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C-4 explosive

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Military grade C-4 with automatic detonator

C-4 explosive is a type of plastic explosive also known as Composition C-4 or Composition C. C-4 is composed of explosives, a plastic binder, a plasticizer to increase malleability, and an odorizing chemical. C-4 is commonly used in the US military, but is increasingly being manufactured for civilian usage as well. One major advantage of C-4 is that it can be easily molded into any shape, which can then be placed in cracks, gaps and holes in buildings, machines and bridges, a characteristic which is often used to the military's advantage. C-4 is a very stable plastic explosive, which cannot be detonated without the proper detonator insertion or shock wave initiation. C-4 was greatly used to the US' advantage in the Vietnam War, because of the stability of C-4, soldiers would often light it on fire and use it as a heat source. In fact, C-4 was often consumed, in small quantities, by soldiers hoping to cause temporary illness in order to be sent on sick leave. This practice became so widely used through the US military that only inexperienced would fall for the trick -- an experienced officer would send the soldier back into the barracks.[1]


C-4 was widely unknown two decades ago, but has recently become a familiar term in Newspapers and on television. Nowadays, most people know what C-4 is and what it can do, and anyone can purchase the deadly explosive. For about ten years, terrorist groups have been purchasing and utilizing C-4 to attack different targets in the US. In 1996, terrorists used C-4 to blow up the Khobar Towers, the US military housing complex in Saudi Arabia at that time. In October of 2000, terrorists used C-4 to launch a suicide attack against the U.S.S Cole, a Navy guided missile destroyer, killing 17 sailors and wounding several others. In December of 2001, a suicide bomber smuggled C-4, in his shoes, onto a commercial airliner.[2]Many Palestinian suicide bombers utilize C-4 in Israel and Israeli-occupied territories because less than a pound of C-4 has the potential to kill several people, and one and a quarter pounds can destroy a semi-truck. C-4 has also been confirmed as the explosive used in the London bombings.[3]


C-4 is becoming more and more common in military use, therefore the manufacturing of C-4 has increased exponentially over the past twenty years. Several industries have been created with a central focus of creating and manufacturing C-4 for the military, and civilians. However, the composition of C-4 is widely known and the process in which C-4 is created has been duplicated by several groups outside of the military and military-intended manufacturing industries. Today an accurate recipe for the creation of C-4 can be found on the internet, and although this type of C-4 may not be as powerful as military C-4, one pound is still more than enough to kill a man. Of course the release of these recipes and creation of any grade of C-4 is controlled, and the recipes that are released for the public to see are only for civilian grade C-4 explosive with much different ingredients and solvent in the solution and creation of the plastic explosive.

Easy manufacturing and creation of C-4 seems to increase danger levels in several nations, especially from suicide bombers known to use C-4 explosives. This issue has become a concern in the military, but has not stifled the manufacturing of military grade C-4. So while the manufacturing of civilian grade C-4 remains a concern, and is a rising issue in terrorism, but the manufacturing of military grade C-4 remains constant to fight against such threats to the United States.[4]

Characteristics and Uses

Military controlled explosion of C-4

Composition C-4 contains ninety one percent of an explosive nitroamine, five point three percent dioctyl sebacate or sometimes dioctyl apidate (both of which are often used as plasticizing agents) to increase the plasticity, two point one percent of a synthetic rubber (usually polyisobutylene) to act as a binder, and one point six percent mineral oil or process oil. In the production of C-4 for civilian use, rather than mineral or process oil, C-4 is manufactured with low viscosity motor oil. C-4 is manufactured with these ingredients in a solvent, which is extracted through a process of drying and filtering once all of the ingredients are mixed. The result is a solid, light brown or dirty white, putty-like material that smells distinctly similar to motor oil. There are differences in the composition and manufacturing of C-4, depending on its intended use and who the material is going to. For instance, military manufactured C-4 usually contains, along with the above ingredients, a dye that is made up of lead chromate and lamp black along with ethylene glycol in place of the binder to prevent freezing if weather conditions should be harsh.[5]

Though C-4 is manufactured for civilian use, it is mostly used by the United States Armed Forces. C-4 is often used because of its stability and insensitivity to most physical shocks. C-4 cannot be detonated if dropped on a hard surface, exposed to gunshot, set on fire, or exposed to microwave radiation. C-4 can only be detonated by a combination of extreme heat and a shockwave, most often initiated by a detonator being inserted and set on fire. The Armed Forces also uses C-4 because it can be molded into any shape necessary and still be detonated. The Military uses C-4 to breach obstacles or demolish large structures; and because the explosion is converted into compressed gas, C-4 can demolish the target by cutting, breaching, or cratering (the act of creating a large depression in the ground upon impact).[6]


  1. Unknown Author. C-4 (explosive) Wikia. Web. Date of Access 26 January 2015.
  2. Harris, Tom. How C-4 Works HowStuffWorks. Web. Date of Access 26 January 2015.
  3. Author Unknown. C-4 Explosives, How Much Damage Can They Really Do? Web. Date of Publication 13 July 2005.
  4. Author Unknown. C-4 (explosive) Wikia. Web. Date of Access 26 January 2015.
  5. Author Unknown. C-4 (explosive) Kiwix. Web. Date of Access 26 January 2015.
  6. Author Unknown. C-4 (explosive) Wikia. Web. Date of Access 17 January 2015.