Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


Some explosives links

But the real issue is that the explosives can be used against civilians and soldiers in Iraq and around the world. Consider that only five grams of RDX, for example, is enough to kill a person when used in an anti-personnel land mine. When 1,000 pounds of explosives were set off by a suicide bomber in Baghdad last January, 24 people were killed. The Irish Republican Army used about 900 pounds of explosives to set off 22 bombs that killed nine and injured 130 people seriously on “Bloody Sunday” in 1972. (From RatcliffeBlog)

In contrast, Eric Rescorla claims that:

Your industry standard M18 Claymore (with a killing range of 50-100m) contains a pound and a half of C-4. A garden variety Improvised Explosive Device (enough to take out a HumVee) looks to be substantially less than a pound.

Which is a 3 order of magnitude difference in how ugly this theft is. So I was going to go and do some research, and shed light. But it’s late, and I’ve found some lovely ratholes to scurry around in.

  • Lawrence Livermore’s use of big computers to model small amounts of HMX explosive.
  • HMX and RDX are crystaline, but usually embedded in plastics for use.
  • These compounds get sold in a variety of ways.
  • HMX explodes scary fast (9160m/s) vs TNT (6940m/s) or ANFO (4560m/s). Search on “velocity” since that’s a text document.

My guess is that more of it will be used in very small chunks to make small, effective IEDs, rather than building into car bombs. The math of explosive destruction is somewhat complicated, but however much increase in destructive power comes from using pure HDX or RDX vs ANFO has to be weighed against the possibility that the bomb will go off in the wrong place, and you’ve used up 1000 IED worth of explosives.

But then, maybe the analysis changes when you’re swimming in 350 tons of it. I suppose that theres real questions of who stole it, do they consider it a long-term or short-term resource, and how much will they smuggle out of Iraq?

(Jon Lebowsky pointed to RatcliffeBlog, leading me on a merry chase.)

2 comments on "Some explosives links"

  • EKR says:

    Here’s another way to look at it: at 1 lb/IED, that’s 2000 explosions a day for the next year.

  • Which ever way someone uses all that RDX and HMX, whether in small well-targeted attacks (IEDs) or large badly targeted attacks (like against the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad last year), we’re talking about a lot of death and destruction that could have been avoided. It’ll probably be a lot of both big and small attacks, because you’re right that the economics change radically when someone has 380 tons of high explosives, or even relatively small fractions thereof.
    It’s a huge mistake by the Administration in its war planning and execution. This one arsenal is enough to prolong the war for years and no expense should have been spared in protecting it.

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