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Ballistics Division 

Division Mission

To promote the exchange, among the Defense Department, other government agencies, national laboratories, industry, and academia, of technical information relating to the various fields of ballistics, including concepts and theories. Emphasis is both on research results and the application of these theories and concepts to the design, development, and evaluation of weapon systems and their performance against materiel such as armor and other potential targets.

The Ballistics Division's executive board, whose membership includes world-class U.S. ballisticians, organizes and conducts the widely attended, U.S. based, unclassified, international ballistics symposia, at three year intervals. They are assisted in this effort by world-class ballisticians from over 24 countries, who also report on their own current unclassified work in ballistics and, in many cases, assist in the paper selection process. The Ballistics Division also contributes technical support, in the paper selection process, to the off-shore international ballistics symposia, which are also held at alternating three year intervals, between U.S. based symposia. The offshore symposia are conducted under the auspices of the International Ballistics Committee, which includes many members of the Ballistics Division's executive board. Finally, since May 1998, the Ballistics Division has undertaken to organize and conduct (jointly with the NDIA's Bomb and Warhead Division) the Annual Joint Classified Ballistics Symposium (SECRET-U.S. ONLY).

Propulsion Dynamics -- This original field of Ballistics emphasizes new or improved methods for understanding propulsion using electromagnetic, chemical, and other forms of energy sources. Current areas of interest include railgun dynamics; electrothermal plasma processes; new chemical propellants; new energy sources; control of ignition and chemical combustion processes; gas/plasma flow in guns, rockets, and nozzles; and thermomechanical effects upon projectiles and chambers of guns and rockets. The purposes for emphasizing efforts in these areas include:

  • increasing the velocity (kinetic energy) of current and future weapons,
  • increasing the thermodynamic efficiency of propulsion systems through better control of combustion dynamics, energy storage, or energy conversion,
  • eliminating deviations from predicted or normal behavior in propulsion processes -- deviations that might lead to catastrophic failure, such as pressure wave induced breech blow,
  • reducing causes of gun tube wear that shorten tube life and reduce reliability, such as gas erosion and plasma erosion, reducing the vulnerability of propellants to ballistic attack.

Launch Dynamics -- The effectiveness of modern weapons is driven by greatly increasing requirements for accuracy. Erratic launch conditions increase the probable error in miss distance of a round and may cause premature tumbling and disastrously short trajectories for projectiles that are initially only marginally stable. In high performance weapons, projectile deformations can also lead to inaccuracy or even disastrous conditions at launch. Some of the degrading effects introduced during the transitional phase can be attributed to muzzle whip, tip-off, in-bore balloting caused by worn gun tubes, muzzle jet flow, interaction with projectile/rocket and launcher, and sabot separation. The first three of these effects occur while the projectile is still in contact with the launcher; the motion and orientation given to the projectile during this contact may be amplified when the projectile is in transient flow just outside the muzzle. The efforts in this important field include:

  • study of projectile in-bore dynamics, including efforts related to rotating band engraving and obturator functioning, the structural performance of projectiles subjected to the launch loads and pressures generated by propelling charges, optimal design of projectiles to withstand such loads, and unloading effects on projectile integrity during emergence from the gun tube,
  • examination of gun tube dynamics, to include the lateral response of gun tubes to the interior ballistic event, the transient structural performance of gun tubes, and advanced gun design,
  • correlation of interior ballistics performance with muzzle blast effects, such as needed to reduce the noise level to which a gunner is exposed during firing especially for shoulder-fired weapons,
  • description of the exterior environment around weapons, to include the phenomena of reverse blow-by upon exit of the tube, entrainment effects, and time varying flow properties in launch,
  • description of the initial aerodynamics of the projectile prior to entry into free flight.

Flight Dynamics -- Effective weapon systems depend on meeting flight performance standards in an economical and realistic fashion. A designer must resolve many conflicting technical requirements and usually must choose or compromise among competing factors. For example, the factors of range and payload compete directly and simply with each other when one speaks of improved weapons; some rational value must be ascribed to each as one attempts to optimize overall performance. The salient task in projectile/rocket flight is to provide the logic needed to make the necessary compromises for the optimum aerodynamic performance of weapons while at the same time meeting interfacing problems involved in launching a projectile and ensuring its satisfactory arrival for maximum terminal effectiveness. Thus, emphasis is on research in aerodynamics and classical dynamics both as an approach that will tell one how to ensure minimum energy loss to a projectile/rocket -- thereby deriving maximum range, and as means to increase stability factors controlling possible flight aberrations such as those due to loose or moving cargo and liquid-filled projectile sections -- thereby improving accuracy and reliability.

Warhead Mechanisms & Effects -- The propulsion of lethal elements through explosive/metal interactions is advancing the warhead mechanics technology base rapidly through insight gained by means of parallel experimentation and computer analysis. Parallel efforts in experiments, analytic formulations, and computer code developments are enhancing the prediction of the performance of shaped charge warheads, explosively formed penetrators, fragmenting devices, mines, incendiary ammunition, and fuel-air explosives. Warhead effects consider the consequences of impact and penetration by blast waves, fragments, shaped charges, and kinetic-energy rounds insofar as behind-armor defeat is concerned. These consequences include target response (including deformation and translation), spallation, behind-armor blast, behind-armor debris, the ignition of fuel, propellants, and explosives, and the exploitation of energetic (pyrophoric) materials to enhance lethal effects.

Terminal Ballistics (Protection) -- The technical base for protection of combat vehicles, aircraft, and personnel requires a deep understanding of the response of materials and structures to the intense deposition of kinetic energy by bullets, kinetic energy penetrators, hypervelocity penetrators, shaped charges, and fragmenting warheads. This information is gained through advanced instrumentation techniques, such as high speed cameras and flash radiography, as well as through improved understanding of the response of materials to stress and strain. Great progress is being made through improved analytical techniques and computer analysis based on highly instrumented experiments. A broad data base is being accumulated and organized by means of computer accessed data and models that can interpolate between the data so as to forecast future experiments as well as protection packages for vehicle systems, aircraft, and personnel.

Target/Environment Signature Analysis -- Targets must be found before they can be attacked. A major thrust in this effort is the development of computerized models predicting the signatures of both targets and their backgrounds in the infrared and visual regions of the spectrum (0.4 to 14 micrometers) as well as in the millimeter wave region. Component mathematical submodels are needed for description of targets, terrain, vegetation, natural and artificial sources of irradiation, smokes, atmospheric transmission (absorption and scattering), atmospheric turbulence, camouflage materials, terminal homing systems, target acquisition systems, and surveillance systems.

Weapon Concept Analysis -- This element of ballistics technology focuses on constructing new technical approaches (or combination of techniques) for solutions of problems related to advanced weapon systems. It is essentially a systems engineering approach leading to close integration of all activities within the Ballistics Division and ultimately to extensive in-depth competence in all aspects of weapon technology. A very important facet of concepts analysis is the search for optimum solutions through continuing theoretical research, judicious experimentation, mathematical modeling of physical processes and performance simulation, concept synthesis, and conceptual design. The competence for the derivation of optimum solutions for weapon systems demands that there also be a constant awareness of and an examination of many technological areas peripheral to the elements of Ballistic Technology. The yield from such competence will include more rapid engineering evaluations in response to queries, recognition of systems implication of the results of research programs and a stimuli for new research & development activities.



Vice Chairman:
Bill Flis
DE Technologies, Inc.

Brian Scott
U.S. Army Research Laboratory 

Britt Sullivan, CMP
Director, Operations
Phone: (703) 247-2587

For more information about the International Ballistics Society, visit:


Affiliate Associations

The Association for Enterprise Information    National Training and Simulation Association    Precision Strike Association    Women in Defense