China has made CL-20 5 times more shock resistant

According to the South China Morning Post, Chinese researchers have successfully developed a new way to safely synthesize large amounts of CL-20 explosives.
Christopher McFadden
The new kind of CL-20 has five-fold shock resistance than other forms.


The South China Morning Post (SCMP) reports that China has allegedly succeeded in creating a new method of producing the highly-explosive CL-20 that makes it five times more shock resistant. If true, this could lead to large-scale mass production of the explosive that could be incorporated into various Chinese projectiles and missiles.

CL-20, otherwise known as Hexanitrohexaazaisowurtzitane is one of the most explosive non-nuclear substances on Earth, and its designation "CL-20" is derived from the research facility where it was initially synthesized (China Lake facility of the Naval Air Weapons Station in California, USA).

CL-20 has a higher energy output and lower sensitivity to shock and friction compared to other commonly used military explosives such as RDX and HMX. This makes it potentially very valuable for military applications, although its high production costs have limited its widespread adoption. According to a 2021 study commissioned by the Pentagon's US Energetics Technology Centre, China has used this explosive in some of its newest weapons.

However, despite CL-20s' potent explosive power, its relative instability, especially regarding shock resistance, has, thus far, limited its applications. To this end, according to the SCMP, the Chinese research team turned to cutting-edge nanotechnology to enable the synthesis of CL-20 composites with exceptional stability (thereby reducing its cost).

During a falling hammer test, the H50 value or impact sensitivity of the recently developed CL-20 explosive was 26.8 inches (68 cm), significantly higher than that of the initial material at 5.12 inches (13 cm). Falling hammer tests entail dropping a weight onto a sample of explosive material from a predetermined height and observing if it detonates. The H50 value, the height at which half of the samples detonate, is employed to gauge impact sensitivity.

“CL-20 has a high mechanical sensitivity, which makes it prone to safety accidents during its development, production, storage, transport, and use due to friction and impact. Its safety performance needs to be improved,” Guo’s team said in a peer-reviewed paper published in the Chinese Journal of Explosives and Propellants in April.

“We seek a new method to break through the current technology barriers. It will inspire the design and preparation of high-security, high-energy propellants and explosive formulas of the future,” they added. According to state media reports, the research on CL-20 in China is also closely associated with its nuclear weapons program. Scientists have noted that nuclear weapons can be made smaller with more powerful explosives, and intercontinental ballistic missiles can travel longer distances.

According to experts in the US defense industry, China has allegedly integrated CL-20 into several weapon systems. These energetic materials can increase the range of warheads and enable ships and planes to carry more munitions by reducing their size and weight.

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