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This assessment addresses the health and competitiveness of the high performance explosive (HPE) and high performance explosive component (HPEC) sectors. The products manufactured by these sectors typically are components for finished munitions, or are manufactured as finished munitions.

Importance to National Defense and Visibility Issues

HPEs and HPECs are critical to the national security of the United States. All advanced weapons platforms are ineffective if they do not have quality munitions.

The United States must maintain an adequate capability to develop and manufacture HPEs and HPECs. Any time the U.S. enters into a conflict, recent examples being Desert Storm and Kosovo, HPEs and HPECs demonstrate their importance on the battlefield. The entire chain of HPE research, development, and production needs to be kept viable and intact if these industries are to produce new materials and final products. Skills and knowledge within this sector would be extremely difficult, time consuming, and expensive to replace.

HPEs and HPECs, unfortunately, are not nearly as visible as the combat systems that use them. This is especially true for non-precision or “dumb” munitions. When military systems are used, most people see aircraft, ships, or tanks not the munitions expended by these platforms. Although critical to defense missions, HPECs and HPEs in particular do not enjoy the same level of advocacy that the weapons platforms receive in the budgetary process.

It appears, in the future, that HPEs and HPECs will account for less of the percentage of value of munitions. The trend toward precision or near precision weapons indicates that munitions will have increasingly sophisticated guidance systems. These guidance systems will most likely be the most costly parts of the munition and will therefore receive the most funding.

The U.S. HPE Industry in Particular Faces Challenges

Many countries possess a capability to manufacture HPEs and HPECs. Most if not all nations want to possess the capability to make munitions for their forces in order to maintain a level of self-sufficiency. No nation wants to rely on another nation for its

a ammunition needs. The manufacture of munitions and HPEs does not require the same national commitment of resources as required for building ships or aircraft. Consequently, countries are less prone to accept imports of HPEs and HPECs and tend to protect their own suppliers.

Because of its high fixed overhead costs, Holston Army Ammunition Plant (HSAAP), the primary U.S. facility for the manufacture of military HPEs, has been at times noncompetitive against lower priced imports. Reacting to higher prices, some managers of U.S. military weapons programs have bought HPEs overseas to reduce program costs.

The recent production reorganization of HSAAP has achieved lower production costs and improved HPE pricing. Nevertheless, exchange rates and offset agreements will continue to favor imports. One of the top markets for foreign manufacturers will continue to be the United States.


The U.S. Department of the Navy, Indian Head Division of the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC Indian Head) requested this national security assessment of HPE and HPEC sectors. NSWC Indian Head was concerned about the future production capabilities of its HPE and HPEC suppliers. A key issue is the degree to which suppliers' ' capabilities have been weakened by an extended period of declining defense budgets.

The U.S. Department of Commerce's Bureau of Export Administration (BXA) is delegated the authority under Section 705 of the Defense Production Act of 1950, as amended, and Executive Order 12656 to collect basic economic and industrial information from industry. These provisions enable BXA to gather data essential to assessing the capabilities of the U.S. industrial base. With these assessments, the government can then develop policy alternatives that will improve the capabilities and competitiveness of specific industrial sectors and support the national defense.

The Office of Strategic Industries and Economic Security (SIES) is the operating unit within BXA with the responsibility for this data collection and analysis. The Strategic Analysis Division of SIES performed this assessment with technical support from NSWC Indian Head.

SIES has worked with the armed services in conducting over 30 national security assessments in the past 10 years. These studies have focused on a wide range of industries that are of great importance to the armed services. Examples of these assessments include: ball and roller bearings, gears, robotics, semi-conductors, ejection seats, and cartridge and propellant actuated devices (CAD/PADs). The Explosives and Undersea Weapons Unit of NSWC Indian Head recommended that a report on the high explosives industry be undertaken.


SIES prepared a comprehensive mandatory survey for firms in the HPE and HPEC industries to complete. The U.S. Army, Navy, and the Department of Energy assisted in the development of the survey document.

The Survey Document

The survey asked organizations to provide information on specific production capabilities, recent production line shutdowns, shipments; barriers to exports, imports of key manufacturing equipment and raw materials, shortages of any kind, employment and financial information, research & development (R&D) expenditures, environmental and safety regulations, and assessments of competitive prospects.

Mailing of Surveys

The mailing list used for this study was assembled from several sources. The Navy and the Army provided lists of critical suppliers to be surveyed. At BXA's request, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, which licenses manufacturers, distributors, and merchants of explosives, provided a roster of known manufacturers.

BXA mailed the survey to 250 public and private organizations. Although this number was far larger than the actual number of high performance explosive and explosive component producers, BXA and the Navy wanted to ensure that the mailing would cover organizations doing work in this area. Firms that were not producers of HPEs or HPECs sent in exemption forms. The majority of these exempted organizations produced energetic materials for applications such as automotive airbags, blasting agents for mining, special effects for movies, fireworks, and construction blasting.

Respondent Description

Twenty-eight distinct U.S. respondents provided information to BXA regarding 33 different organizations. In some cases, a respondent spoke for more than one organization. The respondents included managers of federal government-owned ammunition plants and privately owned facilities (See page 8 for a discussion on the two types of organizations).

The capabilities of the organizations varied. HPE manufacturers produce explosive compounds from chemical raw materials. An example of this kind of operation would be HSAAP. Its products are rarely finished goods, but rather materials for the munitions manufacturing chain.

Another type of surveyed organization, HPEC manufacturers use explosive compositions to form warheads and other items such as projectiles (large and medium caliber), detonators, fuzes, and other devices. These manufacturers were greater in number and accounted for the majority of the HPE/HPEC industries' sales. Many of the HPEC respondents also integrated finished munitions (called load assemble and pack (LAP)

operations) in their facilities. LAP organizations use a variety of methods to form explosive charges out of HPEs (See Table 1 on page 7).

Site Visits and Other Forms of Research

During the course of the study, BXA staff visited nine government- and industry-owned facilities. Three of the facilities were located in Europe. The site visits provided an opportunity for firms to discuss issues critical to their industry that were not covered in detail by the survey. Each operation has its own heritage, culture, and business constraints, which affected their management and their business decisions.

BXA used Census Bureau data to supplement BXA survey data. BXA's survey

data covered the period from 1995-1999. Census data was used to give a historical perspective on the HPEC industry, as well as to compare it to all U.S. manufacturing. BXA also attended several munitions conferences and symposiums during the study to meet with members of the munitions community and to hear about industry-wide successes and challenges.


The Military High Performance Explosive and
High Performance Explosive Component Industries

What is an Explosive?

According to the Merriam-Websterdictionary, explode can mean, “to undergo a rapid chemical or nuclear reaction with the production of noise, heat, and violent expansion of gases.” An explosive detonates or burns through the substrate at a rate above the speed of sound. Depending on several factors, the leading edge of the detonation travels between one and nine kilometers per second through the explosive material.

Differences Between Explosives and Propellants

A propellant burns when ignited with the leading edge of the burn front moving slower than the speed of sound through the material. Propellants are used to perform physical work to move an object, e.g., propelling a projectile out of the barrel of a weapon. In many cases, an explosive would be impractical as a propellant, because of the short duration of its burn and the associated extreme pressure an explosive would cause in a confined space. High performance explosives are used, however, as ingredients in some propellants such as solid rocket fuel.

Differences Between Explosives and Pyrotechnics

Pyrotechnics burn at a much slower rate than explosives. Pyrotechnics are useful for their ability to generate heat, light, and smoke. Systems such as illumination flares, decoys for infrared guided missiles, and smoke generators use pyrotechnics. Explosives, propellants, and pyrotechnics all fall under the broad title of energetic materials. For the purposes of this report, however, propellants and pyrotechnics are not included in this report.

Why are High Performance Explosives Useful?

An explosion creates a shock wave (or compression wave) that raises the local atmospheric pressure within a nanosecond to a very high level. Within a longer period, measured in hundredths of a second, the pressure returns to normal and then goes below normal atmospheric pressure. This event is the negative or suction phase. (See Figure 1 below). The positive and negative phases produce a push-pull effect that, when combined with the large amount of heat created by the explosive, will damage or destroy the target.

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