Joint service Insensitive Munition policy

Previous • Next

Before his retirement, RAdm. Meyer had introduced the IM concept to the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps Joint Ordnance Commanders Group (JOCG) and had recommended the establishment of a common IM policy for all the Services. RAdm. Meyer was concerned that the Navy would be forced to use munitions developed by the other Services that did not meet the Navy IM requirements. Mixing sensitive Army and Air Force munitions in the ship magazines could negate all of the Navy efforts to improve ship survivability. RAdm. Chang who replaced RAdm. Meyer on the JOCG continued to stress the IM policy and the Navy’s concern and his voice was finally heard.

In October 1985, the Services’ Joint Requirement Oversight Council, JROC, established an Insensitive Munitions Special Study Group to advise on the desirability of establishing a Joint Service Insensitive Munitions policy and program. The Study Group was comprised of flag and general officers from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps.

Weapon program offices soon took issue with the Navy’s Insensitive Munitions policy and objected to the establishment of a Joint Service policy. On 22 October 1985, the OP-05 Conventional Strike Warfare (CSW) Master Plan Project Team reviewing problems associated with Navy shortfalls issued a talking paper62 that questioned the value of the Navy Insensitive Munitions policy and program. The study team was comprised of representatives of weapon program offices in OP-05, NAVAIR, and the NSWC, China Lake. The talking paper stated the following:

“- In the judgement [sic] of the CSW team it would be difficult to show enough gain in safety (under realistic conditions) by shifting to the more expensive and slightly less sensitive fills to justify any further delays in building up our critical conventional weapons inventories.

– In our view there is a much greater risk of losing a Marine Battalion ashore or a ship at sea from our inability to provide the right ordnance to defend them than to suffer a similar loss caused by some accident brought on by a fractional difference in sensitivity of our fills.

– There is far more to competing weapon design requirements than just safety considerations, and although safety is prominent among the considerations, they also include Performance, Survivability, Reliability, Cost, and Availability when needed.

Conclusion: It is not clear that further delays in our conventional weapons programs can be justified by the small increments of safety offered by following the insensitive munitions guidelines.”

In spite of the many disastrous incidents that had occurred, many of the Navy weapon designers did not accept the IM policy. Munitions that were remarkably less sensitive to heat, bullet, and fragment impact could be produced at that time. The cost of introducing the new technology was negligible when compared to the cost of the material damage to ships and aircraft and the loss of life resulting from the aircraft carrier accidents. However, this appeared to be unimportant to some. For example, NAVSEA approved PBXN-109 for use in BLU 110/B General Purpose bombs on 27 October 1986.63 Although this explosive met all of the insensitive munitions requirements except sympathetic detonation, it was not considered by the OPNAV Conventional Strike Warfare Master Plan Project Team.

This omission reflected, clearly, the resistance emanating from most program offices to the CNO policy. Many of the weapon program managers believed that IM policy was simply an encroachment into their domain by the energetic materials community. This feeling caused significant confusion in the commercial weapon industry. At one time it was rumored that the IM policy was not “for real” and the IM requirements would soon go away. More than one weapon contractor told me that they were told to ignore the policy. Contrary to this, however, each CNO in office and the OPNAV Insensitive Munitions Council have continued to provide strong support to the IM policy and program.

To demonstrate the value of insensitive munitions, the Insensitive Munitions Advanced Development program conducted a demonstration test at China Lake. An A-4 aircraft was rigged with an ordnance item containing a detonable explosive material under one wing and another item containing an insensitive explosive material under the other wing. In the first test, the “insensitive” item was hit with a 23 mm HEI projectile. The item ignited and burned. There was some damage to the aircraft and this could have caused the pilot to eject; however, the pilot would have had the option.

In the second test, the “sensitive” ordnance was hit by another 23 mm HEI projectile from the same gun. The item detonated, the aircraft was completely destroyed, and debris was spread over the test site. In this latter case, there would have been no option for the pilot to eject. Although the test was convincing to us in the IM office, neither the Air Force nor the Navy air-launched weapons program offices was interested in the results.

Previous • Next

62Conventional Strike Warfare Team on Navy Shortfalls in CSW Capability, Talking Paper on Insensitive Munitions Issues, dated 22 October 1985.
63NAVSEANOTE 8010, Final (Type) Qualification of PBXW-109(Q) for Use in BLU 110/B General Purpose (GP) Bombs, OPR 06G Ser 06/304, dated 27 October 1986.