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From the Directorate of Army Doctrine

The Threat from Blast Weapons

INTRODUCTION explosive content and minimize extra effects. That is why we wear helmets
weight in the form of shell casing. In and body armour and build

N
ations around the world addition, extra large burster charges bunkers and trenches. Shrapnel effects
are always working on and other mechanisms are used are also the focus of the design
producing more effective to increase the dispersion of blast- efforts of our armoured vehicles.
weapons. The speed of such generating energetic materials. Unfortunately, it is becoming clear that
developments will change depending these same protection measures do not
on the situation; the crucible of war Most of the conventional explosive always effectively protect us against
often results in rapid advances. During a weapons in the world are designed to some of the effects of blast weapons.
war or other conflict, a nation is usually use the kinetic energy of projectiles to
more willing to devote extra resources create their effect. Conventional The first generation of blast
to such Research and Development explosive weapons usually use the energy weapons was apparently developed in
(R&D). Involvement in a war also has of the explosion to work on another the late 1960s. Since then, blast
the effect of focussing efforts on any material, whether it is creating and weapons have been under continual
unique threats in that conflict, whether throwing shrapnel at high speed or development, resulting in more
that effect is due to the environment or forming a shaped charge to punch portable and effective versions
the opposing forces’ capability. As an through armour. The blast effects are becoming widely available on the
example, the Americans created or normally incidental side effects, which world market. It is interesting to note
improved many unique and new are useful nonetheless. This can be that R&D on fue-air explosive (FAE)
weapons systems during the Vietnam demonstrated by observing artillery blast weapons in the West was largely
conflict, including unattended ground shells and hand grenades. Artillery curtailed or, in cases such as the UK
sensors, night vision devices, unmanned shells use their explosive filling to and Canada, entirely terminated in the
aerial vehicles and standoff surveillance. shatter the shell and then throw the 1980s because they were considered
fragments at high speed to create the too dangerous to handle, particularly
It appears that the Soviet- destruction desired. Modern hand for naval transport. Technological
Afghanistan conflict was the catalyst grenades use pre-fragmented liners that advances in explosives have since
for the Soviet Army to develop new are thrown out by the explosive charge. resulted in the development of safer,
weapons, as Afghan guerrilla forces Yes, there are stun grenades, but this is more effective types of blast weapons
stymied its operations. One weapon a specialized subset of ordnance. It is referred to as “thermobaric weapons”
that was developed to overcome some only when you look at large aircraft or “enhanced blast weapons.” Because
of the unique problems posed by the bombs, 250 kg or larger, that you find this technology originated from Russia
mountainous terrain was a hand-held that the majority of the effect is caused with no Western equivalents for
launcher and projectile that used by blast and not shrapnel. It is not clear comparison, the English terminology
blast as its primary effect. This initial if this is deliberate or simply a result of for the various types of blast weapons is
development has apparently led to a the evolution of these weapons (desire very confusing, and many foreign
sustained development effort to for increased bomb weight translates weapon designers use the terms
create a class of blast weapons ranging into a greater percentage of explosive incorrectly. Some of the novel
from hand-held to tank chassis- filling to case weight?). The only other terminology used to identify blast The Threat from Blast Weapons
mounted systems. The West has common weapon that relies on blast weapons includes vacuum bombs,
greeted the identification and is the anti-tank mine, usually in “FAE-like,” high-power blast, and
development of this class of weapons improvised or first generation mines. “high-blast.” The Russians tend to be
with interest. These mines rely on the blast effect of fairly consistent with the use of
the explosives to disable or destroy the “thermobaric” when referring to the
BACKGROUND vehicle. This is inefficient, which is why RPO-A hand-held disposable launcher,
more modern mines use smaller which is known to have been used in
amounts of explosives and rely on other Afghanistan and both of the
A ll explosives create a blast wave,
but conventional explosives usually
produce a short duration, high-
effects, such as shaped charges, to
attack the vehicles.
Chechnyan conflicts.

pressure effect. Blast weapons, by Because of the potential prevalence


contrast, are designed to produce as Due to the reliance on shrapnel, of these weapons worldwide, blast
much blast as possible. To do this, most of our defensive measures have weapons are an increasing threat to
weapon designers will maximize the focussed on defeating the shrapnel the Canadian Forces (CF) as it

Volume 4, No. 3 ◆ Fall 2001 9


can be produced in two ways: the hatches, firing ports and air intakes.
traditional two-stage event or the more Once inside confined spaces, the
recent development of a single-stage destructive effects of the blast wave
weapon. are magnified significantly as it
reflects off hard surfaces.
In general, a two-stage blast weapon
creates its effect by an initial explosion The overpressure from blast
of the carrier shell, which disperses fuel waves can kill or injure personnel by
into the air as vapour, droplets or dust— crushing internal organs, causing
a “finely dispersed cloud.” This cloud of damage to the lungs and intestines.
liquid fuel or dust is subsequently Another source of injury is simply the
detonated, creating a blast wave that effect of the blast wave literally
produces high levels of overpressure. In throwing objects and personnel
the case of FAE, some systems have around. Inside a confined space such
produced overpressure levels that are as a room, a blast weapon can blow
well in excess of 3-4 times that of TNT, out all of the walls, with the potential
on a pound per pound basis. Latest effect of collapsing the structure.
Russian designs claim to have improved Often, an internally-activated blast
on this performance by another 1.5 to 2 weapon will literally lift the roof off of
times by enhancing blast dispersion. The the load-bearing walls thereby
duration of an FAE blast wave is typically rendering the entire structure
also of much longer duration (relatively) unstable so that it collapses easily.
than a conventional explosion. The heat effects, as mentioned, can
conducts operations around the world. cause additional burn injuries or
Much of the information about these By contrast, a single-stage weapon fires, although this is considered a
weapons has been classified until uses one explosive to burst open and secondary kill effect and some blast
recently. However, the proliferation of disperse the fuel. The composition of weapons are designed to almost
blast weapons demands that Canadian this fuel allows it to ignite and exclusively deliver blast kill. As with
soldiers be informed of their capabilities progressively propagate a shock and all explosives, secondary fragments
and the means to defend against them blast wave. These are sometimes are a concern even if the design is not
or reduce their potential effects. referred to as “thermobaric” weapons, intended to maximize fragment
as they have an intense fireball due delivery.
AIM to the considerable amount of
afterburning that occurs (the term Blast weapons are not the perfect
originates from the fact that it weapons for all circumstances. The
T he aim of this primer is to
provide general information on
the threat posed by blast weapons and
involves thermally generated blast or
baric).
destructive effects of blast waves are
magnified in confined spaces, but
what the Canadian Army is doing they dissipate quickly in the open.
to develop countermeasures. This Blast weapons act differently than This characteristic could be used to
primer will lead the reader through a shrapnel-based weapons, which the advantage of any force confronted
sequence of information to ensure a essentially travel in straight lines. The with these weapons. At the same time,
basic understanding of blast weapons, intense heat of the fireball of the the relatively short range of the blast
followed by an overview of the threat, thermobaric weapons must also be effect, coupled with the low quantity
From the Directorate of Army Doctrine

known countermeasures and, lastly, considered. Waves, whether water, of shrapnel produced by blast
some information on how the Army is sound or blast, have the same weapons, allows them to be used to
tackling the problem. More detailed characteristics and properties: waves for close support. Assaulting troops
information on threat weapons and reflect off surfaces, travel through can manoeuvre more closely to their
countermeasures can be found in The openings and can be magnified supporting fire than they can with
Bulletin on “The Threat from Blast anywhere two or more waves intersect. conventional, fragment-producing
Weapons” produced by the Army Most importantly, however, waves can weapons.
Lessons Learned Centre.1 also refract around corners, and
reflecting or refracting waves can BLAST WEAPON SYSTEMS
BLAST WEAPONS superimpose upon each other to
greatly increase their intensity over
localized regions. Therefore, blast S ince the initial development of
blast weapons, a variety of weapon
T he two common types of blast
weapons are FAE and thermobaric.
The terminal effects of these two types
weapons can penetrate buildings,
bunkers or trenches through windows,
systems have been developed or
modified to use them. Generally, in
are quite different at close ranges but doors, firing ports, observation slits or order for a weapon system to be
are basically the same at locations well other openings. This destructive blast chosen, it must support the use of
outside the fireball. The blast effect can also enter vehicles through open thin-walled carrier shells to maximize

10 The Army Doctrine and Training Bulletin


the amount of the fuel and minimize have been developed. These have a to target the destruction of blast
the amount of metal that does not double (often incorrectly referred to weapons systems or their crews.
contribute to the blast effect. It is as “tandem”) warhead arrangement, Personnel carrying or about to employ
obvious that rocket systems lend which uses a precursor high-explosive blast weapons could be engaged as
themselves to this feature, whereas anti-tank charge to create a hole priority targets, rules of engagement
conventional tube artillery shells do not. through the target to allow a permitting. The ability of blast
Another concern with tube artillery is secondary, enhanced-blast warhead to weapons to defeat standard field
that the set back forces cause problems pass through. This double warhead fortifications reinforces the requirement
for the liquid fills common to most blast arrangement affords an anti-armour for such fortifications to be mutually
munitions. Stability and accuracy of and fortification penetration cap- supporting within the defensive
the airborne projectile is another ability and allows the enhanced- framework. This concept is not new, as
consideration for those blast-fill blast charge to be detonated when any stand-alone defensive position is
formulations that are pastes or liquids. completely inside the target. more easily taken than a properly
supported position.
The current blast weapons threat COUNTERMEASURES
ranges from artillery to hand-held Current personal protective
weapon systems. Artillery systems
include the large diameter, multiple-
barreled rocket launchers such as the
S ome countermeasures are known
today, which require the application
of common sense with knowledge of
equipment (helmets, ballistic vests
and eye protection) can be used to
reduce the effects of flying debris and
widely available 122mm GRAD (BM- the weapon effects. Some of the the thermal effects of the fireball.
21), 220mm URAGAN and 300mm countermeasures are procedures that Armoured fighting vehicle crew suits
SMERCH. The most widespread are already taught: camouflage and and gloves will also provide a degree
threat—therefore, potentially the concealment, dispersion and deception of protection against flash burns, as
most dangerous—comes from the are all valid measures that will reduce will almost any skin covering. The
wide variety of shoulder launched our vulnerability to any weapon system. difficulty is providing adequate
weapons that are now available on the Other measures are more specifically protection against the overpressure
open market. Examples of these types targeted against blast weapons. created by a blast weapon. R&D is
of weapons are the Russian RPO-A working on this, with initial research
(SHMEL) and the TBG-7V (TANIN). As with many other activities in the concentrating on getting a much
These infantry weapons are used military, the first step relies on better understanding of the effects on
against defensive positions, whether intelligence. Identification of the the body. This research is a necessary
bunkers, defended buildings or other presence or absence of blast weapons is first step leading to possible
field fortifications. Assault troops are important as it allows commanders at protective measures or equipment.
able to manoeuvre within 40 metres all levels to consider the appropriate
of the objective when RPO-A is countermeasures. Defences, as an Research conducted at Defence
employed. However, because they example, could be sited in depth with Research Establishments Valcartier and
cannot penetrate a protective barrier, early warning systems in place. Suffield regarding mine blast effects has
more sophisticated blast weapons Offensive measures could be designed demonstrated that the best means
to protect the occupants of field
fortifications from the effects of blast
weapons is to prevent the blast wave from
entering the structure. Openings such as
observation ports need to be covered
with materials that will not shatter and
become lethal projectiles. Screens
should also be used so that the weapons The Threat from Blast Weapons
detonate away from the building. The
construction of a building must be
carefully considered before using it for
defence (this is also nothing new in
urban warfare). Masonry or brick
buildings with concrete floors and roofs
are liable to collapse if the walls
are blown out or damaged by a
blast weapon. By contrast, most
modern high rise buildings with
curtain walls won’t collapse, although
the walls normally offer scant
protection.

Volume 4, No. 3 ◆ Fall 2001 11


Trenches are designed to protect given. There have been some concerns The Army has made no decision
troops from fragments and blast from raised about the potential morale on procuring blast weapons; such
conventional weapons. The effects of problems of soldiers faced with procurement is a lower priority in the
blast weapons reduce, but do not negate, casualties caused by blast weapons. campaign plan. It is also a lower
the overall effectiveness of trenches. While there are many aspects to morale, priority for the procurement staff,
Shelter bays can be protected to a the morale of our soldiers can only be who are busy managing the large
certain extent by hanging a heavy helped by increasing their knowledge, projects currently underway. There is
curtain across the bay entrance. providing them with the best protection currently no identified capability
Notwithstanding the reduced effec- that can be devised, good equipment gap—the first step in any acquisition—
tiveness of trenches against blast and the knowledge that the health care that generates the need to procure
weapons, they can still provide system can help them. blast weapons.
protection against debris and the other
conventional weapons systems that will As already mentioned, an Lastly, the campaign plan identifies
continue to be the overwhelming threat. effective intelligence organization will public affairs as a line of operation.
be a key building block in ensuring we There are two components of this line:
CAMPAIGN PLAN are properly protected against blast internal and external communications.
weapons. This is not new, and history Internally, we need to inform our

T o this point, this article has


discussed the threat and current
countermeasures. To coordinate the
is replete with examples of the
importance of effective intelligence,
with as many examples of failure
soldiers of the threat and what we are
doing. The Bulletin and this primer are
part of this internal communications
work to improve our countermeasures, when intelligence was not available or activity, but they are only the start.
the Army has been developing a used. Intelligence allows the Externally, the Army must be prepared
campaign plan. Lines of operation commander to decide on changes to to explain the threat from blast
have been identified with specific the operation or protective measures weapons and what we will be doing to
goals and criteria for success. This to meet the threat, and it allows protect our soldiers and our missions.
plan is under revision, but the basic national resources to properly
outline remains valid. The centre of develop countermeasures. S U M M A RY
gravity for the Army on the use of
blast weapons is assessed to be the
capability to protect our soldiers
Potentially, one of the simplest
countermeasures could be doctrinal.
A lthough blast weapons represent a
new and increasing threat to
Canadian troops, the effects that they
against blast munitions. This has The Army might be able to change
produce are not a mystery. The Army will
focused the campaign plan’s main some of the ways it conducts its
examine its doctrine, tactics and
effort on defensive issues, which operations. This change is already
equipment in order to ensure that it is
range from individual protection, underway, with some recent war games
well prepared to face blast weapons. The
field fortifications and medical and operational research considering
intent of this primer has been to increase
countermeasures. These lines of different ways to deploy and act in the
the awareness of the Army to the threat
operation are being developed to lead face of blast weapons. There are no
from blast weapons. Research on
the Army through decisive points conclusive results at this time, but the
countermeasures to blast weapons and
to protect our centre of gravity. Directorate of Army Doctrine is taking
their effects is happening now, and
They include education, intelligence, care to include the threat and known
results will be incorporated in our doctrine
doctrine, tactics, R&D, weapon system countermeasures in its work.
and equipment once it is available.
procurement and public relations.
From the Directorate of Army Doctrine

R&D is working on counter- Prepared by Lieutenant-Colonel A.F.


The soldiers in our Army are well measures in a variety of areas, from Markewicz (DAD 8 Protection) in
educated, which aids in one of the best individual and vehicle protection consultation with technical experts at
defences against this new threat: giving through to field fortifications. This National Defence Headquarters and other
our soldiers the information they need is a slow but necessary process to organizations.
to deal with blast weapons. Knowledge ensure that we develop effective
dispels fear and will allow our soldiers to countermeasures and don’t waste
better use the tools they have been time or resources.

ENDNOTES
Other sources of information: • Leaf, Tim. “Thermobaric Weapons: A Weapon of Choice for Urban
• Grau, Lester W. and Timothy Smith. “A ‘Crushing’ Victory: Warfare.” Marine Corps Activity Note (MCIA 1142-001-99), August 1999.
Fuel-Air Explosives and Grozny 2000.” Fort Leavenworth, KS:
Foreign Military Studies Office, 16-09-2000. A US military article re the 1. The Army Lessons Learned Centre, “The Threat from Blast
use of FAE in Grozny, which first appeared in the August 2000 issue Weapons,” The Bulletin, Vol. 7, No. 3 (January 2001).
(Vol. 84, No. 8) of the Marine Corps Gazette, pages 30-33.

12 The Army Doctrine and Training Bulletin