The Next “Mother of All Bombs” May Be Smaller, Lighter and 3D Printed

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An Afghan soldier near the site of April’s bombing. [Image: Noorullah Shirzada/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images]

Last month, the United States dropped a 21,600 pound bomb on a remote area of Afghanistan, attacking a tunnel complex used by Islamic State militants. The Massive Ordnance Air Blast, or MOAB, was also nicknamed the Mother of All Bombs and was the largest and most powerful non-nuclear bomb ever deployed in a combat situation. A month after it was dropped, the US military is now working on the MOAB’s successor, and it’s likely that it will be at least partially 3D printed.

Engineers and scientists at the Air Force Research Lab have been working on 3D printing munitions for the past five to ten years, according to Dr. John Corley, the core technical competency lead for ordnance sciences at the AFRL. By using 3D printing, the next MOAB could be designed to be smaller and lighter but just as powerful, if not more so. Recently, Dr. Corley and his colleagues showcased a prototype of the next generation bomb at one-seventh scale during a Defense Department Lab day at the Pentagon.

“Right now, most of your penetrator munitions have two-inch case walls,” Dr. Corley explained.

A small prototype bomb shows how the casing can be made to thin out. [Image: Oriana Pawlyk]

Those thick walls actually create more debris while preventing a larger blast radius, but the AFRL is working on redistributing the load from the walls to within the bomb itself. They’ve been 3D printing steel casing prototypes that do so, and are also using distributed embedded fusing.

“… Not only do we have all these other features we’re relocating the fireset for the bomb into the explosive, so you can distribute that around different places [with]in the bomb to improve survivability,” said Dr. Corley.

Current penetrating munitions have the fuse hardwired to the case, but by separating the fuse from the case, the way the bomb hits and the moment at which it hits can be made more flexible. The prototypes for the distributed fuses are also being 3D printed. The next step will be to incorporate what Dr. Corley calls “selectable effects.”

“In a selectable effects, on any given day you might want it to be the same weapon to give you a small blast footprint, or a large blast footprint, and right now we can control this …height of burst,” he said.

3D printed fuses [Image: Oriana Pawlyk]

The height of burst is responsible for the extent of damage caused by the bomb, so by controlling the burst height, the military can control how large or small the shock wave from the explosion is. This means that more finely targeted strikes could be made, depending on which selectable effect is used. 3D printing can also make bombs more compact, allowing them to fit more easily into current military aircraft, which are trending smaller than their predecessors.

“Workhorse munitions for us are 500 pound and 2,000 pound munitions, but we’d like to get to a 100 pound munition for instance that has the same output as a 500 pound bomb,” said Dr. Corley.

The technology is being developed through the Advanced Ordnance Technologies (AOT) program, and according to Dr. Corley, it’ll still be a few years before any of these sophisticated bombs see action; they’re mostly still in the concept stage. Discuss in the 3D Printed Bombs forum at 3DPB.com.

[Source: Defensetech]

 

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