In a move that underscores the United States’ commitment to maintaining its military edge, the US Senate has recently earmarked $13 million for a program aimed at enhancing the range and lethality of the nation’s armed forces’ munitions.

This initiative, part of the $886 billion defense bill, signifies a pivotal step towards bolstering the country’s military capabilities and strategic dominance on the global stage. Central to this endeavor is the exploration of advanced energetic materials, with China Lake Compound No. 20 (CL-20) taking the spotlight as a game-changing element in the evolution of warfare.

Pioneering Progress: Unveiling CL-20

The genesis of this program is intrinsically linked to the groundbreaking research undertaken at the Naval Air Weapons Station (NAWC) China Lake, a government-owned research facility situated in California. It was within the confines of this institution that Navy research chemist Arnold T. Nielsen first synthesized China Lake Compound No. 20 (CL-20) in the 1980s. This high-energy chemical compound, whose name is derived from its place of origin, has the potential to revolutionize the nature of military explosives.

CL-20, as a member of the energetic materials family, possesses an energy output surpassing current explosives utilized in warheads. Its characteristics offer the promise of a quantum leap in the field of munitions. By replacing conventional explosives with CL-20-like substances, the range of existing munitions could soar by up to 20 percent, according to insiders cited by Reuters. This expansion in range could potentially transform the tactical landscape, providing military planners with enhanced options for both offense and defense.

Explosion at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, during disposal of explosive hazards in January 2022. (Image source: DVIDS)

Perhaps even more striking is the leap in lethality that CL-20 brings to the table. A 400-pound bomb armed with CL-20 stands on par with the destructive power of a 1000-pound bomb using conventional explosives. This leap in efficiency could unlock the potential for fighter jets and warships to carry lighter and smaller munitions in greater numbers, enabling them to operate with increased agility and versatility.

“Unfortunately, the Pentagon has grown complacent using 1940s-era energetics and neglected advanced energetics like CL-20 that are necessary to increasing the range and lethality of our force,” Representative Mike Gallagher told Reuters.

Additionally, Gallagher aptly noted, “Every foot farther a missile can travel is a foot farther an American service member is from danger.”

Thus, it underscores the overarching goal of military development – to enhance capabilities while minimizing risk to personnel.