The Air Force Wants to Turn Rocket Fuel Accidents...into a Weapon?

Michael Peck

Key Point: Not surprisingly, what the Air Force wants is not just fuel that detonates like a bomb, but also detonates only when it’s supposed to. That’s no easy challenge.

The military uses explosives to blow things up. The military also uses rockets to carry those explosives to their targets.

So why not combine the two and create a rocket whose fuel also doubles as the warhead?

(This first appeared in 2017.)

That’s the idea behind an Air Force research project to develop dual-use rocket fuel that also functions as a munition. The idea has precedent, though accidental and hardly desirable. NASA keeps gawkers miles away from the launch pad when it launches rockets from Cape Kennedy, because boosters powerful enough to send a spacecraft into orbit are also powerful enough to devastate the surrounding area if they explode (the explosion of a prototype Soviet Moon rocket in 1960 killed the head of the Soviet Union’s strategic missile forces). But the most famous demonstration of rocket fuel as a weapon came in the 1982 Falklands War, when the destroyer HMS Sheffield was sunk not just by the warhead of an Exocet missile, but also unignited propellant that set the ship ablaze.

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