Ordnance Reef technology demonstration reaches halfway point
The remotely operated underwater munitions recovery system, pictured here, has recovered 32 munitions since it was first put into the waters off the Waianae Coast, Hawaii, July 1, 2011.

WAIANAE, Hawaii, Aug. 1, 2011 -- The Ordnance Reef technology demonstration, here, is midway through the technical display of abilities to recover and destroy underwater military munitions, near the Waianae coast.

Since the demonstration began, July 1, the remotely operated underwater munitions recovery system, or ROUMRS, has recovered 32 munitions -- 12 of which have been processed through the energetic hazards demilitarization system, or EHDS, resulting in the treatment and destruction of 73 pounds of explosives.

“What we’re doing here is trying something new, covering new ground in the ocean environment,” said J.C. King, assistant for munitions and chemical matters, Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Environment, Safety and Occupational Health. “We’re learning what works and what does not. The team we have assembled has been phenomenal in adapting to challenges.”

Challenges are common for technology demonstrations, particularly complex ones operating in a difficult environment, according to King.

“In the first week, we tackled mooring location changes, equipment breakdowns and failures, and swift and changing ocean currents,” King said. “All of these required a trial-and-error approach to determine procedures that work best, while still maintaining public safety and limiting potential injury to the marine environment.

“Fortunately, we have assembled a team of experts that has proven able to meet these challenges and make the adjustments needed to proceed in a manner protective of the crews involved, the public and the environment,” King said.

As planned, U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii is leaving munitions with substantial coral growth on or around them in place to avoid injury to coral. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency is assisting USAG-HI in avoiding and preventing injury to area coral and the underwater habitat.

According to King, the demonstration has already proven beneficial to the Army and the Department of Defense’s understanding of underwater military munitions and the marine habitat.

“We knew there was substantial coral growth on many of the munitions, but we did not expect for so many to be basically cemented to the ocean floor,” King said.

Attempting to dislodge these munitions has proved both time-consuming and virtually impossible.

“Because we are concerned with damaging both the coral and the robotic equipment being used, we decided that if the robotics could not free the munitions after a few minutes, without risking damage to the coral, we would leave them in place,” King added.

Munition corrosion has also proven more extensive than USAG-HI expected, King said. As a result, some munitions’ bodies are partially or completely deteriorated, but remain encrusted with coral and other organisms.

The crew is recovering samples for corrosion studies by the Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, San Diego, and the University of Hawaii, which will hopefully advance DoD’s and NOAA’s knowledge of the effects of the ocean environment on munitions.

“We are taking a holistic approach to this entire effort,” King said. “It’s not just about seeing whether the technology works. We’re also researching munition corrosion, studying the impact of munitions on the marine environment and vice versa, and assessing any potential dangers the munitions may pose to the community. Safety and environmental stewardship are our priorities.”

The demonstration is being conducted under the Army’s Environmental Quality Technology Program, which addresses the Army’s highest-priority environmental quality research and development needs.

USAG-HI will publish a report on the demonstration results, as well as other research it is conducting within the U.S. coastal waters of Hawaii, once completed. The demonstration will continue through Aug. 3.

Page last updated Mon August 1st, 2011 at 08:28