Munitions stockpile at the Hawthorne Army Depot. It has over 7,673,000 square feet of storage of conventional ammunition. In 2009 the facility had a budget of $270,000 and a payroll of $2.88 million. Opened in 1930, production stopped in 1994. The weapons now sit, waiting. (via U.S. ARMY)
Ask anyone who’s ever been to a FOB (Forward Operating Base) and they can tell you that one well-placed mortar round from an enemy combatant can potentially destroy any munitions stockpile that isn’t placed under a hardened bunker. That situation makes for a bad day to say the least, but researchers and engineers are looking to the latest technology in an effort to reduce, or eliminate completely, the chances of that ever happening. One of the more interesting aspects with keeping these stockpiles from detonating is through the incorporation and adaptation of MEMS (Microelectromechanical Systems) technology into the munitions themselves. The nano-sized devices (or structures) have been used in everything ranging from inkjet printers to optical switching and have even been incorporated into micro-fluidic chips that are capable of cooling CPUs as well as diagnosing health problems (Stanford University’s study on sperm mutation rates). Now engineers Robert Claridge and David Combes from the UK-based defense lab Qinetiq want to adapt them for use as weapons detonators. The idea is that nano-sized MEMS detonators will be harder to hit with incoming shrapnel or bullet rounds and therefore reduce the chances of the stockpile exploding. According to the engineers, the problem with using MEMS technology is the incorporation of explosive material (initiator) needed inside the detonators themselves as various munitions would require a different sized detonators, which would require a different amount of explosive. Their design uses a capillary micro-chamber filled with an explosive (unknown) material, which precipitates into another chamber (through micro-cavities) with an igniter substance (again unknown) that’s detonated when an electric current passes through a simple thermal wire. The pair has already filed patents for their design in the US. However, its unknown if or when these MEMS detonators will be incorporated into the munitions themselves, but for those stationed near ammo dumps that day can’t come soon enough.