Army

Optically initiated ammunition

Light source contained within the base of each cartridge case replaces the traditional chemical primer

Military Technology

Most conventional cartridge systems are initiated by use of a centerfire-based primer within a metal casing. Such primers are typically triggered through electrical or mechanical (firing pin) means and these systems are used across small, medium, and large caliber gun systems. Electrical initiation is faster, involves fewer moving parts and is becoming more widespread in use. Medium caliber cannons, such as the Army’s M230 chain gun, currently utilize a high-current electrical pulse to initiate the propellant. While electrical ignition is reliable, electrical based primers are susceptible to premature ignition from electromagnetic interference (EMI), electromagnetic pulse (EMP), or other stray or directed electromagnetic sources. Further, in the event of a weapon jam, electrically initiated primers are dangerous as the potential for a static electrical discharge results in a risky task to safely unload and free the jammed mechanism. Recently, advanced artillery systems have explored the use of laser ignition systems wherein the propelling charge is ignited by a laser emitter located in the breech of the artillery system.

Laser ignition of weapon systems has several advantages over the current electrically initiated ignition systems. In addition to removing hazards due to electrostatic or radiated electromagnetic energy, lasers are an ideal ignition source for new environmentally friendly primer compounds such as metastable intermolecular composites (MIC). The current PA520 electric primer (for use in the assembly of lightweight 30mm ammunition) contains 2.2 grains of lead styphnate, barium nitride, and calcium silicide. Lead styphnate, in particular, has been identified as a serious environmentally hazardous material. The United States Geological Survey calculated that in 2012 about 60,100 metric tonnes of lead were used in ammunition and bullets in the US creating a lead poisoning threat to all those in contact or close proximity to fired ammunition.

Addressing the above, Army scientists have developed a novel initiation system utilizing LEDs. These tiny, low-cost devices allow for insertion directly within the body of the cartridge with minimal technical challenges and only minor modification to fabrication and assembly equipment. The substitution does not affect the weight, performance, form, fit, or function of existing weapon hardware.

This US patent 9,273,942 is related to US patents 9,618,307; 9,909,847; and 9,829,289.

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