Northrop Grumman tests new LEO warhead for hypersonic missiles

29 October 2018

The second arena test of Northrop Grumman's new warhead for hypersonic missiles, conducted in August, demonstrated its safety characteristics and how it optimises LEO fragmentation technology to address an expanded target set. Source: Northrop Grumman

Northrop Grumman recently completed series testing of a new 50 lb-class warhead designed to equip future US air-to-surface and surface-to-surface hypersonic weapons to defeat a broader range of target sets, from ground forces to light/medium vehicles and aircraft.

The new warhead leverages the company's Lethality Enhanced Ordnance (LEO) technology: a scalable fragmentation/penetration warhead solution developed by Northrop Grumman in response to a US Department of Defense (DoD) requirement that by 2019 cluster munitions containing submunitions do not result in more than 1% unexploded ordnance (UXO) after arming. Unlike submunitions, LEO technology uses a thinned out shell casing supplemented with an inner fragmentation layer that can be scaled according to the required target set. Northrop Grumman said that in a series of warhead tests - started in early 2018 and completed in August - with LEO technology achieved the army's stated requirements for area effectiveness, but left behind no UXO.

Northrop Grumman uses an in-house developed modelling tool to accurately determine the size, velocity, and distribution (fuze sensor/height of burst) of fragmentation required to optimise a weapon's performance against its intended target set. Correspondingly, this reduces the time spent in the design phase.

"LEO is a fairly generic technology: PBXN-110 explosive fill and fragmentation layer. It's how we array those fragments that determines the desired effects," Pat Nolan, vice-president and general manager for missile products at Northrop Grumman, told Jane's .

In late March this year at the EMPI Test Facility in Burnet, Texas, Northrop Grumman, using internal research and development (IRAD) funding, demonstrated the new warhead for the first time to customers competing for the DoD hypersonic weapons contracts. The new warhead development also marks the first time that the company has made some of its specific warhead components - including the fragmenting inner body - using additive manufacturing (AM).

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