Hazardous waste is generated during the manufacture, use, and demilitarization of the chemical ordnance primers and igniters presently used by the military Services. While these contain sensitive, toxic components such as lead styphnate and lead azide, they also cause the emission of toxic volatile organic compounds (VOC) during their manufacture. Given the 375 tons of primer and igniter materials used each year for military rounds, the problem is severe.

This project leveraged other Army efforts to develop a Laser Ignition System (LIS) for propulsion which is free of lead and other hazardous chemicals. The ultimate objective of this project was to develop a universal laser ignition system for all armaments.

Technical Approach

The technical approach involved in this work was to perform fundamental research on the interaction of energetic materials with intense laser radiation to achieve reliable and reproducible ignition. Fundamental research then was transitioned (in-house) to design and fabricate a small-scale prototype laser-based ignition system. This prototype ignition system then was transitioned from a small-scale to a large-scale prototype igniter. The large-scale ignitor then was tested on an armament/propulsion system and demonstrated. The overall process then was recycled (back in the laboratory and through the demonstration process) to make performance improvements. Finally, the ignition system was demonstrated to the user and Program or Product Manager.


Fundamental photochemical research on the interaction of energetic materials with intense laser radiation has been conducted. By optimizing wavelength, pulse duration, and energy threshold, reliable and reproducible ignition of propellants has been achieved.

The LIS system has been adopted for the PM-Crusader selfpropelled howitzer (155-mm XM297 cannon) which is the largest developmental program in the Army. The research was a finalist for the prestigious 1996 Innovations in American Government award sponsored by the JFK School of Business at Harvard University. The laser also has been developed for retrofit to the M109A6 Paladin self-propelled 155-mm howitzer, and for this purpose has been demonstrated successfully at Fort Sill and to the government of Kuwait. A recent application is to the AH-64 Apache helicopter 30-mm automatic cannon which, to avoid accidental discharge, has a requirement for radio frequency insensitivity and no electromagnetic interference.


The laser is a non-polluting ignition source used to replace thousands of pounds of hazardous materials in the life cycle of a single armament system. It was estimated that $6 million per year would be saved from the use of this system for large and medium caliber ammunition alone. The LIS technology also provided a safer, more reliable and higher performance system for soldiers in the field, thus constituting another link in the digital battlefield.