Military eyes MEMS weapons detonators that could be fabbed on IC lines

By John Keller
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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The Mil & Aero Bloggers

John Keller is editor-in-chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, which provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronic and optoelectronic technologies in military, space, and commercial aviation applications. A member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since the magazine's founding in 1989, Mr. Keller took over as chief editor in 1995.

Ernesto Burden is the publisher of PennWell’s Aerospace & Defense Media Group, including Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence and Avionics Europe.  He’s a father of four, a runner, and an avid digital media enthusiast with a deep background in the intersection of media publishing, digital technology, and social media. He can be reached at ernestob@pennwell.com and on Twitter @aero_ernesto.

Courtney E. Howard, as executive editor, enjoys writing about all things electronics and avionics in PennWell’s burgeoning Aerospace and Defense Group, which encompasses Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence, the Avionics Europe conference, and much more. She’s also a self-proclaimed social-media maven, mil-aero nerd, and avid avionics geek. Connect with Courtney at Courtney@Pennwell.com, @coho on Twitter, and on LinkedIn.

Mil & Aero Magazine

January 2014
Volume 25, Issue 1
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