Navy issues an Operational Requirement (OR) for insensitive high explosives

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Adm. Watkins, the new VCNO, signed the Navy Operational Requirement,44 for Insensitive High Explosives (OR #S-0363-SL), on 22 August 1979. This document identified the major Navy problems with explosives as follows:

  1. The ability of Navy combatants to operate effectively has been degraded by catastrophic explosions from unintentional initiation of munitions due to explosives sensitivity to fire, fragment impact, mechanical shock and as a result of chemical degradation… Furthermore, launch platform vulnerability to offensive weapons is critically dependent on the susceptibility of on-board munitions to violent explosive reaction caused by enemy warhead fragments, fire, and shock.
  2. Aerodynamic heating of ordnance on high performance aircraft and on low altitude missiles and the hot gun situation created by rapid fire naval guns requires the use of stable, heat resistant explosives…
  3. The effectiveness of Navy offensive weapons is limited by the vulnerability of the explosive load to enemy point defense systems that use projectiles, high velocity fragments, or directed energy. Explosives are required that can survive these environments and still function reliably…

On 29 November 1979, Adm. Watkins established the Explosives Advanced Development (EAD) program.45 The memo to VAdm. Doyle establishing the program stated the following:

“… This program will address explosives material characterizations, insensitive explosives applications, pilot plant investigations, and large scale safety tests which span the surface, air, and submarine warfare areas. The anticipated benefit to each warfare area would be reduction in platform vulnerability, increased safety, in munitions handling, and increased weapon lethality.”

The memo also directed that an OPNAV Steering Committee be established to provide program direction, coordination, and priorities, and to prevent duplication of effort. Op-03 was designated as the program sponsor and directed to provide a chairman for the Steering Committee. OPs 02, 04, 05, 090, and 098 were to provide representatives to the committee.

On 4 February 1980, VAdm. Doyle established the Explosives Advanced Development (EAD) Steering Committee46 to oversee the EAD program efforts and assure that each OPNAV warfare sponsor identified the funding as requested in the VCNO directive. CAPT. Fred Howe, OP-354, was assigned as the Chairman and I was designated as the Technical Advisor to the Steering Committee.47 Mr. Danny Bronson of the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren on detail to OP-354 assisted CAPT Howe in the development the Committee organization, charter, and schedules.

Each Navy R&D or production activity was asked to identify a point-of-contact to help in the implementation of the EAD program. The program was funded $4.2 million in fiscal year (FY) 1981, $4.2 million in FY 82, $4.3 million in FY 83 and $4.3 million in FY 84. These amounts were far below the $20 million per year funding level envisioned for the program when it was first approved in 1976. Because of this, the program focused the efforts on high explosives and LOVA gun propellant formulations rather than on the total “insensitive ordnance” effort championed by VAdm. Bulkeley.

On 27 March 1980, I presented details of the Navy effort to reduce ordnance sensitivity and the new Explosives Advanced Development (EAD) program at the American Defense Preparedness Association, Load, Assembly & Packaging Section48 meeting held at the Army Ammunition Plant, Hawthorne, NV. There I stated the following:

“To a limited extend, we have demonstrated that the insensitive PBX’s burn rather than detonate in fires and are less sensitive than conventional explosives to bullet, fragment, or target impacts. What is yet to be shown is that these new explosives are less likely to detonate sympathetically and that they are producible in large quantities… The overall objective of the new program is to make new insensitive explosives available for widespread use in Fleet munitions… There are insensitive explosives available today that can reduce the hazards of unintentional initiation of munitions and we believe that the use of these by the Navy can significantly improve the survivability of weapons and ships.”

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44Operational Requirement (OR) Insensitive High Explosives (IHE), OR #S-0363-SL, Enclosure to CNO Ser. 987/239915 of 22 August 1979.
45Office of the Chief of Naval Operations Memorandum to Op-03, Ser. 09/101439, dated 29 November 1977; Subj: Explosives Advanced Development.
46Op-03 letter Ser. 03/725100 of 4 February 1980.
47NAVSEA ltr 64E/RLB Ser 17 dated 7 March 1980; Subj: Explosive Advanced Development Steering Committee.
48Beauregard, R.L., Navy Explosives Technology, 1980 Annual Meeting of the Load, Assembly & Packaging Section, Ammunition Technology division, American Defense Preparedness Association, AAP, Hawthorne NV, 26 to 28 March 1980.