In March 2003, a Marine Cobra helicopter hit an Iraqi outpost with a thermobaric Hellfire missile. President George W. Bush later stated: "We used a new Hellfire missile for the first time, which can take out enemy fighters hiding on one floor of a building, without destroying the floors above and below. . . . In the coming years, there are going to be some awfully surprised terrorists when the thermobaric Hellfire comes knocking."1
The missile's warhead was developed by naval scientists in a research and development field called energetics. They filled a warhead with plastic bonded explosive, layering it with aluminum powder. On detonation, the powder burns rapidly, producing a devastating pressure. For more than a century, naval labs with this expertise contributed to the firepower that helped establish U.S. naval dominance, provided ordnance for other services, and yielded technologies with broad commercial use. Yet despite growing joint requirements, this R&D field is declining—not only in the Navy, but across the Department of Defense and U.S. industry. It is a decline that must be reversed.