The laborious process of shipping munitions from U.S.-based manufacturing
plants to locations overseas could be simplified considerably, using
a device that is surprisingly low-tech.
The problem today is that each 20-foot ISO container being used
to ship bombs and rockets requires several hand-made wood braces
to keep the munitions in place inside the container. Employees at
the ammunition plants must build those braces with lumber boards,
a process that takes many hours, or even days.
Air Force officials, for years, have been waiting for someone to
design a substitute for the hand-made wood braces. The answer may
have arrived, in the form of a modular steel structure—made
out of the same steel found in Volvo cars—that is reusable
and can be adjusted to any size load, much like a closet organizer.
A standard ISO load for a single ship—about 1,000 containers—requires
approximately 1,200 board feet of lumber per container. That equates
to a million board feet of lumber per ship. That is enough lumber
to build 63 average 2,000-square-foot family homes, said Air Force
Master Sgt. Tim Lewis, munitions director at the Air Force Air Expeditionary
Force Battlelab, in Mountain Home, Idaho.
The lumber braces are built inside the container, around the load,
he explained in a recent interview. “When the shipment arrives
in theater, you have all this lumber that is useless,” he
said. It also becomes undesirable waste, because the wood often
is treated with pesticides, to prevent infestation of the wood in
foreign countries. The upshot is that the treated wood is not welcome
in many countries and the Air Force is responsible for shredding
it, a task that burdens airmen in the field who may be fighting
Further, “by taking the lumber out of the system, we reduced
loading time and dunnage time by 56 percent,” he estimated.
The up-front cost of buying the steel braces would be recovered
after 6.5 years of use, Lewis said, mostly by eliminating labor
and disposal costs.
Battlelab officials were in Washington, D.C., last month, briefing
the Air Staff on a potential solution to the problem. “A company
came to us with a steel-bracing system that can be configured to
any load and reused indefinitely,” Lewis said. This removes
98 percent of the wood from the load. The 2 percent is thin plywood
sheathing around the load, needed to prevent the munitions from
hitting the sides of the container.
This technology also appeals to the Army, Navy and Marines, who
also ship munitions worldwide, said Lewis.
The steel brace is named the Rapid ISO Bracing System, or RIBS.
Its creator is a Norwegian company called Mobile Shelter Systems.
The firm was founded in 1997 by three officers of the Royal Norwegian
Air Force. MSS submitted the idea to Air Force officials at Wright
Patterson Air Base, in Ohio. “They referred it to us, because
they couldn’t do the testing,” said Lewis. The battelab
has been testing RIBS for more than a year.
Lewis said the RIBS concept worked successfully in the tests, but
he stressed that the battlelab has a policy of not endorsing specific
companies, only the technologies. The Air Staff eventually will
decide whether the RIBS concept will lead to an acquisition program
when companies are invited to bid competitively.
MSS designed the system with its own funds, Lewis pointed out.
“We leased the system from them to do the testing.”
The company used the same steel that Volvo employs for its cars,
he added. “The systems are meant to last,” for at least
25 years. The RIBS tests took place at the Army Defense Ammunition
Center at McAlester, Okla.
RIBS can be used for any size bomb. “If we couldn’t
reconfigure it to work with anything, we didn’t want it,”
said Lewis. It had to work with every type of munition, from 155
mm howitzer rounds to 2,000 bombs. It had to be light enough that
only two people could handle the assembly and installation.
If the Air Force decides to buy RIBS, the potential quantities
could reach hundreds of thousands, Lewis said. Additionally, he
said he is hopeful that the Army Materiel Command also will adopt
RIBS. AMC is going to be a “very big cog in the wheel,”
he said, since the agency manages the pre-positioning of ammunition
loads throughout the world. Last month, the AEF battlelab briefed
the Joint Container Operation Group, at the Army’s Rock Island
The Naval Sea Systems Command conducted salt-water testing, to
ensure the steel could handle the maritime environment, Lewis said.
He noted that those tests also were successful.