RADFORD, Va. -- Radford Army Ammunition Plant is undergoing a major modernization effort. Construction began on a new Nitric Acid Concentrator/Sulfuric Acid Concentrator in December, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is now designing plans for a new nitrocellulose plant.

"We hope to begin construction on a new facility between 2010 and 2013," said Rob Davie, the chief of Operations Division for Radford. "Radford is the sole North American source for Nitrocellulose. NC is the key ingredient in the manufacture of all propellants," said Lt. Col. Jon Drushal.

"Think about the ammo in Afghanistan and Iraq, 99 percent of the small caliber ammo contains NC from this facility," said Kent Holiday, vice president and general manager of ATK, the contractor that operates Radford.

"Every Soldier, sailor, airman, and Marine needs to know that the round in their rifle or artillery is going to work. When it goes downrange and hits a target, that's the Joint Munitions Command message of ready and reliable ammunition," said Jyuji Hewitt, deputy to the commander for JMC.

The current NC plant is housed in the original structures built on the base in 1941.

"Those buildings are the same as they looked back then," said Davie.

"They served their purpose very well for the last 70 years," said Dan McGlothlin, a civil engineer at Radford.

"It's amazing that wood buildings even last so long," said Davie. "We need the new building because the NC plant is the building block in all ammo, and we must produce it cost effectively and safely. It's really important, that's why we need to modernize this facility."

The new plant will have a much smaller footprint.

"It's a lot smaller, but it won't be smaller on production output. It will use less energy, less water, and will be more efficient. It will also discharge less waste," said Davie. The new facility will also be safer for workers with "a lot more automation and controls and better lighting," he continued.

However Davie and McGlothlin aren't waiting around for the construction of the new facility to begin improvements to the NC production process.

"We make good NC now, but we'll make it even better with the equipment we are installing," said McGlothlin.

The new equipment installed in December includes a deflaker unit and a cutter. These pieces of equipment will help reduce agglomerates. According to McGlothlin, agglomerates are clumps of fibers that don't absorb the acids needed to make them effective propellants. Reducing these agglomerates "will produce a product that will satisfy ever tighter quality and performance requirements," he said.

"The NC produced at Radford continues to meet all military specifications and meets the majority of our customer needs, but there continues to be an increased need for higher quality NC that actually exceeds the MilSpec. These changes are being driven by advances in technology and Radford is prepared to meet those challenges," said McGlothlin.

Radford is a government-owned, contractor-operated facility that manufactures a diverse range of propellants in support of small, medium, and large caliber military munitions for the warfighter. Radford also creates ammo that goes directly to theater.

"A key product produced at Radford is the M-789 medium caliber round that is shot out of the Apache. Within weeks of the rounds coming off the line, they are in a gun in Iraq or Afghanistan," said Drushal.