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RDX is an organic compound with the formula (O2N2CH2)3. It is a white solid without smell or taste, widely used as an explosive. Chemically, it is classified as a nitroamine alongside HMX, which is a more energetic explosive than TNT. It was used widely in World War II and remains common in military applications. RDX is often used in mixtures with other explosives and plasticizers or phlegmatizers (desensitizers); it is the explosive agent in C-4 plastic explosive. It is stable in storage and is considered one of the most energetic and brisant of the military high explosives, with a relative effectiveness factor of 1.60.


Gunpowder, also commonly known as black powder to distinguish it from modern smokeless powder, is the earliest known chemical explosive. It consists of a mixture of sulfur, carbon (in the form of charcoal) and potassium nitrate (saltpeter). The sulfur and carbon act as fuels while the saltpeter is an oxidizer. Gunpowder has been widely used as a propellant in firearms, artillery, rocketry, and pyrotechnics, including use as a blasting agent for explosives in quarrying, mining, and road building.


Smokeless powder is a type of propellant used in firearms and artillery that produces lower amounts of smoke when fired, unlike the historical black powder it replaced. The term is unique to the United States and is generally not used in other English-speaking countries, which initially used proprietary names such as “Ballistite” and “Cordite” but gradually shifted to “propellant” as the generic term.


Pyrodex®, a black powder substitute, is a replacement for black powder used in muzzleloading and cartridge firearms. Black powder substitutes offer a number of advantages over black powder, primarily including reduced sensitivity as an explosive and increased efficiency as a propellant powder.


Ammonium nitrate is a chemical compound with the chemical formula NH4NO3. It is a white crystalline solid consisting of ions of ammonium and nitrate. It is highly soluble in water and hygroscopic as a solid, although it does not form hydrates. It is predominantly used in agriculture as a high-nitrogen fertilizer. Global production was estimated at 21.6 million tonnes in 2017. Its other major use is as a component of explosive mixtures used in mining, quarrying, and civil construction. It is the major constituent of ANFO, a popular industrial explosive which accounts for 80% of explosives used in North America; similar formulations have been used in improvised explosive devices.


Calcium ammonium nitrate or CAN, also known as nitro-limestone or nitrochalk, is a widely used inorganic fertilizer, accounting for 4% of all nitrogen fertilizer used worldwide in 2007. Calcium ammonium nitrate has seen use in improvised explosives. The CAN is not used directly, but is instead first converted to ammonium nitrate; “More than 85% of the IEDs used against U.S. forces in Afghanistan contain homemade explosives, and of those, about 70% are made with ammonium nitrate derived from calcium ammonium nitrate”. CAN and other fertilizers were banned in the Malakand Division and in Afghanistan following reports of its use by militants to make explosives. Due to these bans, potassium chlorate — the stuff that makes matches catch fire — has surpassed fertilizer as the explosive of choice for insurgents.

HME Precursors

An explosives precursor is a chemical substance that can be made into an explosive with relative ease e.g. by mixing or blending with other substances, or by simple chemical processing. The vast majority of chemicals are used for legitimate purposes. However, some chemicals could potentially be misused for the illicit manufacture of homemade or improvised explosive. Indeed, relatively small amounts of certain chemicals can be sufficient to manufacture a significant amount of explosives.

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