Military Research

Beginning as early as 1967 and continuing into the late 1980s the US Air Force and then the Canadian Department of Defence gave grants and contracts for research in the department of mechanical engineering at McGill related to the development of fuel-air and thermobaric explosives.

Though this research is no longer directly funded by grants or contracts to McGill professors, in recent years it has continued to be conducted at McGill in collaboration with the US military. Specifically, professor David Frost in the department of Mechanical Engineering has done research projects on explosives in collaboration with Canadian and US military researchers. In the US, one of the main military agencies that has focused on thermobaric explosives research for bombs and missiles has been the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA).

In 2001, Frost published a paper in the journal Shock Waves titled “Explosive Dispersal of Solid Particles” in collaboration with Fan Zhang and S. Murray, both military researchers from Defence Research and Development Canada in Suffield, Alberta (DRDC-Suffield). In 2005  the US Air Force issued a technology contract solicitation (AF05-153) titled “Methods to Direct and Focus Blast” that included this paper as one of the two references for the contract. The contract was categorized in the “weapons” technology area, and its first goal was to “increase lethality by focusing more of the available energy on target.”

In 2002, professor Frost gave a presentation on “Detonations in Heterogeneous Explosives” to a committee of the US National Research Council. The committee was conducting a study for the DTRA on Advanced Energetic Materials, and the resulting report specifically recommended that more research was necessary for the development of more “efficient” (ie, “lethal”) thermobaric weapons, and that the findings presented by Frost were an example of this kind of research. It then went on to recommend that a “concerted and focused effort is needed for understanding the phenomenology of enhanced-blast kill mechanisms and what they may offer over conventional munitions in effectiveness.”

In recent years he has been involved in a number of other explosives research projects associated with the US military:

  • In 2005, Professor Frost was one of the authors of a paper presented to the Shock Compression of Condensed Matter conference of the American Physical Society, titled Critical Conditions for Ignition of Aluminum Particles in Cylindrical Explosive Charges. The paper was in collaboration with Fan Zhang from DRDC-Suffield. It was also partially funded by the DTRA, the same US military agency that had commissioned the study that had referenced the applicability of Frost’s research for weapons development in 2002.
  • He was also the one of the authors of another paper submitted to the 13th IDS, titled Casing Influence on Ignition and Reaction of Aluminum Particles in an Explosive. It was in collaboration with Fan Zhang and Akio Yoshinaka from DRDC-Suffield, as well as researchers employed by the DTRA, William Wilson and Kibong Kim. The harmful military applicability of this research is indicated by a DTRA research topic funding solicitation form from 2005, which stated that the “effects of charge-casing material and fragmentation on reaction kinetics” was one of the physical processes of explosives that required more research in order “to improve lethality of blast-effect weapons”. Also significant to this connection is the listing of William Wilson as the primary Technical Point of Contact (TPOC) on the funding solicitation form.
  • Finally, in 2006 and 2007, Professor Frost has been presenting at conferences that are clearly intended to discuss the military applications of explosives research. In 2006 at the 19th Symposium on Military Applications of Blast and Shock (MABS) in Calgary, Alberta he gave a workshop with Fan Zhang from DRDC-Suffield titled The Nature of Heterogeneous Blast Explosives. In November, 2007 he gave another presentation with the same title at the Workshops on Explosive Behaviors in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Of the 38 workshops at the event, 28 were given by researchers directly employed by a military laboratory or military sub-contractor. The introductory presentation of the event was by William Wilson, and titled The DTRA Advanced Energetics Program; Past, Present and Future.
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