Interest in the possibilities of IM explosives first began during the Vietnam War.
In July of 1967, for example, a rocket accidentally discharged on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal. An initial explosion and fire were made worse by a chain reaction of exploding bombs and ordnance. In the end, 134 sailors were killed and many more were injured.
The incident in 1967 does not stand alone. In 1991, during the first Gulf War, a fire at the Army’s Camp Doha, near Kuwait City, led to a series of follow-on fires and blasts from stored artillery.
As a result, in the late 1990s, the Department of Defense (DoD) initiated a significant expansion in government-funded IM research. During this time, new developments in the manufacture of energetic materials were occurring at the Holston Army Ammunition Plant in Tennessee. There, researchers were demonstrating that certain alternatives to traditional explosive ingredients, such as HMX and RDX, could be viable for munitions applications. These munitions could match the power of legacy explosive products, like TNT and Composition B, while proving much safer for use.
These IM energetic formulations were aptly deemed insensitive munitions. They were more stable and less susceptible to unplanned response when subjected to stimuli, such as fire, sympathetic detonation, and bullet or fragment impacts. On the battlefield, ammunition filled with these explosives would be much safer to use and transport, and more resistant to enemy fire or accidents.