An eye on ammo
January 30, 2014
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Signal flares are designed to function in even the worst of situations. Beneath the cap is a small pin, which fits into place at the base of the canister. Move the cap from the top of the tube to the bottom, aim it toward the sky and give it a good slap, and the flare should launch approximately 700 feet into the air.
That's what happens when it works correctly, which is almost always, said Mike Armour, quality assurance specialist (ammunition surveillance) for Fort Jackson. Occasionally, though, a dud will slip through. And the only way to know if ammunition is faulty is to use it, he said.
"Back in June, there was a malfunction on one of the ranges, the Night Infiltration Course," Armour said. "They had a report of three 'hang fires' -- which is when you try to fire a round, and there's a delay in the function. But it will eventually function, and that's a dangerous situation."
Soldiers with the 4th Battalion, 10th Infantry Regiment, who were manning the range, acted quickly to assess the situation, he said. The procedures established for dealing with this kind of situation involve on-post support as well as ammunition inspections around the world. Once Armour is notified, the situation is reported to Joint Munitions Command, where specialists review global stockpile numbers and look for a pattern of malfunction in specific inventory lots.
"They'll determine if they're going to restrict, or possibly suspend, certain lot numbers of ammunition," he said. "Ammunition is tracked by lot numbers, so, basically, if there's a malfunction anywhere in the world, the greater ammunition community is aware of it within 24 to 48 hours."
Prompted by the "hang fire" reports at Fort Jackson, Armour, a quality assurance representative from Picatinny Arsenal, N.J., and members of the 4-10th recently took a closer look at the post's inventory of signal flares.
"We remotely fired 96 flares and shot them off at Bastogne Range," Armour said. "We simply watched the flares to make sure they functioned. If they didn't function, we had arrangements with (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) to police up all non-functioning flares. Luckily, all of them worked."
He said the review found no apparent cause for the flares' previous failures.
"Sometimes, ammunition malfunctions become a mystery," Armour said. "It depends on the type of ammunition and weapons system, but (hang fires) are predominantly very rare. We do a pretty good job of maintaining quality standards in the production of ammunition from the various depots and contractors. The United States has less to worry about in regards to that than many other countries. Unfortunately, with such good quality comes a bit of complacency."
This is where quality assurance specialists come in, he said. It's his job to make sure individual units on post don't take the effectiveness of their weapons for granted.
"I watch ammo," Armour said, summarizing his job responsibilities on post. "Any military explosive that moves in or out of Fort Jackson falls in my lane of responsibility to make sure it's good to go for our troops."
Fort Jackson's ammunition responsibilities don't end with supervising what is used by training units, he said. Fort Jackson services a lot of different companies, from the National Guard to the Marine Corps. "We get everything from 155-mm projectile rounds, to C4-Composition B explosives to 5.56-mm rounds that they're firing out on most of the ranges every day," Armour said.
There is also a certain amount of responsibility placed on units to maintain quality control, he said. The recent signal flare review couldn't have taken place without the support of Company B, 4-10th, he said.
"It was their (executive officer) who stepped up and supported it," he said. "It probably saved the Army a few thousand bucks, at least. Otherwise, we would have had to ship the material off to another installation or depot somewhere to do that same operation."