The US Army has awarded multiple contracts to Phoenix Nuclear Labs (PNL) to develop systems to detect defective munitions and concealed explosive threats.

Under the contracts valued at $3.6m, PNL said that it will build an advanced neutron radiography system to detect defective munitions and demonstrate theie ability to use their neutron generators to detect and identify concealed explosive threats.

Neutron radiography is a non-destructive inspection technique similar to the X-ray process.

"Beginning to deploy our technology in the field to save warfighter lives is very rewarding."

Unlike X-rays, neutrons can deeply penetrate high-density materials, including shell casings and other metallic objects, and visualise lower-density materials, such as carbon or hydrogen.

Until now, only nuclear reactors could produce enough neutrons to take images in practical time periods, the company said.

The pilot neutron radiography system is the first of its type to be installed in a munitions production facility.

It is expected to produce ten times higher neutron yield, facilitating faster performance and higher resolution, PNL said in a statement.

The system will also produce digital images that will improve its ability to analyse and store data.

PNL business development vice-president Evan Sengbusch said: "The army's support for PNL's technology over the last eight years has been tremendous.

"Beginning to deploy our technology in the field to save warfighter lives is very rewarding."

The neutron-emitting mobile explosives sensing and identification system (NEMESIS) will use PNL's commercial neutron generator technology to demonstrate active neutron interrogation for explosive threat detection.

The compact neutron generator will enable mobile explosive threat detection from large standoff distances.