The U.S. Navy’s Insensitive Munitions program

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On 3 May 1983, CAPT. Jack Whitely, OP 354 called CAPT. Bill Cadow, SEA-64, inquiring about an “Insensitive Munitions” program. Adm. Watkins, who was now the Chief of Naval Operations, had asked for a status report on that program. Two CNO Executive Board (CEB) briefings, Passive Fire Safety and Surface Ship Survivability, had identified munitions sensitivity as a major problem.

Both CEBs had emphasized the critical need to reduce the sensitivity of Navy munitions. Pentagon briefings by British Naval officers on their Falkland war experiences had added emphasis to the munition sensitivity problem. Adm. Watkins remembered that almost 4 years earlier, he had issued an Operational Requirement and established a program to address insensitive explosives applications to reduce the sensitivity of the ordnance used by the Navy.

I met with CAPT. Jack Whitely, LCdr. John Kelly and RAdm. John Nyquist of OP-35 on 5 May and on 13 May 1983. At these meetings, I briefed them on the status of Explosives Advanced Development program and told them about the “insensitive ordnance” recommendation made by VAdm. Bulkeley that led to the issuance of the Operational Requirement for Insensitive High Explosives. I believed that this was the basis for the questions being asked by Adm. Watkins.

The Navy did not have an Insensitive Munitions program at that time. Rather, the program established by Adm. Watkins in 1978 was the Explosive Advanced Development program for which OP-354 was the sponsor. Initially, the EAD program had been structured as an “insensitive ordnance ” program. However by the time the program came to fruition, the funding had been severely reduced and the work had been limited to high explosives and solid gun propellants.

The funds necessary to address the sensitivity of the total ordnance package had not been provided by OPNAV. This was because the Warfare Sponsors in OPNAV and the weapon project offices in both NAVAIR and NAVSEA viewed the program as being in conflict with their charters and had been successful in having OPNAV reduce the scope of the effort. The Warfare Sponsors in OPNAV had been accommodating to the program managers’ objections. This was because, after all, they had been told by OP-98 to take the money out of their existing budgets to support the EAD program – no new money had been identified.

On 24 June 1983, the Commander in Chief, U.S. Army, Europe (CINCUSAREUR) sent a message51 to the Pentagon asking about the status of the Air Force program to use the insensitive explosive ethylenediaminedinitrate, EDDN, in conventional weapons. The Air Force and the Los Alamos National Laboratory had a rather large program underway at that time to demonstrate the utility of this explosive in General Purpose bombs.

The Army scientists at the Picatinny Arsenal had evaluated EDDN, during World War II but it was never used by the Services. Because of its insensitive properties, the Air Force believed that EDDN could be useful in reducing quantity-distance requirements52 in airfield storage areas. The program was not successful and was eventually terminated. The reasons are documented elsewhere. In his message, the CINCUSAEUR stated the following:

“…Although we’ve been cautioned that the Air Force test data may be optimistic we feel that this program offers substantial promise. Use of IHE in just our standard mines, demolitions and artillery projectiles could save millions in production, transport and handling costs, allow us to substantially reduce the massive requirements we’ve placed on NATO and our host nation for ammo facilities and make malpositioning a thing of the past. How can USAREUR best add impetus to the IHE effort? The impact of IHE on our readiness as well as that of our NATO partners could be substantial…”

A copy of this message was circulated in OPNAV and served as a reminder for ADM. Watkins, the CNO, about his questions regarding the sensitivity of Navy munitions and may have prompted his request for a CEB briefing.

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51CINCUSAEUR ODCSLOG, Heidelberg, GE Msg. P 24169Z Jun 83 to CDRDARCOM, Alexandria, VA; Subject: Insensitive High Explosives (IHE).
52The quantity-distance requirements imposed by the DOD are used to determine the amount of explosive materials that can be stored in a given area. This is to protect populated areas that may be located near magazines and minimize casualties should an explosive event occur.