By Jen Judson
McALESTER, Okla. — Many of the U.S. Army’s ammunition plants, arsenals and depots, mostly constructed in World War II, are time capsules of the era. The service has tried to update these wartime facilities, but there is much left to do to bring them into the 21st century.
McAlester Army Ammunition Plant in Oklahoma is dotted with shrub-cloaked ammunition bunkers built around 1943 and resembling Hobbit-holes. Old covered bridges that extend from external break rooms to manufacturing facilities across roads loom overhead but are now closed because of the presence of asbestos.
Since WWII, trains have carried in supplies and carted out ammunition in cargo containers. The Army has worked to update rail gauges and train cars to keep shipments moving on time, day and night.
Long, dark tunnels connect one facility for painting and prepping bomb shells to another where explosives are loaded into those rounds. A robotic arm spray-paints the outside of a shell in one facility.
But this automated capability isn’t available for the nuances of mixing explosives or filling shells, Brig. Gen. Gavin Gardner, commander of Joint Munitions Command, told Defense News on a tour of the ammunition plant’s production line for the Mark 82, a 500-pound bomb used by the Air Force. Chemists still manually mix explosives — like tritonal, which is 80% TNT and 20% aluminum powder — using a resonant acoustic mixer, then adding it to the weapon mostly by hand.
Defense News accompanied Army Secretary Christine Wormuth on a trip to the plant last month.
By J.E. Jack Surash, P.E., SES, M.SAME April 12, 2022
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army is the largest consumer of installation energy in the Department of Defense, spending more than $1 billion per year on facility energy and water. With few exceptions, Army installations rely on commercial energy and water sources to accomplish critical missions. Uninterrupted access to energy and water is essential for readiness and the Army’s requirement to deploy, fight and win.
Vulnerabilities in interdependent electric grids, natural gas pipelines and water resources supporting Army installations jeopardize mission infrastructure, base security and the ability to project power and sustain global operations. As the Army’s initial maneuver platforms, installations must be able to operate and meet power projection requirements in and from an increasingly contested multi-domain operational environment.
The Army Installations Strategy, published in December 2020, represents a pivot from an Industrial Age paradigm characterized by rigidity and purpose-built specialization to a data-rich, reconfigurable Information Age construct. The strategy also indicates that Army installations support total ground force operations to mobilize and project capabilities anywhere in the world, at any time.
The Army Installation Energy and Water Strategic Plan aligns with Army Installations Strategy, establishing resilience, efficiency, and affordability as strategic goals. The strategic objectives of this plan are measurable through 12 metrics that clearly depict the Army’s progress in achieving resilient, efficient, and affordable installation of energy and water infrastructure. Building and measuring resilience improve the Army’s capability to prevent and recover from any disruption to energy and water utility services. That means greater readiness and a higher likelihood of mission success.