The US military could potentially be at a tactical disadvantage should a conflict arise in the South China Sea over Taiwan. This is what National Defense magazine noted regarding the edge of China in terms of developing energetic materials commonly used in pyrotechnics, propellants, and explosives.

The article revealed the US military used the same chemicals for energetics development, including the Research Department eXplosive or RDX and the High-Molecular-Weight RDX (HMX). The HMX, also called octogen, is a chemical compound used in high explosive materials.

RDX was discovered by German chemist Georg Friedrich Henning and was patented in 1989. This white, odorless, tasteless chemical was widely used in World War II.

On the other hand, HMX is a nitroamine high explosive that was first used in 1930 and can be mixed with TNT.

Ashley Johnson, the technical director of the Naval Surface Warfare Center Indian Head Division, said during the 2022 Breakthrough Energetics Conference held at Purdue University, in regards to the importance of advancing genetics,

Modern combat capability is a function of range, speed, terminal effects, signature management and safety, and it’s fundamentally born from energetics. We built up a huge lead [in energetics] coming out of World War II into the Cold War, and the dogged fight with a determined and capable adversary honed our capability set to a very high level.

Dealing with the global war on terrorism requires a different approach and systems that rely on energetics. He added,

It has been a bear market in energetics and munitions for well on 30 years, and urgency is now high based upon the threats. Our diminished capacities and capabilities, knowledge, skills, abilities, and infrastructure are becoming more and more exposed.

Dealing with the global war on terrorism requires a different approach and systems that rely on energetics. He added,

It has been a bear market in energetics and munitions for well on 30 years, and urgency is now high based upon the threats. Our diminished capacities and capabilities, knowledge, skills, abilities and infrastructure are becoming more and more exposed.

Lack of Focus in Energetics

Adversaries like China and Russia are way ahead of the US in terms of using energetic chemicals with the capability to propel warheads at farther distances. Experts said these could also be made smaller and lighter, allowing ships and planes to carry more munitions at payload weight.

Still, according to the conference participants, China experimented with incorporating CL-20 with properties significantly better than RDX and HMX in terms of using it as fuel or explosive. The US military does not use this.

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The US’s lack of focus in the area was backed by a study conducted by the Energetics Technology Center (ETC). In a survey commissioned by the Office of Naval Research, ETC found that “the United States military has already ceded lethality superiority in multiple areas, in the wake of Chinese and Russian developments.”

The US military has long ignored the essential role of energetic materials (EM) in the lethality of its weapons systems and has instead focused on greater precision to achieve desired effects against targets in low-intensity forward environments.”

Furthermore, they said that to regain and maintain the country’s battlefield dominance, we should come up with a new approach to develop and use advanced energetics through “a dramatic reshaping of energetics production and supply chains, and proposes establishing a new energetics agency with an aggressive agenda.”

Touch Of LightCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Study Advisory Board member Admiral Mark Ferguson also notes, “We are facing near-peer adversaries who are intent on deploying capabilities superior to our own. We must retain an edge in lethality to protect and defend US interests.”

Pentagon Has to Take Actions

Dr. John Fischer was the principal scientist at the ETC, supporting the Department of Defense’s energetic materials research and development. Dr. Fischer said that if the approach of the pharmaceutical industry that resulted in the quick production of COVID-19 vaccines could be applied to the weapons of the Department of Defense, it’ll eliminate the time-consuming process.

Reports have also been that a DoD official said the energetics community must make a better sales pitch to Pentagon. Christopher O’Donnell, deputy assistant secretary for platform and weapon portfolio management, commented,

[We] can barely get people interested in munitions … and as we can see what’s going on in Ukraine … munitions are it.

It’s just a matter of when and how the Pentagon would take action regarding the tactical disadvantage the US is at the moment, given the findings of several experts and institutions, and hopefully before it’s not too late