Clearance of unexploded ordnance (UXO) is a necessary, but hazardous, function at many Department of Defense sites. The traditional technique of detonating an explosive charge in close proximity to the UXO for disposal poses threats to the environment from introducing additional contamination to the surrounding soil, air, and water and also impacts indigenous wildlife. Handling, placing, and detonating the explosive charge are hazardous for personnel. The objective of this project was to demonstrate and validate the use of standoff laser energy to neutralize UXO in an environmentally friendly way.
Advances in laser technology have enabled the construction of a next-generation mobile laser neutralization system, the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV)-mounted Laser Ordnance Neutralization System (H-LONS). H-LONS includes a 500-watt diode pumped laser. All supporting subsystems are self-contained within the vehicle. The high-power laser is directed by an operator using a target-designating camera and a laser-beam director to the target via a stabilized steering/pointing mirror. The system is able to heat UXO cases sufficiently to cause detonation from a safe standoff distance.
This project demonstrated that H-LONS can perform range clearance tasks. H-LONS neutralized all 609 targets with no laser-related problems. Targets were neutralized in a range of engagement times from 2 to 463 seconds fired from engagement ranges of 21 to 100 meters. Generally, the farther the engagement range, the greater the engagement time. Munitions reacted in either a low-order detonation or a burnout of explosives, usually depending on the type of munition lased or its condition when lased. The laser neutralizations showed explosive residue amounts in magnitudes of hundreds, thousands, and tens of thousands of times greater than those left by the current method. All the secondary criteria of not generating process waste, ease of use, and versatility were met. Over the course of the demonstration, the vehicle required numerous minor maintenance repairs, but the maintenance did not affect the laser or its performance.
H-LONS can perform range clearance tasks in a manner that uses less manpower and is safer for operators although it may not be less environmentally damaging than the current range clearance method. It is, however, a promising technology to neutralize ordnance without the need for an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technician to set foot near the ordnance. The primary factor affecting implementation beyond cost is that the technology represents a radical departure from the traditional method of neutralizing ordnance. (Project Completed - 2006)