The Shape Charge – Hellfire, the Javeline, and IED armor-piercing technology

The technology of the shape charge is a modern development in the evolution of armor piercing weapons. In a digression from the classic battle between thicker armor and larger guns, the shape charge defines itself during the explosive exchange that takes place when armor meets anti-armor technology. A shape charge gets its name because of its design and the impact it has on armor. The warhead contains high explosives like any other, however, the tip of the warhead is a conical shaped piece of magnesium or copper. Upon impact, the explosion of the warhead melts the shaped metal cone in the tip, and the “shape charge” is propelled in a molten state to literally melt through the armor at high speed and pressure. Think of it as literally a spear of molten copper.

This armor-piercing technology has already seen widespread deployment in Western allied military forces; common examples being the Hellfire and Javelin anti-armor missiles. The Javelin missile actually houses two shape charges, the first designed to take out reactive armor, and the second for penetrating and killing the target. Likewise, a newer version of the AGM-114 Hellfire missile also has a dual shape charge configuration, as commonly employed by the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter against armored targets. Recently, reports of shape-charges being incorporated into IED’s and roadside bombs in Iraq has created great problems for the American M1-A2 Abrams tank, which cannot withstand an appropriately deployed shape charge. The fact that Americans worry about the shape charge gives merit to its destructive force, and likewise explain its widespread application in armor piercing technology. Other developments in armor piercing technology can be found with the uses of depleted uranium technology (see post on DU).

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