My race use a weapon which has the same dimensions and mass as a kinetic rod. The difference is that it's also a high explosive. It explodes after impact, causing the already weak structure to be blown apart. These weapons are to be used in space, so no external oxygen.

How can they make this more effective than just straight-up kinetic bombardment?

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    $\begingroup$ My race also uses them more or less. I think this one is one of the most excessive uses so far: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombing_of_Hamburg_in_World_War_II . They were mainly used out of spite/revenge and to demotivate the civilian population and to a lesser extent to destroy industry or just because they were popular at that time (during the Korea war). For such goals they are more effective than conventional artillery. $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Aug 21 '17 at 14:53
  • $\begingroup$ Are these space based weapons, or land based? $\endgroup$ – Innovine Aug 21 '17 at 17:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Innovine question updated $\endgroup$ – Aric Aug 22 '17 at 7:33

What you are describing is an armor piercing shell. Specifically you are describing an APHE (Armor Piercing High Explosive) shell.

APHE refers to a class of projectiles with an armor piercing penetrator and a shock resistant explosive with a delay fuse. These are designed to pierce the armor before detonating.

There is a trade off between kinetic rounds and explosives. The properties that make a good penetrator, hardness, stability and density are not what makes a good explosive. The normal solution is to use different materials for the penetrator and the explosive sections.

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    $\begingroup$ Indeed. It's also how gravity bombs are often used - the GBU-28 is a notable example. $\endgroup$ – Matt Bowyer Aug 21 '17 at 15:05
  • $\begingroup$ Also look at the "hittiles" used by the Thales Starstreak MANPAD system -- they're LRP-like projectiles with internal post-impact bursting charges. $\endgroup$ – Shalvenay Aug 22 '17 at 2:09
  • $\begingroup$ Most of the energy from a naval shell would typically be in the explosives carried. The kinetic energy was significant, but mostly useful to get the explosives into the right place. $\endgroup$ – David Thornley Aug 29 '18 at 21:15

In my opinion, any chemical based explosive is out of the question. The thing is, high energy kinetic impact will turn the shell (and part of the ship's armor) into plasma : basically an indiscernable soup of nucleons and electrons. I don't think any chemical reaction is possible at this point (since chemical reactions are based on atoms/molecules destroying bonds and forming new ones).

I see two possible solutions :

  • Make your explosive not chemical, so... go for nukes.
  • Make your kinetic impactor not too fast in order to actually allow some kind of reaction. But I recommend using handwavingly powerful explosive to overcome the greatly reduced damage output of a conventionnal ("not too fast") shell.

In both cases, please note that an explosion in simple contact with the hull of the ship won't make much damage (compared to a purely kinetic impact). Your explosive have to be inside the hull to maximize its potential, so go for a penetrating shell before going boom. But once again, the difference between penetrating and vaporizing ultimately depends on the composition of the armor and the shell.

  • $\begingroup$ What if the shell was made from a very strong material, but designed so that is was strong in compression, but any forces pulling it apart (explosions) will cause it to break? $\endgroup$ – Aric Aug 21 '17 at 15:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Aric Fowler That's a possibility, with a bit of handwavium. I merely stated the requirements, the rest is up to you, and the idea of a very strong shell is as good as another ;). We could go further : maybe the shell contains two separated compounds, and when the shell starts to brutally decelerate in the hull (after a few meters pushing inside like a nail in a piece of bread), the extremely high G-force squish them together and... then things go boom. $\endgroup$ – Keelhaul Aug 21 '17 at 15:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Keelhaul -- that fits beautifully with a gun-type fission warhead even ;) $\endgroup$ – Shalvenay Aug 22 '17 at 2:08

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