The House Armed Services Committee’s (HASC) tactical air and land forces panel would require DoD to begin a pilot program for the incorporation of the CL-20 explosive on three munitions that do not use CL-20, the panel said in its proposed section of the committee’s draft fiscal 2024 defense authorization bill.

The panel also said that the Pentagon should “conduct an assessment of the supply chains for energetic materials and the status of the energetics industrial base.”

The Energetics Technology Center (ETC) in Indian Head, Md., has been examining which of a half dozen munitions, among them the Lockheed Martin [LMT] AGM-158C Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) and AGM-158B Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range (JASSM-ER), would be the best candidates to test and possibly outfit with CL-20 (Defense Daily, March 28).

The HASC tactical air and land forces panel’s mark would provide $35 million under 6.3 “advanced technology development” for a DoD CL-20 demonstration on the three munitions within a year. ETC would be the program manager and in charge of issuing an RfP and soliciting ideas from government and industry on the best candidate munitions for CL-20.

The military has thus far used CL-20 in limited instances, including in the AeroVironment Switchblade 300 “kamikaze” drone, which DoD has supplied to Ukraine, and in initiator devices to trigger energetic materials—explosives, propellants and pyrotechnics.

Military organizations, including the U.S. Air Force Materiel Command’s munitions directorate at Eglin AFB, Fla., have been aiding the ETC analysis on which three munitions to include in the demonstration program.

In February, Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) arranged an ETC briefing to more than a dozen House members on ETC’s proposal to revitalize and revolutionize energetics for the U.S. military, including a ramp-up of production and use of CL-20 and the development of even more advanced energetics to build numerous smaller munitions with more firepower (Defense Daily, March 24).

ETC’s June 2021 report on improving U.S. energetics had come to the attention of Gallagher, a HASC member and the chairman of the House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party.

While Northrop Grumman [NOC] has annually produced 10,000 to 20,000 pounds of CL-20 in Promontory, Utah, the company may be able to scale up production significantly, especially if costs dropped, including through economic order quantities.

Nearly all energetics used by U.S. military forces date back at least 80 years, according to ETC. They include the octogen (HMX) explosive invented in 1941; hexogen/cyclonite (RDX) explosive invented in 1898; nitrocellulose (NC) propellant invented in 1832; nitroglycerine (NG) explosive and propellant from 1847; trinitrotoluene (TNT) from 1863; and the ammonium perchlorate oxidizer from the early 20th century.

With funding from an Office of Naval Research effort to find new energetics to improve explosive and propellant performance, a Navy research chemist, the late Arnold T. Nielsen, first synthesized CL-20–China Lake compound number 20–at Naval Air Weapons Center (NAWC) China Lake, Calif., in 1987.

“The discrepancy in [CL-20] performance is enormous: compared to U.S. HMX-based explosives,” ETC said. “CL-20 has a 40 percent increase in penetration depth, which is a significant increase in overall warhead lethality for specific applications.”

The Holston Army Ammunition Plant in Kingsport, Tenn., operated by BAE Systems, produces RDX and HMX for U.S. munitions.

ETC has said that China is using CL-20 in its weapons and has far surpassed the U.S. in advanced energetics.

More explosive power per pound also means CL-20 lends greater range to munitions, but creating CL-20 is more challenging than synthesizing HMX, and thus industry would need an order stream of hundreds of thousands of pounds or several million pounds of CL-20-based propellants in order to ramp up/accelerate CL=20 production, ETC said.

The HASC tactical air and land forces’ mark also reinstates the Advanced Engine Transition Program (AETP) and provides $588 million for it. The U.S. Air Force had proposed cancelling AETP in favor of Raytheon Technologies‘ [RTX] Pratt & Whitney’s F135 Engine Core Upgrade (ECU) for the Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-35.

The HASC panel also seems to advocate the stated approach of the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) in undertaking F135 ECU and a new or upgraded Power and Thermal Management System (PTMS) as a single effort (Defense Daily, May 31).

Honeywell [HON] builds the PTMS as a subcontractor to Lockheed Martin. The PTMS uses air pressure from the engine to cool aircraft subsystems and enables main engine start, emergency power, cockpit conditioning, equipment cooling, and some electrical power.

Last month, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report said that the F135 will need a new or improved PTMS to accommodate future weapons and sensors on the aircraft (Defense Daily, May 30). The question appears to be when.

The report said that the F135’s cooling system “is overtasked, requiring the engine to operate beyond its design parameters” and that “the extra heat is increasing the wear on the engine, reducing its life, and adding $38 billion in maintenance costs.”

“There are multiple PTMS options under review; selection will be based on the requirements specified by the services,” the F-35 JPO said in a response last month to the GAO report. “The modernization effort (both ECU and PTMS) is expected to be fielded in the early 2030 timeframe.  We are in the early design phase and the schedule is dependent upon the approved solution.”

The F-35 program also said that ECU would eliminate most of the forecast $38 billion in extra maintenance costs.

This week’s HASC tactical air and land forces fiscal 2024 mark also signs off on the Air Force’s request to retire 57 F-15C/Ds and 42 A-10 Thunderbolt close air support aircraft to reduce the A-10 fleet to 218 (Defense Daily, Apr. 19). The panel proposes a minimum inventory of 135 A-10s and would “require the Secretary of Defense to evaluate any A-10 aircraft that is retired, during fiscal year 2023 or later fiscal years, for potential transfer to military forces of an ally or partner nation of the United States.”

Overall, HASC Chairman Mark Rogers’ (R-Ala.) mark of H.R. 2670 comes in at $874 billion–$12 billion below the $886 billion debt ceiling-established cap on defense spending for fiscal 2024. The overall mark reduces spending in some areas–for example, a $497 million decrease to the Department of the Air Force’s request for a classified space system because of an “overrun”–to fund items on service and combatant command unfunded priority lists (UPLs).

Such funded items include $300 million in advanced procurement on the U.S. Air Force UPL for the Boeing [BA] E-7A Wedgetail, a $112 million UPL request by U.S. Africa Command for two line items under “Somalia persistent presence,” and $55 million for a UPL request by U.S. Northern Command to accelerate testing of the Over the Horizon Backscatter (OTH-B) radar to field OTH-B radars within the next five years rather than within a decade (Defense Daily, March 30).