

Another useful design feature is sub-calibration, the use of a liner having a smaller diameter (caliber) than the explosive charge. In an ordinary charge, the explosive near the base of the cone is so thin that it is unable to accelerate the adjacent liner to sufficient velocity to form an effective jet. In a sub-calibrated charge, this part of the device is effectively cut off, resulting in a shorter charge with the same performance.

Examples in the Media

The Future Weapons program of the Discovery channel featured the 'Krakatoa'[6], a simple shaped charge weapon system designed by Alford Technologies[7] for special operations deployment. The weapon consisted of a simple plastic outer shell, a copper cone and a volume of plastic explosive. This device was effective at penetrating inch thick steel plate at a range of several meters.

Shaped charge variants

There are several different forms of shaped charge.

Linear shaped charges

Linear shaped charge

A linear shaped charge (LSC) has a liner with V-shaped profile and varying length. The liner is surrounded with explosive, the explosive then encased within a suitable material that serves to protect the explosive and to confine (tamp) it on detonation. The charge is detonated at some point in the explosive above the liner apex. The detonation projects the liner to form a continuous, knife-like (planar) jet. The jet cuts any material in its path, to a depth depending on the size and materials used in the charge. For the cutting of complex geometries, there are also flexible versions of the linear shaped charge, these with a lead or high-density foam sheathing and a ductile/flexible liner material, which also is often lead. LSCs are commonly used in the cutting of rolled steel joists (RSJ) and other structural targets, such as in the controlled demolition of buildings. LSCs are also used to separate the stages of multi-stage rockets.

Explosively Formed Penetrator

The Explosively Formed Penetrator (EFP) is also known as the Self-Forging Fragment (SFF), Explosively Formed Projectile (EFP), SElf-FOrging Projectile (SEFOP), Plate Charge, and Misznay-Schardin (MS) Charge. An EFP uses the action of the explosive's detonation wave (and to a lesser extent the propulsive effect of its detonation products) to project and deform a plate or dish of ductile metal (such as copper, iron, or tantalum) into a compact high-velocity projectile, commonly called the slug. This slug is projected towards the target at about two kilometers per second. The chief advantage of the EFP over a conventional (e.g., conical) shaped charge is its effectiveness at very great standoffs, equal to hundreds of times the charge's diameter (perhaps a hundred meters for a practical device).

The EFP is relatively unaffected by first-generation reactive armor and can travel up to perhaps 1000 charge diameters (CDs) before its velocity becomes ineffective at penetrating armor due to aerodynamic drag, or successfully hitting the target becomes a problem. The impact of a ball or slug EFP normally causes a large-diameter but relatively shallow hole, of, at most, a couple of CDs. If the EFP perforates the armor, spalling and extensive behind armor effects (BAE, also called behind armor damage, BAD) will occur. The BAE is mainly caused by the high temperature and velocity armor and slug fragments being injected into the interior space and the overpressure (blast) caused by this debris. More modern EFP warhead versions, through the use of advanced initiation modes, can also produce long-rods (stretched slugs), multi-slugs and finned rod/slug projectiles. The long-rods are able to penetrate a much greater depth of armor, at some loss to BAE, multi-slugs are better at defeating light and/or area targets and the finned projectiles have greatly enhanced accuracy. The use of this warhead type is mainly restricted to lightly armored areas of main battle tanks (MBT), the top, belly and rear armored areas for example. Its use in the attack of other less heavily protected armored fighting vehicles (AFV) and in the breaching of material targets (buildings, bunkers, bridge supports, etc), it is well suited. The newer rod projectiles may be effective against the more heavily armored areas of MBTs. Weapons using the EFP principle have already been used in combat; the "smart" submunitions in the CBU-97 cluster bomb used by the US Air Force and Navy in the 2003 Iraq war employed this principle, and the US Army is reportedly experimenting with precision-guided artillery shells under Project SADARM (Seek And Destroy ARMor). There are also various other projectile (BONUS, DM 642) and rocket submunitions (Motiv-3M, DM 642) and mines (MIFF, TMRP-6) that use EFP principle. Examples of EFP warheads are US patents 5038683[8] and US6606951.[9]

Tandem warhead

Some modern anti-tank rockets (RPG-27, RPG-29) and missiles (TOW 2B, ERYX, HOT, MILAN) use a tandem warhead shaped charge, consisting of two separate shaped charges, one in front of the other, typically with some distance between them. TOW-2B was the first to use tandem warheads to in the mid 1980s, an aspect of the weapon which the US Army had to reveal under news media and Congressional pressure resulting from the concern that NATO antitank missiles were ineffective against Soviet tanks that were fitted with the new ERA boxes. The Army revealed that a 40mm precursor shape charge warhead was fitted on tip of the TOW-2B collapsible probe.[10] Usually, the front charge is somewhat smaller than the rear one, as it is intended primarily to disrupt ERA boxes or tiles. Examples of tandem warheads are US patents 7363862[11] and US 5561261.[12] The US Hellfire antiarmor missile is one of the few that have accomplished the complex engineering feat of having two same diameter shape charge warheads one behind the other. Recently a Russia arms firm revealed a 125mm tank cannon round with two same diameter shape charge warheads one behind the other, but with the back one off set so its' penetration stream will not interfere with the front shape charges penetration stream. The reasoning behind both the Hellfire and the Russian 125mm munitions having tandem same diameter warheads is not to increase penetration, but to increase the Beyond-armour effect.

Voitenko Compressor

In 1965 a Russian scientist proposed that a shaped charge originally developed for piercing thick steel armor be adapted to the task of accelerating shock waves. The resulting device, looking a little like a wind tunnel, is called a Voitenko compressor.[13] The Voitenko compressor initially separates a test gas from a shaped charge with a malleable steel plate. When the shaped charge detonates, most of its energy is focused on the steel plate, driving it forward and pushing the test gas ahead of it. Ames translated this idea into a self-destroying shock tube. A 66-pound shaped charge accelerated the gas in a 3-cm glass-walled tube 2 meters in length. The velocity of the resulting shock wave was a phenomenal 220,000 feet per second (67 km/sec). The apparatus exposed to the detonation was, of course, completely destroyed, but not before useful data was extracted.[14] In a typical Voitenko compressor, a shaped charge accelerates hydrogen gas which in turn accelerates a thin disk up to about 40 km/s.[15][16] A slight modification to the Voitenko compressor concept is a super-compressed detonation,[17][18] a device that uses a compressible liquid or solid fuel in the steel compression chamber instead of a traditional gas mixture.[19][20] A further extension of this technology is the explosive diamond anvil cell,[21][22][23][24] utilizing multiple opposed shaped charge jets projected at a single steel encapsulated fuel,[25] such as hydrogen. The fuels used in these devices,along with the secondary combustion reactions and long blast impulse, produce similar conditions to those encountered in fuel-air and thermobaric explosives.[26][27][28][29]

Nuclear shaped charges

A requirement for the Project Orion nuclear propulsion system, the design (and testing) of nuclear shaped charges is still shrouded in mystery. However there seems little doubt that Nuclear shaped charges[30] have existed at least since the late 1950s and by 1961 bomb design[31] had reached the point where the yield could be collimated within a cone of 22.5 degrees.[32]

See also


  1. ^ "Shaped Charge". 
  2. ^ "Method of making a bimetallic shaped-charge liner" U.S. Patent 4,807,795
  3. ^ Manfred Held Liners for shaped charges, Journal of Battlefield Technology, vol 4, no 3, November 2001
  4. ^ Alistair Doig Some metallurgical aspects of shaped charge liners, Journal of battlefield technology, vol 1, no 1, March 1998
  5. ^ Hilary L. Doyle, Thomas L. Jentz, Tom Jentz, and Tony Bryan. "Panzerkampfwagen IV Ausf.G, H and J 1942–45". Google Books. 
  6. ^ "YouTube - Future Weapons:Krakatoa". DiscoveryNetworks. 
  7. ^ " - Products". Alford Technologies. 
  8. ^ Ernest L.Baker,Pai-Lien Lu,Brian Fuchs and Barry Fishburn(1991)"High explosive assembly for projecting high velocity long rods"
  9. ^ Arnold S.Klein(2003)"Bounding Anti-tank/Anti-vehicle weapon"
  10. ^ Goodman A. "ARMY ANTITANK CANDIDATES PROLIFERATE" Armed Forces Journal International/December 1987 page 23
  11. ^ Jason C.Gilliam and Darin L.Kielsmeier(2008)"Multi-purpose single initiated tandem warhead"
  12. ^ Klaus Lindstadt and Manfred Klare(1996)"Tandem warhead with a secondary projectile"
  13. ^ NASA"The Suicidal Wind Tunnel"
  14. ^ GlobalSecurity"Shaped Charge History"
  15. ^ Explosive Accelerators"Voitenko Implosion Gun"
  16. ^ I.I. Glass and J.C. Poinssot"IMPLOSION DRIVEN SHOCK TUBE"
  17. ^ Shuzo Fujiwara(1992)"Explosive Technique For Generation of High Dynamic Pressure"
  18. ^ ZY Liu"Overdriven Detonation of Explosives Due To High-Speed Plate Impact"
  19. ^ Zhang, Fan (Medicine Hat, CA)Murray, Stephen Burke (Medicine Hat, CA)Higgins, Andrew (Montreal, CA)(2005) "Super compressed detonation method and device to effect such detonation"
  20. ^ Jerry Pentel and Gary G.Fairbanks(1992)"Multiple Stage Munition"
  21. ^ John M.Heberlin(2006)"Enhancement of Solid Explosive Munitions Using Reflective Casings"
  22. ^ Frederick J.Mayer(1988)"Materials Processing Using Chemically Driven Spherically Symmetric Implosions"
  23. ^ Donald R.Garrett(1972)"Diamond Implosion Apparatus"
  24. ^ L.V. Al'tshuler,K.K. Krupnikov,V.N. Panov and R.F. Trunin(1996)"Explosive laboratory devices for shock wave compression studies"
  25. ^ A. A. Giardini and J. E. Tydings(1962)"Diamond Synthesis: Observations On The Mechanism of Formation"
  26. ^ Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (2004) "Going To Extremes"
  27. ^ Raymond Jeanloz, Peter M. Celliers, Gilbert W.Collins, Jon H. Eggert, Kanani K.M. Lee, R. Stewart McWilliams, Stephanie Brygoo and Paul Loubeyre (2007) Achieving high-density states through shock-wave loading of precompressed samples"
  28. ^ F. Winterberg "Conjectured Metastable Super-Explosives formed under High Pressure for Thermonuclear Ignition"
  29. ^ Young K. Bae (2008)" Metastable Innershell Molecular State (MIMS)"
  30. ^ Andre Gsponer (2008) "Fourth Generation Nuclear Weapons: Military Effectiveness and Collateral Effects"
  31. ^ Dyson, George, Project Orion: The Atomic Spaceship 1957–1965, p.113. ISBN 0-140-27732-3.
  32. ^ Dyson, Project Orion, p.220.
  • Fundamentals of Shaped Charges, W.P. Walters, J.A. Zukas, John Wiley & Sons Inc., June 1989, ISBN 0-471-62172-2.
  • Tactical Missile Warheads, Joseph Carleone (ed.), Progress in Astronautics and Aeronautics Series (V-155), Published by AIAA, 1993, ISBN 1-56347-067-5.

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