Army and Air Force Insensitive Munition programs

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The Army soon had some added incentive to continue its support for Insensitive Munitions concept. On August 18 1989, a truck hauling military aircraft ammunition to the Navajo Army Depot near Flagstaff, AZ caught fire. “Hours after the fire broke out, the northbound lane of the interstate remained closed as the 20mm shells continued to explode.”68 The driver was killed in the accident and a passenger was seriously injured.

On 22 November 1990, a truck carrying 21 tons of military explosives from California to the east coast caught fire near Beaty, NV.69 Several large explosions resulted which closed the main highway between Las Vegas and Reno for 9.5 hours. Fortunately, there were no injuries resulting from this incident.

But more important than the above, on 11 July 1991 there was a fire at Camp Doha in Kuwait. This was after the war with Iraq had ended and the U.S. forces were withdrawing into Kuwait. The fire started in an ammunition transport vehicle. An explosion followed which spread the fire. Before it was over, the Army had lost more tanks in that event than they had in the entire war against Iraq.

U.S. Army Camp Doha in Kuwait. Aftermath of the 11 July 1991 fire and munition explosions

Fifty-two American soldiers injured during this event and three men were killed clearing the area of damaged ordnance. The total material cost of the incident was:

Munitions Destroyed $14.7 Million
Vehicles Destroyed $23.3 Million
Damage to Property $2.3 Million
  Total $40.3 Million

After accepting the Joint Services requirements for Insensitive Munitions, the Assistant Secretary of the Army, Research, Development, and Acquisition, ASA(RDA) directed the Army Materiel Command (AMC) to implement the IM policy in the acquisition process. In 1989, the AMC Commanding General appointed the Deputy Chief of Staff for Ammunition as the IM Executive Agent responsible for the overall management of the Army IM program.

An Army Insensitive Munitions Office (IMO) was established at Picatinny Arsenal, NJ to provide staff support to the Army IM Executive Agent. As envisioned, the IM Executive Agent would task the IMO directly and the IMO would integrate the IM program throughout the Army. The major subordinate Commands, like the Missile Command (MICOM) and the Armament Research, Development, and Engineering Center (ARDEC), were assigned the responsibility for developing the IM technology required to meet the IM goals.

On 20 August 1992, the Army issued an Insensitive Munitions Handbook70 covering such items as objectives, responsibilities, prioritization, technical approach, IM tests and evaluations, waivers, IM implementation for new developments, and the Army IM Master plan. Also, in the same letter, the Assistant Secretary of the Army approved Army supplement to the Navy MIL-STD-2105A (issued by the Navy on 8 March 1991). This supplement was issued to address the Army unique survivability requirements and to serve as interim guidance until the Joint Service MIL-STD-2105B was issued.

The Army supplement to MIL-STD-2105A required that the tests, with the exception of shaped charge spall, were to be performed using the munition’s “logistical, packaged, configuration”. Also, the supplement provided options for performing the fragment impact and the shaped charge jet tests. Performance of these tests was based on a threat hazard analysis (THA), which was based on anticipated threat stimuli and the system configuration.

The Air Force approach to the Joint service IM policy was quite different from that of the Army and the Navy. The Air Force established an Insensitive Munitions Office at Eglin AFB, FL, after the Joint service IM agreement was signed; however there was not much interest in supporting the IM concept as implemented by the Navy and the Army. The principal interest of the Air Force staff was, and still is, to reduce quantity distance requirements in and around airfield munition storage areas. Barriers between munitions and redesigned storage areas were the areas of high interest in the Air Force.

In 1980, the Air Force convinced the U.S. Department of Defense Explosive Safety Board (DDESB), that insensitive high explosives like TATB could be assigned to the United Nations transportation and storage hazard classification division of 1.5. The UN hazard division 1.5 was originally devised for to cover explosive materials like the commercial ammonium nitrate blasting agents, which are insensitive and have large critical diameters. The DDESB requested that the U.N. redefine the 1.5 hazard division as follows:

“This division comprises class/division 1.1 explosives [sic] substances which, although mass detonating, are so insensitive that there is negligible probability of initiation or transition from burning to detonation in transport or storage.” 71

The United Nations Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods agreed with the DDESB and Air Force proposal. In 1988 the U.N. Committee established a new hazard classification division 1.6 for “Extremely Insensitive Detonating Articles (EIDA)”. The division 1.5 materials were assigned the name “Extremely Insensitive Detonating Substances (EIDS)”.72 Details on hazard classification can be found in the U.N. documents and will not be repeated here.

In addition to the above , there was no incentive for the Air Force to spend its money developing technology to make munitions insensitive. Most, if not all, of the Air Force munitions are used by the other Services. So any improvements to make these munitions insensitive could be funded by the Army or the Navy. The name of the Air Force program was eventually changed from the Insensitive Munitions to the “Explosives Hazard Reduction” program.

The new goal of the Air Force program deviated from the Joint Service policy and was defined as follows:

“Reduce hazards presented by inventory munitions by developing and incorporating energy suppression devices, packaging redesign, applying innovative storage and handling techniques, and utilization of storage facilities”.73

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68Washington Post, Saturday August 19, 1989, Pg. A8, Ammunition Explodes in Truck Fire on Highway.
69Washington Post, November 23, 1990, Pg. A21, Addenda.
70DA(ASA) Memorandum SARD-ZCA of 20 August 1992; Subject: Release of the “Army Supplement to MIL-STD-2105A”, and the Army “Insensitive Munitions (IM) Handbook.”
71DDESB ltr. DDESB-IK to IGD/AFISC (SEV), Norton AFB, CA 92409 of 30 April 1980; Subj: Report of the 279th meeting of the Department of Defense Explosives Safety Board.
72United Nations Committee of Experts on the Transportation of Dangerous Goods, ST/SG/AC.10/11/Rev.1, “Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods, Test and Criteria” 2nd edition, United Nations, New York, 1990.
73Jenus, Joseph, Jr. “Air Force Hazard Reduction Program”, Proceedings of the Insensitive Munitions Technology Symposium, ADPA Insensitive Munitions Division, Meeting # 471, Williamsburg, VA,
6-9 June 1994.