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An explosive is a substance that will burn up or decompose almost instantly, producing intense heat and a large volume of expanding gas. This rapid change of state is called an explosion. Depending on its nature, an explosive may be detonated by apply heat, by shaking, or by striking. The sharp sound, or report, of an explosion is due to the air waves set in motion by the explosion's force. Gunpowder is considered a low explosive, but is not discussed in this section.
There are three parts to an explosive weapon system: the launcher, the missile, and the warhead. The missile is discussed in the projectile weapons section. This section will instead analyze the many types of warheads and the launchers that support them, and will in the process dispel some common misconceptions. Understand that the warhead is carried by the missile or rocket to the target. The launcher is the device that fires the missile.
Grenades are self-detonating explosives used against personnel. They are typically handheld, but may be supported by a rocket. If so, they are said to be rocket-propelled grenades, or RPGs, and must be first fired from a launcher. RPGs are usually less complicated than a missile-warhead, but are conversely less effective. Grenades have no armor-piercing capability, making them virtually ineffective against armor.
Grenades that are launched but not assisted by a rocket do not qualify as a RPG. However, as the launcher still fires an explosive weapon, it is still discussed in the launchers article.
Land mines are explosive charges placed or buried on the ground. It is a defensive weapon used to obstruct or delay enemy movements. They can destroy tanks and halt an entire infantry advance.
Bombs are basically advanced, autonomous warheads. They are designed to be dropped from air or space and will coast to the ground target. Bombs have no rocket motor. Instead, they utilize the power of gravity. Guided bombs navigate through guidance fins that operate like the wings of an aircraft. Extra explosives replace the space that would normally be occupied by the rocket and fuel, making bombs the most powerful of all explosive types.
Warheads are not filled with a single explosive. Rather, they contain specialized mixtures of a variety of materials. Unfortunately, the sheer amount of explosive substances that exist in the universe far exceed the scope of this article. Therefore, this article will only differentiate between the major styles of warheads based on their purpose.
Some warhead styles, such as WP and Illumination, do not explode, but are included in an effort to present a clearer collection of warfare devices. Unless otherwise noted, all images are of the warhead only.
KEP (Sabot) Edit
The acronym stands for high explosive anti-tank, which concisely explains the purpose of this warhead. It is traditionally referred to as the "10 pounder." The bursting radius is ten meters; however, high velocity fragments can produce a lethality radius in excess of 50 meters. The nose section is constructed of malleable cast iron that is threaded to receive the fuze. The base section is threaded so that it can be attached to the rocket motor. These two sections are welded together. The explosive is usually a mixture between nitroglycerin and cyclotrimethylenetrinitramine (RDX), Detonation is set for time delay after impact allowing for threat penetration. Higher yield warheads increase bursting radius.
The high explosive point detonating warhead is the most commonly used payload by infantry units. The bursting radius is twelve meters, with an effective fragmentation range in excess of sixty meters. The fuze is designed for anti-personnel situations; that is, it is designed to explode immediately upon impact. The three kilogram polymer shell encases one kilogram of trinitrotoulene (TNT) and composition B-4 high explosive. The HEPD warhead has been mildly effective against unarmored vehicles and materiel. The penetration characteristics and ballistics of the warhead's high velocity fragments are not readily capable of breaching armor.
The MPSM (multipurpose submunition) warhead provides superior lethality against light armor, materiel, and personnel. It has a plastic nose cone assembly, an aluminum warhead case, an integral fuze, an expulsion charge, and nine explosive submunitions. Each submunition has a steel or polymer body that has around three ounces of composition B or other heavy metal for armor penetration. The submunition is internally scored to optimize fragments against personnel and materiel. Upon detonation, the shaped charge penetrates in line with its axis and the submunition body explodes into high velocity fragments (approximately 195 at 10 grains each up to 1500 kilometers per second) to defeat soft targets. The submunitions are usually filled with Explosive D, while the warhead uses a nonvolatile explosive such as RDX.
White phosphorus rockets are primarily used for target marking and incendiary purposes. Filler for the WP warhead is one to two kilograms of white phosphorus with a ten gram bursting charge of composition L (used in handgun cartridges). The phosphorus burns a bright white and expels a plume of smoke. In addition, white phosphorus has minor anti-personnel capability because it burns at a high temperature. Because of the inherent small bursting charge, there is minimal fragmentation.
GPF, or general purpose flechette, provides high lethality against light armor, materiel, and personnel. The GPF warhead is an indirect fire piece and is effective at ranges below seventy meters. Each warhead contains approximately eighty tungsten flechettes weighing 280 grains (18 grams) each, which are capable of penetrating light armor (four centimeters). The flechettes are expelled by bursting charge from the two canisters after motor burnout. Ideally, flechettes are discharged during flight to maximize hit probability. The bursting charge is composition L.
The fuel-air explosive (FAE) warhead is a unique and "first strike" munition, meaning that it can be used in the first minutes of a conflict to cripple the enemy. It uses a technique known as overpressure (a strong pressure wave followed immediately by vacuum) to disable, kill, and immobilize threats. It is equally effective against materiel and personnel, and is twelve to sixteen times more powerful than a conventional explosive.
A FAE warhead is loaded with two explosive charges and a fuel canister. As the payload closes on the target, the first explosive charge ignites next to the fuel canister, forcing the contents to be expelled into the air. The second charge detonates the fuel cloud, creating a massive blast wave. This blast wave is lethal up to thirty meters for bomb payloads, less for rocket delivery. Immediately following the blast wave is vacuum area that ruptures the target's lungs. If the second charge fails to explode, the superhot fuel will still cause intense burn damage.
Its effect can be explained best as a function of time. Consulting the slideshow below, we see (1) the target, (2) the FAE bomb's fuel canisters opening, (3) the bomb's penetration of the target and the fuel mist coating the target, (4) explosion followed by blast waves, and (5) the end result.
With a delivery system similar to a FAE, napalm substitutes fuel in place of a combustible jelly. This jelly, which is moderately viscous, is spewed from the warhead as it strikes the target. An explosive charge ignites a phosphorus mixture contained within the warhead. The phosphorus enters a chemical reaction with the jelly (that has by then coated the target) and produces a flash explosion followed by an intense flame. The flame burns hot (near 1500 degrees centigrade) for usually half a minute, or as long as it takes for the jelly to burn away. The napalm warhead is primarily designed for both incendiary and anti-personnel purposes. It is lethal up to sixteen meters and has been used effectively against lightly-armored vehicles.
The hand grenade is a handheld, hand-armed, and hand-thrown weapon. Each grenade has a different capability that provides the soldier with a variety of options to successfully complete any given mission. Hand grenades give the soldier the ability to kill enemy soldiers and destroy enemy equipment. Since the hand grenade is thrown by muscular force, the range is short and the casualty radius is small. The four to five second delay on the fuze allows the soldier to safetly employ the grenade.
The hand grenade is preferable in most situations to the rocket because of its mobility and survivability. A footsoldier is nominally equipped with four to five grenades of varying type.
Grenade Operation Edit
Fuzes burn at high temperatures to ignite the chemical filler contained within the body. The time delay element is a powder train requiring 1.2 to 2 seconds to burn to the igniter. The igniter ignites the filler with a violet burning action and expels the filler from the grenade body. This entire process is started by a chemical striker activated by the soldier. The soldier first squeezes a safety lever that runs down the side of the grenade. He then pulls a safety pin that is designed to prevent the striker from functioning. When the grenade is ready to be thrown, the soldier releases the safety lever, which falls off and ignites the powder train. He will then have about five seconds to throw the explosive.
The filler, which varies depending on the kind of hand grenade, is placed within the body of the weapon. After the burning powder train reaches the chemical igniter, the filler either explodes or is pushed out of the body, depending on type.
Electronic Fuzes Edit
Some grenades are equipped with electronic instead of chemical fuzes. These fuzes may be interrupted during the time delay, which may also be set on the fly by the soldier. Electronic fuzes have not gained significant proliferation within the hand grenade market because of their cost when compared with traditional chemical fuzes. A chemical fuze is also more reliable and not dependent on a battery source.
The fragmentation grenade is the soldier's indirect weapon system. Aside from his rifle, the fragmentation (or frag) grenade is the most important weapon in his arsenal. It dramatically increases the soldier's firepower and effectiveness against the enemy. The body is usually a sphere in order to disperse the fragments evenly. It is filled with composition B, a powerful high explosive and is lightweight (two hundred grams). An average human soldier can throw the fragmentation grenade out to thirty-five meters. The effective casualty-producing radius is fifteen meters and the kill radius is five meters. Upon detonation, fragments of the body are shot outward at all angles at high speeds.
Smoke hand grenades are used as ground-to-ground or ground-to-air signalling devices, target or landing zone marking devices, or screening devices for unit movements. They have no offensive capability, and are not intended to be used as such. The filler is a solid mixture of elements that react with the starter to form colored smoke. Before activating, the soldier must first remove a covering tape from the bottom of the six hundred gram cylinder that prevents the gas from escaping. Special kinds of smoke grenades may expel irritant gas as a crowd control measure.
Stun hand grenades are used as diversionary or distraction devices during building and room clearing operations when the presence of noncombatants is likely or expected and the assaulting element is attempting to achieve surprise. It may also be referred to as a flash-bang. The body is usually a hexagon tube with holes along the sides to allow for the emission of intense light and sound when the grenade is ignited. The mechanism of a flash-bang is complicated and not within the scope of this article. It is sufficient to understand that the stun grenade produces no explosion and only temporary and disorienting damage. It is intended to be thrown into a room (through an open door, a standard window, or other opening).
The incendiary hand grenade is used to destroy equipment or start fires. It can also damage, immobilize, or destroy vehicles, weapons systems, shelters, or munitions. It weighs around 1.7 kilograms (the heaviest of all hand grenades). Its filler is a thermate mixture, which burns at around 2200 degrees centigrade. It can burn through a 1.5 centimeter inch homogenous steel plate, produces its own oxygen, and burns underwater. In combat situations, the incendiary grenade may be used as a marker or distractionary device.
The plasma hand grenade is designed to be highly lethal to personnel and unprotected materiel. It is based on superheated hydrogen gas which can produce instananeous lethality within a range of two meters. Casuality-producing thermal heat can radiate outward up to five meters. An internal laser triggered by an electronic fuze heats the inert gas over a course of ten seconds. The absence of capacitors contributes to an overall lack of firing control after the pin is pulled. The plasma will burn through the body in around five seconds, giving the soldier the necessary time delay to deploy the weapon.
Rocket launchers fire rockets or missiles at a target. For missiles, it rests on the responsibility of the launcher to feed targetting and arming information. Launchers have a variety of names depending on their function, such as the bazooka or LAW. A smaller cousin to the rocket launcher is the grenade launcher that fires small rocket-propelled or free-flight grenades. It is difficult to qualify global characteristics that are universal to all launchers, so an individual analysis of each style is necessary.
Indirect fire support pieces such as the artillery cannon and the trench mortar are not discussed. They are beyond the attention of this article. Please refer to the Projectile Weapons section for more information.
Light rocket launcher Edit
Medium rocket launcher Edit
Pictured on the right is the Vanguard Hydra medium anti-tank weapon with its distinctive shock absorbers both on the front and rear of the launcher. Most medium rocket launchers are installed with HEAT (high explosive anti-tank) rockets and are not suitable for anti-personnel use. Because of the shock absorbers, the medium rocket launcher is recoiless. Militaries may choose to use a standard backblast at the expense of stability during firing.
MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket System) Edit
The multiple launch rocket system is a rapid-fire, surface-to-surface, surface-to-air, surface-to-space, free-flight rocket and guided missile system. It is designed to compliment cannon artillery, to attack the enemy deep, and to strike at counterfire, air defense, and high-payoff targets. It can supplement other fire support systems by engaging orbitting enemy spaceships and acting as a missile interdiction platform. MLRSs may be mounted to moving vehicles for increased mobility or stationed at strategic locations. The pictured light multiple launch rocket system can hold twelve rockets or two missiles. Any MLRS is aided by a sophisticated fire control and sensor system capable of laying down swaths of damage in all theatre zones. When grouped together, multiple MLRSs can coordinate fire, enhancing their lethality.
The installed payload is launched by aid of the fire control system, which controls an umbilical-enhanced trigger system. It ensures that no missile or rocket is launched dangerously close to each other and also calculates the proper angle to the target (if installed with free-flight rockets).
RPG (Rocket-Propelled Grenade) launcher Edit
The rocket-propelled grenade launcher is a lightweight, man-portable, breech-loaded, squad-level general support weapon. It consists of a small caliber firing tube which holds the rocket motor. The RPG differs from a conventional LAW in that the warhead, usually oversized, is placed outside of the firing tube. The result is a weapon that is more powerful than the LAW but less accurate. Because of its simple design (a percussion-cap system is used to ignite the rocket) and small caliber, most RPGs may be reloaded in the field. The installed warhead varies depending on the military power.
Grenade launcher Edit
Automatic grenade launchers operate on the same principle as the single-shot grenade launcher. Ammunition is loaded via a cartridge belt. It gives an area a heavy volume of close, accurate, and continuous support fire. It is not man-portable and must be mounted (there is recoil and the weight is considerable). As with most chemical-based weapons, there is associated firing heat. Its effective range is limited by the amount of propellant and caliber of the cartridge, but is generally around 2000 meters.
Special thanks to Gadget for this information.