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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

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Weapons of the War in Afghanistan: Grenades, Mines, and Explosives Part I

Weapons of the War in Afghanistan
Resupply helicopter exploding and burning on the LZ of Firebase Vegas after being hit with an RPG-7. Koregnal Valley, Afghanistan.

In the world of war, weapons and technology are ever changing, each war is characterized by the weapons and tactics used to fight it. As new environments and enemies are encountered, the parties to those wars develop new - more effective tactics, technologies, and weapons to counter and defeat their adversaries. The ingenuity seen in war has existed since (and most certainly before) the first wars of recorded history and continue to this very day. 

Keeping with that theory, let’s take a look at the weapons that have characterized the wars and conflicts that the United States has been a party to over the course of it’s history. During the course of this series, I aim to breakdown the weapons used in each conflict by their classification, and to which party they were employed by. Having served in combat operations in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, I would like to start our series with the War in Afghanistan. 

For our seventh installment, let’s take a look at the most commonly encountered Grenades, Mines, and Explosives in the War in Afghanistan.

Remains of helicopter scraped off of LZ after melting into a metal plate on the LZ, Firebase Vegas, Korengal Valley, Afghanistan.

Veiw of tail section and some rotors.
Part I: The United States
A staple of the infantry, you can find these everywhere in Afghanistan. The M67 comes in pretty handy whether it's clearing abandoned structures used as fighting positions by the enemy, caves, trenches, qanats, or as a last resort during an ambush or the enemy trying to overrun your base or position. 

The M67 grenade is a fragmentation hand grenade used by the United States military. The M67 hand grenade has an effective casualty radius of about 15 meters. The M67 grenade has a spherical steel body that contains 6.5 oz of composition B explosive. It uses the M213 pyrotechnic delay fuse. The M67 grenade weighs 14 oz in total and has a safety clip to prevent the safety pin on the grenade from being pulled accidentally. The safety pin prevents the safety lever, or "spoon" on the grenade from moving and releasing the spring-loaded striker which initiates the grenade's fuse assembly.

The M67 can be thrown 30 to 35 meters by the average soldier. Its fuse delays detonation between 4 and 5 seconds after the spoon is released. Steel fragments (not to be confused with shrapnel) are provided by the grenade body and produce an injury radius of 15 meters, with a fatality radius of 5 meters, though some fragments can disperse as far out as 250 meters.

  • Charge/filler:6.5 ounces of Composition B
  • Effective Range: Effective casualty-producing radius is 15 meters; killing radius is 5 meters
  • Weight: 14 oz / 400 g
Two M67 Frag Grenades.

These are used extensively in Afghanistan. Often times if an element on patrol came into heavy enemy contact or had casualties you would see them pop Red Smoke to signal air support. Other times for medevacs, once the medevac bird was in sight we would pop smoke and then have the birds confirm the color of smoke that they saw before having them land. 

The M18 Colored Smoke Grenade is a US Army grenade used as a ground-to-ground or ground-to-air signaling device, a target or landing zone marking device, or a screening device for unit maneuvering. The M18 replaced the World War II M16 which did not burn as long or as vividly. Both were produced at the same time as the M16 production line was already setup when the M18 was adopted. The M16 was available in the same colors as the M18, but also blue, orange, and black. The M18 initially were going to be produced in the same colors including white, but it was decided to limit it to four colors for simplicity.

  • Charge/filler:11.5 ounces of a colored smoke mixture. Available in red, green, yellow, or violet.
  • Effective Range: N/A
  • Weight: 19 ounces
Squad returning from patrol, Firebase Vegas, Korengal Valley, Afghanistan.

The M84, also known as a flashbang or stun grenade, is the currently-issued stun grenade of the United States Military. Upon detonation, it emits an intensely loud "bang" of 170–180 decibels and a blinding flash of more than one million candela within five feet of initiation, sufficient to cause immediate flash blindness, deafness, tinnitus, and inner ear disturbance. Exposed personnel experience disorientation, confusion and loss of coordination and balance. While these effects are all intended to be temporary, there is risk of permanent injury or even death. Consequently, the M84 is classified as a less-lethal weapon.

The M84 features a magnesium-based pyrotechnic charge inside a thin aluminum case, contained within a perforated cast steel body. Unlike the high explosives (HE) used in traditional ordnance, the pyrotechnic charge produces a subsonic deflagration, not a supersonic detonation, minimizing the blast effects. On initiation, the inner aluminium case is designed to be consumed by the pyrotechnic compound, with only the auditory and visual elements of the deflagration being permitted to escape via the perforations in the cast outer body. This design minimizes the risk of collateral damage due to flame, blast and unconsumed fragments of the inner case.

It is intended to be thrown into enclosed spaces to distract and temporarily incapacitate enemy personnel for easier capture, or when risk of collateral damage during urban warfare or hostage rescue operations contravenes the employment of traditionally lethal and destructive fragmenting HE ordnance. US Army doctrine calls for the M84 to be deployed "during building and room clearing operations, when the presence of noncombatants is likely or expected and the assault element is attempting to achieve surprise.

  • Charge/filler: 0.16 ounces magnesium/ammonium nitrate pyrotechnic mix
  • Effective Range: 5' radius
  • Weight: 8.33 ounces / 236 g
Resupply on it's way to Firebase Vegas, Korengal Valley, Afghanistan.

While not as often used as the other grenades, you can find this grenade in use in Afghanistan. Units often used these to burn out unsalvageable or IEDed HMMMVs, we used these often to burn out brush to create stand off areas around our firebase or to remove the cover/concealment from known enemy fighting positions. Many of the trees in the Korengal Valley were of a very hard wood and did not easily cut or burn. Using incendiary grenades and JP8 was about the only way to somewhat remove them on the fly. 

A cylindrical grenade visually identical to the M8, the M14 (also written AN/M14) is a purpose designed incendiary grenade. Working off the intense and violent reaction of the thermate filler, end result of the deployment of the M14 is molten iron. This means the M14 is primarily employed on material to be destroyed in a roughly secure environment and not as an offensive or defensive weapon. The grenade has the ability to melt right through an engine block. Also, since the thermate reaction uses iron oxide instead of oxygen for its oxidizing agent, the grenade can work under water.

The AN-M14 TH3 incendiary hand grenade is used to destroy equipment or start fires. It can also damage, immobilize or destroy vehicles, weapons systems, shelters and munitions.

The grenade filler burns at over 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit and can burn through homogenous steel plate – even underwater. Burn time is 30 to 45 seconds.

  • Charge/filler: 26.5 ounces of thermate (TH3) mixture
  • Effective Range: N/A
  • Weight: 2 lbs / 0.91 kg

The M18A1 Claymore mine is used extensively at outposts and firebases in Afghanistan. It is common to find these setup at the entrances and exits of a base for use as a last attempt defense at preventing the enemy from gaining access. We also used these extensively when setting in on ambushes. 

The M18A1 Claymore is a directional anti-personnel mine used by the United States Armed Forces. Its inventor, Norman MacLeod, named the mine after a large Scottish medieval sword. Unlike a conventional land mine, the Claymore is command-detonated and directional, meaning it is fired by remote-control and shoots a pattern of metal balls into the kill zone like a shotgun.

The Claymore fires steel balls, out to about 100 m within a 60° arc in front of the device. It is used primarily in ambushes and as an anti-infiltration device against enemy infantry. It is also used against unarmored vehicles.

The M18A1 Claymore mine has a horizontally convex gray-green plastic case. The shape was developed through experimentation to deliver the optimum distribution of fragments at 50 m range. The case has the words "Front Toward Enemy" embossed on the front of the mine. A simple open sight on the top surface allows for aiming the mine. Two pairs of scissor legs attached to the bottom support the mine and allow it to be aimed vertically. On both sides of the sight are fuse wells set at 45 degrees.

Internally the mine contains a layer of C-4 explosive behind a matrix of about seven hundred 1⁄8-inch-diameter (3.2 mm) steel balls set into an epoxy resin.

When the M18A1 is detonated, the explosion drives the matrix forward, out of the mine at a velocity of 1,200 m/s (3,937 ft/s), at the same time breaking it into individual fragments. The steel balls are projected in a 60° fan-shaped pattern that is 2.0 m high and 50 m wide at a range of 50 m. The force of the explosion deforms the relatively soft steel balls into a shape similar to a .22 rimfire projectile. These fragments are moderately effective up to a range of 100 m, with a hit probability of around 10% on a prone man-sized 1.3-square-foot target. The fragments can travel up to 250 m. The optimum effective range is 50 m, at which the optimal balance is achieved between lethality and area coverage, with a hit probability of 30% on a man-sized target.

  • Charge/filler: 700 - 1/8" steel balls with a 1.5 lbs charge of C-4
  • Effective Range: 50 m, 250 m maximum range
  • Weight: 3.5 lbs / 1.6 kg
Squad getting ready before a patrol, Firebase Vegas, Korengal Valley, Afghanistan.

C-4 is used regularly in Afghanistan and has many different uses, from blowing out large boulders, destroying unexploded ordinance and enemy weapons caches, demolition, and improvised breaching charges.   

C-4 or Composition C-4 is a common variety of the plastic explosive family known as Composition C. The British version of the explosive is known as PE-4 (Plastic Explosive). C-4 is composed of explosives, plastic binder, plasticizer to make it malleable, and usually a marker or odorizing taggant chemical.

C-4 has a texture similar to modeling clay and can be molded into any desired shape. C-4 is stable and an explosion can only be initiated by the combination of extreme heat and shock wave from a detonator.

The Composition C-4 used by the United States Armed Forces contains 91% RDX ("Research Department Explosive", an explosive nitroamine), 5.3% dioctyl sebacate (DOS) or dioctyl adipate (DOA) as the plasticizer (to increase the plasticity of the explosive), 2.1% polyisobutylene (PIB, a synthetic rubber) as the binder, and 1.6% of a mineral oil often called "process oil." Instead of "process oil," low-viscosity motor oil is used in the manufacture of C-4 for civilian use.

C-4 is very stable and insensitive to most physical shocks. C-4 cannot be detonated by a gunshot or by dropping it onto a hard surface. It does not explode when set on fire or exposed to microwave radiation. Detonation can only be initiated by a combination of extreme heat and a shockwave, such as when a detonator inserted into it is fired. When detonated, C-4 rapidly decomposes to release nitrogen and carbon oxides as well as other gasses. The gasses expand at an explosive velocity of 8,092 m/s (26,550 ft/s). After the initial explosion, gasses rush back toward the center of the explosion causing a second, inward wave of energy.

  • Charge/filler: 1.14 lbs of RDX
  • Effective Range: N/A
  • Weight: 1.25 lbs / 0.57 kg
Restrepo as seen from the Korengal Outpost, Korengal Valley, Afghanistan.

Det. Cord
Det. cord can be found all over Afghanistan; usually in conjunction with C-4. It has other uses than just detonating explosives. It can also be used to clear out smaller sized trees to create landing zones, use in improvised breaching devices, as well as other uses. 

Detonating cord (also called detonation cord, detacord, det. cord, detcord, primer cord or sun cord) is a thin, flexible plastic tube usually filled with pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN, pentrite). With the PETN exploding at a rate of approximately 4 miles per second, any common length of detonation cord appears to explode instantaneously. It is a high-speed fuse which explodes, rather than burns, and is suitable for detonating high explosives. The velocity of detonation is sufficient to use it for synchronizing multiple charges to detonate almost simultaneously even if the charges are placed at different distances from the point of initiation. It is used to reliably and inexpensively chain together multiple explosive charges. Typical uses include mining, drilling, demolitions, and warfare.

As a transmission medium, it can act as a downline between the initiator (usually a trigger) and the blast area, and as a trunkline connecting several different explosive charges. As a timing mechanism, detonation cord detonates at a very reliable rate (about 7,000–8,000 m/s), enabling engineers to control the pattern in which charges are detonated. This is particularly useful for demolitions, when structural elements need to be destroyed in a specific order to control the collapse of a building.

While it looks like nylon cord, the core is a compressed powdered explosive, usually PETN (pentrite), and it is initiated by the use of a blasting cap. Detonation cord will initiate most commercial high explosives (dynamite, gelignite, sensitised gels, etc.) but will not initiate less sensitive blasting agents like ANFO on its own. 25 to 50 grain/foot (5.3 to 10.6 g/m) detonation cord has approximately the same initiating power as a #8 blasting cap in every 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 cm) along its entire length. A small charge of PETN, TNT, or other explosive booster is required to bridge between the cord and a charge of insensitive blasting agent like ANFO or most water gels.

  • Charge/filler: 6.4 pounds of pentaerythrite tetranitrate [PETN] per 1,000'
  • Effective Range: N/A
  • Weight: 18 lbs per 1,000'
View of Firebase Vegas from the Korengal Outpost, Korengal valley, Afghanistan.

Arredondo AR-15/M4 Extended Magazine Well

Shawn G in the Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, Afghanistan.

For more info on these and other weapons
Technical specs compiled from:

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Shawn in the Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, Afghanistan.

For more info on these and other weapons
Technical specs compiled from:

"The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement."


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