Posted: April 5, 2017 1:08 PM

Energetics Touch the Lives of Every Sailor and Marine, Every Day

By NICK ADDE, Seapower Special Correspondent

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — As small as the energetics community Ashley Johnson oversees is in comparison with, say, electronics and shipbuilding, he believes their mission can be easy to overlook. Johnson wants to end that perception. 

“We’re small but capable. The time is now to get after it,” Johnson, the technical director of Naval Surface Warfare Center Indian Head Explosive Ordnance Disposal, told an audience during an April 5 presentation at the Sea-Air-Space Exposition.

Despite its low profile, Johnson said, the term energetics encompasses materials that touch the lives of every Sailor and Marine, every day. It includes the propellants, explosives, fuels, warheads, rocket motors, pyrotechnics and munitions that are found in every system. And on each system, Johnson said, they are more pervasive than meets the eye.

“On an F/A-18, for example there are 120 separate energetics systems that provide for the safety of the pilot,” he said.

Johnson’s department routinely manages an often-unwieldy series of systems that range from the very old to cutting-edge. For example, he cited the development of the DP SMAW (shoulder-launched multipurpose assault weapon). A Marine can fire it from cover, without it generating sound pressure or blast waves. Users of its predecessor weapons had to expose themselves to enemy fire.

“And with an [aircraft] ejection seat, we have two seconds to get it right — one chance. Every time someone pulls that ejection lever, it has to work,” he said. “It takes a tremendous amount of work to deliver.”

In contrast, Johnson said, some gun propellants still in use date from the turn of the 20th century.

“Many things we live with are good, but they’re old. And there are a lot of ways we can improve,” Johnson said.

He cited propellants as a prime example.

“There’s a lot we can do in terms of energy density — packing as much energy as you can in a small [area], and releasing it when you want it to be released. We need to invest in technology that delivers higher energy densities,” Johnson said.

Then, once new technologies like improved batteries become available, they need to be incorporated on appropriately designed platforms. New propellants, he said, would require redesign of rocket motors to accommodate them.

“We need to match up on a lot of our platforms,” Johnson said “The road map starts now — and moves us through the next 25, 30 and 35 years.”

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