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Testing new explosive technology

BAE Systems Munitions has carried out a full-scale test of TDW’s ‘Scalable Effects’ explosive technology. This is being developed to allow military forces to select the explosive force of ammunition in theatre, so they can tailor the fragmentation and blast area to a specific target.
Setting up demonstrations for a new type of bomb is all in a day’s work for our Ridsdale Range team, who have been carrying out munitions test firings since 1870. To carry out a really impressive test like this one however, requires a great deal of hard work and planning up front – especially in making sure everything is done safely.
Chris Carr, Trials Engineer led the Ridsdale Range team, taking overall responsibility for the demonstration. The plan was to test two identical 500lb bombs at ground level – using TDW’s scaling technology to fire one at 10% and the second at 100%. In order to do this safely, the BAE Systems Energetic Modelling team used its advanced computer modelling software to work out how to construct the firing bunker – located 500m from the bomb – to ensure Chris’s safety.
Once his firing position was confirmed, he then had to comply with Armed Forces guidelines stating that all spectators were to be at least 2.2 km away. This led to the first big challenge: to find a site big enough where they could see this far in each direction to be sure no-one was in the area.
Chris explained: “We have a great relationship with the UK MoD and they gave us a lot of good advice. They agreed we could use the Otterburn test range in Northumberland, which has about 36,000 acres of open space and was perfect for our needs – if a bit cold in mid-October!”
As well as preparing everything for the firing test itself, Chris and the wider BAE Systems team had to organise around 80 Armed Forces and Industry guests from around the world. “Most of our test firings are attended by just a few engineers, so 80 high profile guests arriving raised a very different set of challenges. We needed a marquee, coaches, catering, AV equipment – much more than we would usually provide. However, the whole team pitched in and even the weather didn’t stop the event being a success.”
After a nail-biting wait, Chris and the team triggered the first bomb at 11:00am, firing it at 10% of the total possible yield. Seen from the position of the spectators over 2km away, it was a fairly small explosion that hardly caused a ripple in their welcome cups of tea. The loud blast however, which took several seconds to reach them, was quite a surprise.
After visitors had been to see the site of the first test explosion in person, they went back to a safe distance at the marquee to witness the second test while the hard work began to prepare the second arena. This 100% explosion was a completely different experience, as at ten times the force everyone present could distinctly see, hear and feel the difference – even 2.2km away.
The test was a success, demonstrating that the technology worked soundly. TDW was grateful for the professionalism of the Ridsdale Range team in conducting the trials and BAE Systems Munitions was very pleased to have been involved in a demonstration of such innovative technology.
Ridsdale Range General Manager, Mark Adams added “For our small team based here at Ridsdale, this demonstration firing was a big challenge. The success of the day highlights that with solid experience, a strong work ethic and a collaborative approach anything can be made possible.”
TDW’s Dr Markus Graswald, Head of Future Systems and System Simulation, explains more about the technology being tested:
  • What are the benefits for the Armed Forces in using your scalable effects technology?
Lessons learnt from Afghanistan and Libya show that Armed Forces need a high degree of flexibility in fulfilling their mission objectives. This is especially true in urban areas at land or in harbour locations. Our RADIUS technology will allow forces to adapt warhead effects to effectively engage military high value targets like trucks, armored personal carriers, and air defense systems, while minimizing collateral damages.
Imagine a situation where a fuel truck is used to maintain terrorist supplies. The mission objective is to neutralize this target. However, it turns out that a group of civilians is located in the proximity and buildings are not far away either. A RADIUS enhanced precision-guided bomb could be tailored to achieve both the primary mission objective and avoid collateral damages, whilst at the moment a pilot may need to abort the mission.
  • TDW has been testing scalable warhead technology for some time – how has the latest RADIUS system been enhanced?
The new RADIUS principle requires only one compact fuze system, so it can be integrated more easily into existing products. It can provide at least three distinct output modes, altering both effective footprints and collateral damage zones significantly.
  • Have Armed Forces said they would welcome the use of this technology?
Some of the Armed Forces representatives attending the demonstration saw our RADIUS technology as a real game changer. It will offer the true tactical flexibility they need in joint fire support missions, also helping them to engage targets of opportunity.
It could also help reduce the number of different weapon systems they need in future, by offering a single product with a range of uses. This could save money by reducing the number of platforms, logistic complexity and lifecycle costs.
  • Once loaded on to a plane, for example, how easy would it be for an operator to choose the scale of effect?
With a device in the cockpit of a plane, an operator could change the warhead effects until the very last moment of target engagement. We intend to further reduce complexity so that a Joint Tactical Air Controller (JTAC) could take over this role rather than the pilot.
BAE Systems Corporate Blog November 24, 2015