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As a shaped charge jet stretches it breaks up into a series of particles along the jet axis of symmetry. These particles are frequently of approximately the same length, suggesting the existence of a critical wavelength for which the growth of an initial surface disturbance is greatest. Following the failure of earlier one‐dimensional models to reproduce this critical wavelength effect, this paper addresses the problem using the axisymmetric equations of motion and boundary conditions of continuum mechanics. Certain simplifying assumptions are made, which enable the analysis of the growth of a small initial sinusoidal disturbance for a range of wavelengths including that suggested by observation of break‐up by flash radiographic experiments. The disturbance growth equation derived is of a complicated and singular nature. Under certain initial conditions it can approximately predict from the experimental data the observed critical wavelength.