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Unexploded ordnance (or UXOs/UXBs, sometimes acronymized as UO) are explosive weapons (bombs, bullets, shell, grenades, land mines, naval mines, etc.) that did not explode when they were employed and still pose a risk of detonation, potentially many decades after they were used or discarded. While "UXO" is widely and informally used, munitions and explosives of concern (MEC) is the current preferred terminology within the remediation community.

Unexploded ordnance worldwide

Unexploded ordnance from at least as far back as the American Civil War still poses a hazard worldwide, both in current and former combat areas and on military firing ranges. A major problem with unexploded ordnance is that over the years the detonator and main charge deteriorate, frequently making them more sensitive to disturbance, and therefore more dangerous to handle. There are countless examples of civilians tampering with unexploded ordnance that is many years old - often with fatal results. In Hawaii, there were several people killed by UXO before a group of companies including Parson Engineering and AXXA Group began the process of identifying and dismantling these devices. Other non suspect areas have proven have large UXO content, people often will find a UXO, and believing it to be harmless they handle the device and it explodes, killing or severely injuring them. For this reason it is universally recommended that unexploded ordnance should not be touched or handled by unqualified persons. Instead, the location should be reported to the local police so that EOD professionals can render it safe.

In the Ardennesmarker region of Francemarker, large-scale citizen evacuations were necessary during UXO removal operations in 2001. In the forests of Verdunmarker French government "démineurs" working for the Département du Déminage still hunt for poisonous, volatile, explosive munitions and recover about 900 tons every year. The most feared are corroded artillery shells containing chemical warfare agents such as mustard gas. French and Flemish farmers still find many UXOs when ploughing their fields; the so-called "iron harvest".

A dramatic example of the threat of UXO is the wreck of the SS Richard Montgomerymarker off the coast of Kentmarker, which still contains 3000 tons of munitions. When a similar World War II wreck, the Polish Kielce exploded in 1967, it produced an earth tremor measuring 4.5 on the Richter scale.

As recently as December 2007, construction areas outside Orlando, Floridamarker discovered UXO in new development areas and had to halt construction efforts.[48849] Other areas nearby, including UXO in the Indian River Lagoon[48850] thought to be left from live bombing runs performed during WWII by pilots from nearby DeLand Naval Air Station have long been avoided by local boaters for fear of accidentally striking UXO as they motor by.

According to US Environmental Protection Agency documents released in late 2002, UXO at 16,000 domestic inactive military ranges within the United States pose an "imminent and substantial" public health risk and could require the largest environmental cleanup ever, at a cost of at least US$14 billion. Some individual ranges cover , and, taken together, the ranges comprise an area the size of Floridamarker.

In addition to the obvious danger of explosion, buried UXO also entails the risk of environmental contamination. In some heavily used military training areas, munitions-related chemicals such as explosives and perchlorate (a component of pyrotechnics and rocket fuel) can enter soil and groundwater. A prominent example exists at the Massachusetts Military Reservationmarker (MMR) on Cape Codmarker, Massachusettsmarker (USA), where decades of artillery training has contaminated the only drinking water for thousands of surrounding residents. An expensive UXO recovery effort is under way there.

UXO on US military bases has also caused problems for transferring and restoring Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) land. The Environmental Protection Agency's efforts to commercialize former munitions testing grounds are complicated by UXO, making investments and development risky.

UXO cleanup in the US involves over of land and 1,400 different sites. Estimated cleanup costs are tens of billions of dollars. It costs roughly $1,000 to demolish a UXO on site. Other costs include surveying and mapping, removing vegetation from the site, transportation, and personnel to manually detect UXOs with metal detectors. Searching for UXOs is tedious work and often 100 holes are dug to every 1 UXO found. Other methods of finding UXOs include digital geophysics detection with land and airborne systems.

Laosmarker has the dubious distinction of being the world's most heavily bombed nation. During the period of the American Vietnam War, over half a million bombing missions dropped more than 5 million tons of ordnance on Laos, most of it anti-personnel cluster bombs. Each cluster bomb shell contained hundreds of individual bomblets, "bombies", about the size of a tennis ball. An estimated 30% of these munitions did not detonate. Ten of the 18 Laotian provinces have been described as "severely contaminated" with artillery and mortar shells, mines, rockets, grenades, and other devices from various countries of origin. These munitions pose a continuing obstacle to agriculture and a special threat to children, who are attracted by the toylike devices.

In the aftermath of the 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon, it is estimated that southern Lebanon is littered with one million undetonated cluster bombs - approximately 1.5 bombs per Lebanese inhabitant of the region, dropped by Israeli Defense Forces in the last days of the war.

In the United Kingdom

UXO is standard terminology in the UKmarker, although in artillery, especially on practice ranges, an unexploded shell is referred to as a blind, and during the Blitz in World War II an unexploded bomb was referred to as an UXB. Most current UXO risk is limited to areas, mainly in Londonmarker and Portsmouthmarker, that were subject to the Blitz and to land used by the military to store ammunition or to train on.According to the Construction Industry Research and Information Industry (CIRIA), from 2006 to 2009, over 15,000 items of ordnance were found in construction sites in the UK. Most notably, 1000 homes were evacuated in Plymouth in April 2009 when a Second World War bomb was discovered, and in June 2008 a 1 000 kg bomb was found in Bow in East London. CIRIA have now published "Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) - a guide for the construction industry" to provide advice on assessing the risk posed by UXO.

Detection technology

In cases of unexploded subsoil ordnance a remote investigation is done by visual interpretation of available historical aerial photographs. Modern techniques can combine geophysical and survey methods with modern electromagnetic and magnetic detectors. This provides digital mapping of UXO contamination with the aim to better target subsequent excavations, reducing the cost of digging on every metallic contact and speeding the clearance process. Magnetometer probes can detect UXO and provide geotechnical data before drilling or piling is carried out..

Currently in the U.S., the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP), and Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP) Department of Defense programs fund research into not only the detection, but also discrimination of UXO from scrap metal. Much of the cost of UXO removal comes from removing non-explosive items that the metal detectors have identified, so improved discrimination is critical. New techniques such as shape reconstruction from magnetic data and better de-noising techniques (to name a few) will prove invaluable to reducing cleanup costs and enhancing recovery.

UXO or UXBs (as they are called in some countries - unexploded bombs) are broadly classified into buried and unburied. The disposal team carries out reconnaissance of the area and determines the location of the ordnance. In case it is unburied it may be dug carefully and disposed. But if the bomb is a buried one then it becomes a huge task. A team is formed to find the location of bomb using metal detectors and then the earth is dug carefully.

Green ammunition

U.S. soldier loading a grenade launcher with MK281 40mm non-dud producing ammunition.
Fort Irwin, CA.

There are an estimated 11 million acres contaminated with unexploded ordnance in the United States alone. These 1400+ UXO sites, taken together, comprise approximately the area of Florida.

By presidential executive order the US Armed Forces are mandated to buy “green ammunition” for use at their training ranges. Green ammunition is non-dud producing and non-toxic, reducing cleanup costs and environmental risks. Environmentally sound training rounds come in 5.56 caliber and 40 mm high and low-velocity training cartridges for grenade machine guns and under-barrel grenade launchers.
MK281 40mm non-dud producing ammunition.

Currently, the US army uses M918 40 mm cartridges called, which is a pyrotechnic design from the 1970s that contains heavy metals in the fuse and potassium perchlorate in the payload. It has a fuse failure rate of 3%-8%. The US Army continues to use the M918 and M385 cartridges, favoring a "mixed-belt" approach to reducing duds and toxic leaching, however the M918 cannot be used in dry weather because of potential range fires.

US defense forces are now testing the 40 mm MK281 cartridge, Non-Dud Producing (NDP) and non-toxic training cartridge for the MK19. In 2006, the US Marine Corps signed a $61 million 5-year contract with the Rheinmetall Group. The National Training Center (NTC) in Fort Irwin, California is partially integrating the MK281 into its operations. The U.S. Center for Health Promotion and Preventative Medicine at the Aberdeen Proving Groundmarker, Maryland approved the MK281.

Given that the military uses 6-10 millions of training rounds per year , this leads to a substantial amount of UXO, leading to mandates from the Department of Defense and Environmental Protection Agency to phase out this older training ammunition. This transition is dependent on the US military-industrial base becoming ready to design and manufacture necessary amounts of green ammunition.

As of 2009, there are no US manufacturers to provide the necessary supply of green ammunition, rendering the Department of Defense's mission to phase out older ammunition at odds with its second mission to buy designs and material from US suppliers. Many small US ammunition manufacturers, many associated with the rapid creation of WWII Army Ammunition Plants, have not invested in green ammunition R&D.

"Green" also refers to the manufacturing process of ammunition. US Army programs at Picatinny Arsenal are researching methods of reducing volatile organic compounds and ozone depleting compounds during the manufacturing process. Attempts are also being made to reduce the amount of hazardous materials in the actual ammunition.

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