VAdm. Bulkeley concerned the vulnerability of magazines on surface ships

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It was in this time period that VAdm. John Bulkeley, the President of the Navy Board of Inspection and Survey was expressing serious concerns about the survivability of Navy surface ships. The aluminum superstructures and the location of the weapons magazines above the water line, as used in modern ship designs, worried him. These ships provided little protection to the munitions in the magazines and, if they were hit by enemy fire, “cheap kills” would result from magazine explosions on these vessels.

He recalled at least two cases during World War II where secondary explosions of munitions in magazines had destroyed ships. In May 1941 an armor-piercing shell had penetrated into the magazine of the British battleship HMS HOOD and caused a secondary explosion. The ship sank in 90 seconds and there were only three survivors out of a crew of 1800. Similarly, in March 1945, two armor-piercing bombs penetrated the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS FRANKLIN (CV-13) and exploded in the hangar deck. The resulting fires and secondary explosions of munitions destroyed the ship and killed 800 sailors.

Dr. June Amiley of NAVMAT told Admiral Bulkeley about the NAVSEA insensitive explosives application program sponsored by OP-03 and of the results obtained at the China Lake laboratory in munition cook-off tests. As a result, Adm. Bulkeley requested a NAVSEA briefing on the work to produce new explosives that could reduce munitions sensitivity. On 26 February 1979, RAdm. Compton of NAVSEA and I attended a meeting of the “INSURV” Board to present the briefing.

After the briefing, VAdm. Bulkeley sent a letter41 to VAdm. Long, the VCNO, on 27 February 1979, which stated:

“The Board has recently had the opportunity to hear a detailed briefing by NAVSEA 06J relative to efforts in the development of less sensitive explosives… Because of the Board’s continuing concern as to the vulnerability of the FFG-7, LHA and DD-963 classes due to the above water line and/or topside location of the ship weapon magazines, it is considered that an approach using less sensitive explosives has substantial potential for improving the battle worthiness of these ships. …the board believes that the Navy does have unique requirements for insensitive ordnance which merits top level support.”

The VCNO agreed with Adm. Bulkeley and asked VAdm. Doyle, OP-03, to make the arrangements to receive the briefing in OPNAV. We should note here that the expression “insensitive ordnance” used by VAdm. Bulkeley and VAdm. Long in their correspondence would eventually become “insensitive munitions” at the CNO level.

I presented preliminary briefings to VAdm. Doyle on 30 April and 4 May 1979. The presentation to VAdm. Long was on 21 May 1979.42 VAdm. Long was about to leave the VCNO position at that time and his relief, Adm. Watkins, attended the meeting. It was at that meeting that the decision was made to approve a program to reduce the sensitivity of naval ordnance and to issue a Navy Operational Requirement, OR, to support the effort. The title “Operational Requirement for Insensitive High Explosives” was selected for the OR by OP-98 to show that the Navy was indeed addressing the high level DOD interest in IHE’s as championed by the Department of Energy Laboratories.

On 22 May 1979, VAdm. Long issued a memorandum43 for OP-98 stating:

“Come back to me on Plastic Bonded Explosives, after consulting with CNM, on the issue of Plastic Bonded Explosives (PBX Family) to insure we are not reinventing the wheel; one program for aviation ordnance, one for surface ship ordnance; and one for submarine ordnance. This should be a coordinated Navy effort, not a sectional effort.”

As a result of this memo, OP-98 directed that each OPNAV warfare sponsor identify a portion of the funds necessary for the program. Mr. Max Stosz and I drafted the Navy OR for Insensitive High Explosives and I briefed the draft document to VAdm. Fellows, OP-98, on 2 August 1979.

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41President , Board of Inspection and Survey letter to Adm. R. L. J. Long, Vice Chief of Naval Operations dated 27 February 1979 with enclosed SEA 06J presentation.
42SEA-64E Memorandum to SEA-00/09, 64E/RLB, Ser. 44 dated 23 April 1979.
43R. L. J. Long, N-391, Memorandum for OP-98 of 22 May 1979; Subj: Plastic Bonded Explosives.