CNO Executive Board (CEB) briefing on the sensitivity of Navy munitions

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I met with RAdm. Altwegg (OP-03B), RAdm. Nyquist, CAPT. Whitely, and LCdr. Kelly again on 29 August 1983 to answer questions about the Navy explosive programs and to review what I believed were the basis for the CNO question. A CEB presentation draft prepared in OP-354 was sent to me in mid October 1983. After reviewing it, I sent it and my comments to RAdm. Wayne Meyer, the NAVSEA Deputy Commander for Combat Systems, SEA-06. CAPT. Cadow and I met with RAdm. Wayne Meyer to discuss the OP-03 draft CEB briefing on 10 November 1983.

RAdm. Meyer took issue with the content of the draft CEB presentation. He believed that it was too superficial. The proposed briefing did not provide a thorough examination of Navy munitions sensitivity and its effect on warship survivability in combat. This was indeed the cause of the concern and needed to be addressed. RAdm. Meyer felt that NAVSEA, the lead Systems Command for explosives and weapon systems safety, should have been more involved in the CEB preparation.

RAdm. Meyer set up meetings with RAdm. Byrd, MAT-04, on 14 November, with VAdm. Fowler, COMNAVSEA, on 18 November, and with Adm. White, the Chief of Naval Material, on 25 November 1983. RAdm. Meyer made his point well and the message reached OP-03. As a result, OP-03 requested that RAdm. Meyer assume the responsibility for preparing the CEB briefing on insensitive munitions.

A “war room” was established in NAVSEA. Weapon program offices in NAVSEA and NAVAIR and the Naval Weapon Centers were asked to assign technical persons to help. During the first two weeks of December 1983, RAdm. Meyer held several meetings with the group to develop a strategy for the CEB and to review progress. He believed very strongly that to answer the CNO’s question, we needed a thorough assessment of the sensitivity of each Navy weapon based on weapon safety tests, on explosives sensitivity data, and on the vulnerability of the ship types that carried the weapon. Many of the persons involved believed that this would be an impossible task since there were minimum of data available from munitions sensitivity tests.

Though a number of other people were involved, in the end, it fell upon LCdr. John Kelly of OP-354, Dr. Lloyd Smith of NWC, China Lake, Mr. Jack Turner then with NKF Engineering, Inc. and me to gather and assess the data and prepare the CEB in accordance with RAdm. Meyer’s direction. We found that for many weapons, there indeed were very limited sensitivity data available. In some cases, the data had been lost, but in many cases, critical tests like cook-off, bullet impact, and sympathetic detonation had never been performed.

We used the test data found in the NAVSEA Safety data bank (SAFEORD), laboratory sensitivity data on explosive materials, and information on the warhead, propulsion unit, and fuze design to assess the vulnerability of each Navy munition, to heat, shock, and fragment impact. From these data and assessments, we estimated the potential for sympathetic detonation of the munition in its storage configuration if a similar munition stored nearby detonated.

Then we considered every type of surface ship. For each we determined the location of the munition stowage and ready magazine areas, the types of munitions stored in each place, the sensitivity of the munitions, the replacement cost of the ship, and the value of the ship to a carrier task force. Each of these factors was assigned a weighted value in accordance with its perceived importance. From this information, we rated the munitions and developed a priority list of munitions to “fix” in the order of relative importance to the fleet.

The following is a list of the munition “fix” priorities that we assigned. These were arranged in the order of decreasing importance. For example, the 5-inch/54-caliber gun ammunition was judged to be the most important. This was because it was carried on the largest number of ships and both the explosive in the warhead and the propellant in the cartridge case could detonate in case of an accident or and enemy attack. GP Bombs followed because of their size, the sensitive explosive used, the aircraft carrier fire problem, and the violence of the bomb cook-off reaction.


LCdr. Kelly and I met with RAdm. Altwegg, OP-03B, on 20 January 1984 to review progress and discuss the content of the proposed CEB presentation. On 23 January 1984, we presented the approach to VAdm. Walters, OP 03. From 14 to 24 February LCdr. Kelly moved the CEB preparation operation to the NKF Engineering Company offices in Tysons Corner, VA. There, with the help of Mr. Jack Turner and others, we finalized the presentation, prepared the back-up books, and designed the view graphs.

On the morning of Saturday 25 February 1984 we presented the first complete draft of the CEB to RAdm. Meyer. With his approval LCdr. Kelly and I briefed the CEB draft presentation to the following: On 8 March, to Adm. Prindle in OPNAV; on the morning of 9 March to Commodore Finneran of AIR-05; on the afternoon of 9 March to the pre-CEB review panel in OPNAV; and on 19 March 1984 to Adm. White, the Chief of Naval Material.

LCdr. Kelly made the CNO Executive Board presentation on 29 March 1984. Though we were not permitted to attend the meeting, RAdm. Meyer “sneaked” CAPT. Bill Cadow, Mr. Ed Daugherty of the NAVSEA Safety Office, and me into the projection room so that we could hear the proceedings and be ready to answer technical questions should the need arise.

The Board received the CEB briefing with interest and agreed that an Insensitive Munitions program was essential. It supported the Navy insensitive munitions policy as recommended in the CEB presentation. We heard one of the Board member’s comment that the program would be very expensive, and he did not know where the money to pay for the program would come from. Adm. Watkins replied that buying two or three fewer airplanes could easily pay for the program.

The CEB memorandum53 was issued on 13 April 1984. The decision memorandum states, among other things, the following:

“On 29 March 1984 the CNO and members of the CNO Executive Board received a presentation on the Insensitive Munitions (IM) program for the purpose of:
a. Assessing the direction and adequacy of the program in light of the increased emphasis on improving ship survivability…the Navy needs a clear policy statement supporting IM conceptually and with requisite funding. The CNO stated that a new management structure was needed for IM to put high level emphasis and oversight on this relatively obscure, disparate program, otherwise, IM will go unfunded, and associated munition problems will remain unsolved. …The CNO stated that he wanted clear separation of the IM management from other munitions management initiatives. …The CNO emphasized that in pursuing IM, no reduction in weapons performance is acceptable.”

The CEB decision memorandum approved the management structure, issued formal charters to support the management structure, and tasked Op-03 to provide a policy statement by 1 May 1984. Also, to avoid duplication of efforts, the CNO directed the establishment of an Insensitive Munitions Advanced Development program to develop the IM technology required to correct sensitivity problems that could not be resolved with that already available.

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53CNO Memorandum Ser. 090X/4U608280 to distribution list dated 13 April 1984; Subject: CEB Decision Memorandum on Insensitive Munitions.