Pallets of munition await shipment at an ammo supply point at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, in late 2015.
Pallets of munition await shipment at an ammo supply point at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, in late 2015. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army Photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

The Russia-Ukraine conflict has provided many lessons for novice military observers and think tanks alike, regarding usability of drones, military aid packages for a proxy war, and the vulnerability of a force lacking an NCO corps. One lesson highlighted is the susceptibility of ammunition support activities in open areas to quickly be targets for off-the-shelf drones with innovative munitions-dropping mechanisms.

Armed conflict occurs when a state or non-state actor uses lethal force as the primary means to satisfy its interests and can range from irregular warfare to conventional warfare or combinations of both. The vulnerability of munitions storage in open areas requires advanced overhead protection and concealment techniques still being developed. Moving away from open areas brings us closer to inhabited areas during armed conflict.

Armed Conflict

Battles in urban environments are not new. Examples include the battles of Manila (Philippines), Hue (Vietnam), Mogadishu (Somalia), and Fallujah (Iraq). One key difference in the current Russia-Ukraine conflict is that forces do not have the freedom of movement in support areas as in past conflicts. Field Manual 4-0, Sustainment Operations, indicates adversary activities include surveillance of U.S. military installations, unit movements, ports of embarkation and debarkation, and staging areas to identify potential targets for ballistic missiles and long-range fires.

Adversaries challenge the days of massive uncontested build-up with inexpensive capabilities. One of the most vulnerable targets is the joint security area (JSA), which facilitates the protection of joint bases and the connecting lines of communications that support joint operations. The JSA is inside or immediately adjacent to an operational area where significant forces and sustainment from two or more services are positioned to support operations.

The sustainment warfighting function incorporates support activities and maximizes available urban infrastructure. The function ensures freedom of action, extends operational reach, and prolongs endurance. Commanders must understand how the environment and local population impacts sustainment support. If munitions cannot be in the open for combat operations, they need to be closer to the warfighter and out of sight to avoid being an easy target. Commanders require deviation from explosives safety separation distance, known as quantity-distance, as dense urban terrain enhances sustainment, having numerous features that offer both attackers and defenders operational advantage, such as roads, concealment, and additional civilian manpower.

One aspect of the severity of damage or injury to Soldiers from an explosion is dependent upon the distance between the potential explosion site and the exposed site, which includes the inhabited building distance, intermagazine distance, intraline distance, and public traffic route distance.

Explosives Safety Regulations and Standards

When minimum explosives safety standards cannot be met due to strategic or operational necessity, DOD Directive 6055.09E, Explosives Safety Management, requires combatant commanders base their decisions concerning military munitions risk on the methodology and requirements prescribed in related issuances and DOD explosives safety regulations and standards. In addition, the Chairman of The Joint Chiefs of Staff Instruction 4360.01C instructs commanders outside the United States to use applicable international agreements and implement host-nation or multinational explosives safety regulations when they are equivalent to or more strict than applicable U.S. regulations. One example of these agreements is NATO.

Allied Ammunition Storage and Transport Publication, NATO Guidelines for the Storage, Maintenance, and Transport of Ammunition on Deployed Missions or Operations (AASTP)-5, authorizes the use of field distances (FDs). An FD refers to the distance between two potential explosion sites (PESs) whereby prompt sympathetic detonations are avoided or the distance between a PES and an exposed site where the FD maintains adequate protection levels. While these distances are for NATO operations, U.S. requirements precede others if they are more protective.

The leading DOD regulation for explosives, the Defense Explosives Safety Regulation 6055.09, provides additional guidance for a maneuvering force engaged with the enemy or movement to support operations. The risks and consequences are addressed and managed by the appropriate commander with the operational mission requirements. For the Army, commanders use the correct safety distances in combat operations before they defer to deviation from applicable regulations.

A Marine Corps Hero-400 loitering munition drone is staged before flight May 25, 2022, at San Clemente Island, California.
A Marine Corps Hero-400 loitering munition drone is staged before flight May 25, 2022, at San Clemente Island, California. (Photo Credit: Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Daniel Childs) VIEW ORIGINAL

Wartime Operations

Department of the Army Pamphlet 385-64, Ammunition and Explosives Safety Standards, Chapter 10, Wartime Operations, guides the safe handling, transportation, and storage of ammunition during wartime and contingency operations. Based on the acceptance of ever-increasing degrees of risk, the pamphlet provides options to the commander faced with additional ever-changing battlefield hazards that may outweigh explosives safety. The wartime explosives safety standards include the following two levels of protection:

  • Asset preservation distance. The distance that prevents propagation or reaction between PESs, allowing assets at the exposed site to be usable following an incident.
  • Minimum separation distance. The distance that prevents prompt propagation; however, late propagation of reactions between PESs is possible, which may impair mission capability.

Use of peacetime explosives safety standards should be followed as extensively as possible. Only after assessing the risks against the mission should the less restrictive guidance of the Wartime Operations chapter be used. For example, the distance between a billeting area and ammunition/explosives operations with 9,000 pounds of net explosives would require 1,250 feet in a garrison environment. Under wartime operations, commanders could use an asset preservation distance of 499 feet. In a tactical situation, commanders may require deviation from even these less restrictive standards and procedures. The senior commander should apply the Army risk management process and protect personnel and assets to the maximum degree possible.

Conclusion

Sustainment commanders must adapt to changing operational environments to provide munitions support. The Russia-Ukraine conflict has shown us how the role of sustainment has changed for munitions handlers in providing munitions to supported units. The Army must provide the proper guidance and equipment in addressing the new threats to ammunition support activities that conduct planning, preparation, and execution of operations across all levels of warfare. Our adversaries will use every capability, including loitering munitions, to degrade our ability to apply lethal force and provide effective, synchronized, and safe ammunition on the battlefield. As ordnance Soldiers, we must be prepared for the acute threats and our pacing challenges we face as a nation.

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Chief Warrant Officer 3 Michael K. Lima currently serves as the training developer with Ordnance Training Development Division. He is assigned to the Ordnance Corps and Ordnance School under Combined Arms Support Command at Fort Gregg-Adams, Virginia. He has trained with a missile defense industry participant and as an accountable officer for the ammunition supply point at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan. He holds a doctorate in business administration and a master’s degree from Baker College Center for Graduate Studies.

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This article was published in the Summer 2023 issue of Army Sustainment.

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