This project will observe and characterize the visual and structural changes that have occurred to munitions as a result of aging in an underwater environment. By analyzing research and news reports of recovered ordnance and their component materials, as well as integrating those observations with previous age-related findings involving landmines, the research team will establish a framework of subsequent implications for the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Munitions Response efforts. The project’s primary objective is to understand the impacts of the underwater environment on munitions as a means to identify the residual risk these munitions pose, so people undertaking detection and clearance efforts can reliably assess operational risk and make informed decisions. The work will also have implications for prioritizing clearance tasks and assessing effectiveness of particular detection systems in specific conditions, all of which, in turn, can affect cost-effectiveness of underwater remediation operations. The effort is a collaboration between the Center for International Stabilization and Recovery, Fenix Insight Ltd, and James Madison University (JMU).
The project will consist of three phases. In the first, the team will consolidate and review existing data on land-based ammunition aging to make logical predictions for their application in comparing recovered underwater munitions and investigate patterns of deterioration among casing materials, mechanisms, and explosive compositions to make educated predictions for future comparisons. Phase 2 will involve sourcing data from humanitarian and commercial underwater ammunition clearance operations by leveraging the team’s networked connections within the humanitarian mine action and explosive ordnance disposal community and will compare the land-based findings from the literature review with imagery and data from aged ammunition found underwater. During this phase, the team will use Fenix Insight’s state-of-the-art “insight engine;” an online information system that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to comb news reports, social media, and other sources for information on relevant incidents. In Phase 3, the team will review their findings to arrive at conclusions and implications of the project as well as making recommendations for future research opportunities. During all phases, JMU faculty with backgrounds in chemistry, physics, geology, and environmental and materials sciences will advise the project based on their expertise regarding how external environmental factors impact various materials. In the form of an advisory board, they will provide expert analysis on what physical and chemical changes are likely to affect underwater munitions based on information gathered on their condition, inferring what characteristics of their environment may cause those effects. The faculty advisors will also assess possible implications of the research and recommended next steps, in particular where there may be opportunities for practical laboratory analysis to provide additional insights.
Successful identification as well as safe removal and neutralization of aged underwater munitions requires an advanced knowledge base to reliably assess operational risk and make informed decisions. This project will improve DoD’s munition response efforts by building on existing evidence on biofouling and corrosion of munitions and the current understanding of the effects of the underwater environment on ammunition, as well as starting to identify what factors lead to those effects. By leveraging past work on the effects of the natural environment on land-based munitions, this project will provide an initial understanding of the risks involved in practical activities such as detecting, classifying, and remediating military munitions at underwater sites, as well as the feasibility of carrying out these activities. Additionally, while the primary focus here is the effect of the environment on munitions, there is also the opportunity to consider what impacts corroded munitions in underwater settings may have on their environment, and the implications for the health of underwater ecosystems. The work undertaken here seeks to inform a broad range of sectors, such as military and police, as well as humanitarian and commercial clearance efforts. In the long run, this effort will not only save lives, but also help protect the marine environment, guide clearance prioritization, and inform a wide range of decisions that can lead to saving cost, time and resources in underwater clearance operations.