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Preserving Readiness Through Ammunition Packaging

Every Soldier knows that the weapons and munitions he uses have been tested thoroughly and are subject to strict quality control. The reason for this care is obvious: Weapons and munitions must work properly and safely every time. But probably few Soldiers know that the containers used to transport munitions receive the same high level of testing and must comply with standards just as exacting as their contents.

The OD (“olive drab”) metal container—the one that can work as a tool box as well as an ammunition box—has an entire team of engineers behind it that has designed, tested, redesigned, and retested it to meet the warfighter’s needs. Every container currently being fielded is designed to protect its contents for at least 20 years through the worst conditions possible.

The people who test these containers are packaging engineers. In the hands of these dedicated professionals, the “ammo can” has matured from wooden crates to high-tech, Soldier-proof, insensitive ammunition containers. [Insensitive containers will resist explosion when engulfed by fire or hit by small arms fire or fragments from larger ordnance.] The process is intensive, but the result is a container that provides full life-cycle protection of ammunition.


The first step in the container design process is to configure the basic overall envelope. When ammunition is small enough to fit many rounds in a box, the container used is usually rectangular. Missiles or larger shells generally are packaged in big metal tubes with square brackets welded in the middle and on the ends to permit stacking.

The next step is to determine the internal configuration of the container. An internal support system is usually placed inside the outer package. For some rounds, this can be simple foam padding; for others, a complicated plastic support is required.


Generally, the first series of tests for a newly designed container is outlined in Military Standard (MIL–STD)–1904, Design and Test Requirements for Level A Ammunition Packaging. The tests are designed to see if the round will be protected during transportation and that it will arrive at the firing line intact and functional. Dropping is the most common abuse of an ammunition container, so the testers drop them—over and over again.

The first drop test simulates a Soldier accidentally dropping the container. The height depends on how large and heavy the round is. For most packaged rounds that weigh less than 150 pounds, the first drop is 3 feet. The second drop is from 7 feet, which simulates a package falling from a truck or hovering helicopter. During these drop tests, containers of dummy rounds are dropped in every way possible, hitting every edge. Three feet may seem like a short distance, but a 100-pound container dropped only a few feet lands with a great deal of force. Through these tests, each container must be able to maintain an internal overpressure of 3 pounds per square inch to ensure that moisture is kept out. This overpressure must not be released during drops (except for a few exceptions during the 7-foot drop), and the container must be usable afterward.

These drop tests demonstrate what happens when containers are dropped shorter distances, but what happens if a crane drops a pallet of containers while loading a ship? Those containers are likely to fall much farther than 7 feet, so the next test is a 40-foot drop. Although few containers come through unaffected and still sealed when dropped that distance, they pass the test as long as the rounds inside remain safe to handle.

The next series of tests involves vibration. The first, a “loose cargo test,” simulates a loose container rattling around in the back of a truck. The second vibration test simulates a situation in which the container is tied down. The third simulates transport of the container in the storage rack of its intended tactical vehicle during typical operations. For all of these tests, the item must be protected and the container still must function as intended.

Containers also must be tested in different environmental conditions. There is a big difference between dropping a container from 40 feet in Iraq in the middle of summer and from 40 feet in Alaska in the middle of winter. In addition, when an Air Force cargo aircraft is at cruising altitude, the temperature in the cargo area routinely drops far below zero. So, to make sure ammunition stays safe no matter its location, every one of these tests is done at three different temperatures: –65 degrees Fahrenheit, +73 degrees Fahrenheit, and +160 degrees Fahrenheit.

The container also must stand up to corrosion tests, 20-year accelerated aging tests, electricity conductivity tests, water transmissibility tests, and burning tests.

Ensuring Insensitivity

All of the tests are designed to ensure that packaged ammunition is protected from the rigors and hazards of transportation and the environment. But how is the Soldier protected from the ammunition? The answer is to make the containers insensitive. Another series of tests—outlined in MIL–STD–2105C, Hazard Assessment Tests for Non-Nuclear Munitions—is used to examine this aspect of packaging. This series of tests includes fragment impact, bullet impact, fast cook-off, slow cook-off, shape-charge jet impact, and sympathetic detonation.

Ongoing Testing

Testing does not end at production. Every year or two, depending on the container configuration, performance-oriented packaging (POP) testing must be conducted. These tests are designed to ensure that nothing has changed. To make sure that containers in a palletized configuration will stay together, the MIL–STD–1660, Design Criteria for Ammunition Unit Loads, test is conducted. Transportability Testing Procedures, TP–94–01, are used to ensure that palletized loads will survive transportation.

The Logistics Research and Engineering Directorate at Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey, tests ammunition containers to ensure that the ammunition shipped in them will reach Soldiers intact. The various tests conducted on the containers are designed to simulate any damage or hazard that the containers may encounter during shipment and delivery. The ultimate goal of these tests is to ensure Soldier safety.

Robert M. Forrester is an engineer with the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center’s Armament Systems Integration Center, Logistics Research and Engineering Directorate, at Picatinny arsenal, New Jersey. He has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and is pursuing a master’s degree in mechanical engineering through Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey.