You are on page 1of 3

Cyclotrimethylenetrinitramine, also known as RDX, cyclonite, hexogen, and T4, is an

explosive nitroamine widely used in military and industrial applications. Nomenclature

variants include cyclotrimethylene-trinitramine and cyclotrimethylene trinitramine.

In its pure, synthesized state RDX is a white, crystalline solid. As an explosive, it is

usually used in mixtures with other explosives and plasticizers, phlegmatizers or
desensitizers. It is stable in storage and is considered one of the most powerful and
brisant of the military high explosives.[1]

RDX forms the base for a number of common military explosives:

• Composition A: (wax-coated, granular explosive consisting of RDX and

plasticizing wax), composition A5 (mixed with 1.5% stearic acid),

• Composition B: (castable mixtures of RDX and TNT),

• Composition C: (a plastic demolition explosive consisting of RDX, other

explosives, and plasticizers),

• Composition D,

• HBX: (castable mixtures of RDX, TNT, powdered aluminium, and D-2 wax with
calcium chloride),

• H-6, and

• C-4.

RDX is also used as a major component of many plastic bonded explosives used in
nuclear weapons.

The velocity of detonation of RDX at a density of 1.76 g/cm³ is 8750 m/s.

It is a colourless solid, of maximum theoretical density 1.82 g/cm³. It is obtained by

reacting concentrated nitric acid with hexamine.[2]

(CH2)6N4 + 10HNO3 → (CH2-N-NO2)3 + 3CH2(ONO2)2 + NH4NO3 + 3H2O

It is a heterocycle and has the molecular shape of a ring. It starts to decompose at about
170 °C and melts at 204 °C. Its structural formula is: hexahydro-1,3,5-trinitro-1,3,5-
triazine or (CH2-N-NO2)3.
At room temperature, it is very stable. It burns rather than explodes and detonates only
with a detonator, being unaffected even by small arms fire. It is less sensitive than
pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN). However, it is very sensitive when crystallized, below
−4 °C. Under normal conditions, RDX has a figure of insensitivity of exactly 80 (as this
is the reference point).

RDX sublimates in vacuum, which limits its use in pyrotechnic fasteners for spacecraft.

[edit] History
The discovery of RDX dates from 1898 when Georg Friedrich Henning obtained a
German patent (patent No. 104280) for its manufacture, by nitrating
hexamethylenetetramine.[3] In this patent, its properties as an explosive were at length
described, as well as its possible use as a medical compound mentioned. Research and
development were not published further until G. C. V. Herz obtained a British patent in
1921 and a U.S. patent in 1922, for its manufacture by nitrating
hexamethylenetetramine.[3] Later in the 1920s RDX was produced by the direct nitration
of hexamine.

RDX was used by both sides in World War II.

[edit] UK and Canadian production

In the United Kingdom RDX was manufactured from 1933 in a pilot plant at the Royal
Arsenal, Woolwich, a larger pilot plant being built at the RGPF Waltham Abbey in
1939.[4][5] In 1939 a twin-unit industrial-scale plant was designed to be installed at a new
700 acres (280 ha) site, ROF Bridgwater, away from London; and production of RDX
started at Bridgwater in 1941.[4] The United Kingdom attempted to be self-sufficient in
the early stages of the war, and at this time the USA was still a neutral country; Canada, a
member of the British Commonwealth, was looked upon to supply ammunition and
explosives, including RDX.

A slightly different method of production, but still using hexamine, was found and used
in Canada, possibly at the McGill University Department of Chemistry. Urbanski[3]
provides details of five methods of production.

[edit] US - Bachmann process

Near the beginning of World War II the US Government turned to Tennessee Eastman
Company (TEC), Kingsport, Tennessee, US, a leading manufacturer of acetic anhydride,
to develop a continuous-flow manufacturing process for RDX.[citation needed] RDX was
crucial to the war effort and the current batch-production process could not keep up. The
US began research to safely make large quantities of RDX. Werner Emmanuel Bachmann
of the University of Michigan developed the “combination process” which required large
quantities of acetic anhydride instead of nitric acid in the old British “Woolwich process”.
In February 1942, TEC built the Wexler Bend pilot plant and began producing small
amounts of RDX. This led to the US Government authorizing TEC to design and build
Holston Ordnance Works (H.O.W.) in June 1942. By April 1943, RDX was being
manufactured there.[6] The US Bachmann process for RDX was found to be richer in
HMX than the United Kingdom's RDX. This later led to a RDX plant using the
Bachmann process being set up at ROF Bridgwater in 1955, to produce both RDX and

RDX was widely used during World War II, often in explosive mixtures with TNT such
as Torpex, Composition 'B', Cyclotols, and H6. RDX was used in one of the first plastic
explosives. RDX is believed to have been used in many bomb plots including terrorist
plots. The bombs used in the "Dambusters Raid" contained 6,600 pounds of RDX.

Outside of military applications, RDX is also used in controlled demolition to raze

structures. The demolition of the Jamestown Bridge in the U.S. state of Rhode Island is
one example where RDX shaped charges were used to remove the span.

There are many explanations for the name RDX, including (but not limited to) Royal
Demolition eXplosive, Research Department (composition) X, Research Developed
eXplosive,[7] and Research Department eXplosive. Research Department composition X
is most likely correct.[4] In the United Kingdom, new military explosives were given an
identification number preceded by the letters 'RD' indicating 'Research Department
No.'.[4] For some reason, this explosive was unable to be given a number. Instead, the
letter 'X' was appended to indicate 'unknown' with the intention of adding the number

The first public reference in the United Kingdom to the name RDX, or R.D.X to use the
official title, appears in 1948; its authors were the Managing Chemist, ROF Bridgwater,
the Chemical Research and Development Department, Woolwich, and the Director of
Royal Ordnance Factories, Explosives; it is referred to as simply RDX.[8]

Davis, writing in the USA in 1943, stated it was generally known in the USA as cyclonite;
the Germans called it Hexogen, the Italians T4.[