The Mil & Aero Blog
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
  Military eyes MEMS weapons detonators that could be fabbed on IC lines
Posted by John Keller

U.S. military experts are looking into a new way of manufacturing small, reliable, and inexpensive detonators for weapons such as missiles, torpedoes, and smart artillery shells.

The next generation of detonators may rely on nanometer- and micron-size copper structures manufactured on integrated circuit (IC) lines, and then chemically converted into tiny explosives, according to a story online at Spacewar.com entitled Unique Porous Copper Structure Enables New Generation Of Military Micro-Detonators.

Research into these new detonators is happening at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) in Atlanta and the Indian Head Division of the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Indian Head, Md.

The Indian Head Division, among other things, is responsible for Navy research into propulsion systems, explosives, pyrotechnics, warheads, and simulators.

Because they can be integrated into standard microelectronics fabrication processes, the copper materials will enable micro-electromechanical (MEMS) fuzes for military munitions to be mass-produced like computer chips, according to Spacewar.com in the story that appears today.

These new fuzes will measure about one square centimeter that could be manufactured on a large scale on IC fabrication lines. Spacewar.com quotes Michael Beggans, a scientist in the Energetics Technology Department at Indian Head on the benefits of extremely small detonators:

"Today, everything is becoming smaller, consuming less power and offering more functionality," Beggans added. "When you hear that a weapon is 'smart,' it's really all about the fuze. The fuze is 'smart' in that it knows the exact environment that the weapon needs to be in, and detonates it at the right time. The MEMS fuze would provide 'smart' functionality in medium-caliber and sub-munitions, improving results and reducing collateral damage."

Detonators have always been problematic for weapons designers, and the U.S. Navy historically has had difficult times with detonators on munitions like torpedoes. In the opening months of World War II in the Pacific, Navy submarine commanders experienced many failures on the Mark XIV torpedo. Navy experts to this day are particularly sensitive to detonator issues because of this.
 
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