By presidential executive order, the Defense Department is now required to buy “green” ammunition for use at training ranges. The environment-friendly rounds don’t leach toxins and are far less costly to clean up than conventional ammunition.
The Army and Marine Corps both are buying green ammunition. But they have pursued vastly different acquisition paths — proving how tough it can be for the services to buy common equipment.
The Marine Corps first requested 40 mm non-dud producing (NDP) training ammunition in 1997. It asked for two versions, a day marker and an objective day/night marker. In 1999 the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC) in Picatinny Arsenal, N.J., and the Marine Corps sought contractors’ bids for a commercial-off-the-shelf 40 mm NDP cartridge.
ARDEC also requested “foreign comparative test” funds from the Defense Department to qualify a new 40 mm cartridge.
Two vendor samples made their way through the Army’s testing at Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland. By 2001, only one cartridge met the required range of 2,000 meters. Then, oddly, the Army’s support for the program dissolved.
The Marine Corps’ program manager for ammunition at the time, Mike Miller, snapped up the project and sought support from the Naval Surface Warfare Center, in Dahlgren, Va. “The need couldn’t go unmet. It was ‘unsafe’ to walk on the ranges,” he said. “The duds were creating the obvious problems of restricting training, and then we had the range fires to prevent.”
The program moved forward quickly. The Army’s NDP green ammunition XM1023 name was dropped and the Navy gave the cartridge the nomenclature 40 mm Mk 281 MOD 0 day practice cartridge. Low rate production began in 2003 and full rate production in 2004. But the Marines still didn’t have their day/night cartridge. Enter Rheinmetall, a German company with a new patent for the Mk 281.
Rheinmetall teamed with a small U.S. business that manufactures glow sticks for the military, Cyalume Technologies of Massachusetts. They inserted “chemlight” technology into the newly patented cartridge for day/night capabilities, visible in the infrared spectrum and the naked eye.
They named it Mk 281 MOD 1. In 2006 the Marine Corps awarded a five-year contract to Rheinmetall, and the company ramped up stateside operations in Camden, Ark.
While the Army had abandoned the XM1023 program, the need for NDP 40 mm training cartridges did not go away. In 2002, the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., contacted the U.S. Army Infantry Center at Fort Benning, Ga., to request that the Army adopt the Mk 281 MOD 0.
The Army Training and Doctrine Command approved the request in 2003. The Special Operations Command also sent written requests for the Mk 281 in 2004. The program executive officer for ammunition, Army Brig. Gen. Paul Izzo, said he was formalizing the adoption of the Mk 281 MOD 0.
The Mk 281 MOD 0 was qualified in 2003, and the Mk 281 MOD 1 in 2006.
But to this day, the Army is continuing to experiment and test a “mixed belt” of its existing 40 mm target practice cartridges, the M385 and M918, to reduce dud rates and toxic leaching.
According to the Army’s program manager for maneuver ammunition systems, Chris Grassano, “industry will have to wait for the down select in 2010” for the new green rounds.
The problem with the M385 is that it’s classified as a training round and not typically used for tactical training. The hurdles for the M918 are the dud rate of 3 to 8 percent and restrictive training in dry weather.
As far as cost goes, the Mk 281 is 10 to 15 percent more expensive than the mixed belt. The Army’s fiscal year 2009 budget doesn’t have funds for this round. But the Army does intend to phase out the M918 in favor of NDP training cartridges, officials said. During a May 2008 industry conference, Grassano said that a NDP training cartridge would be in production by 2013.
For now, the Army signed a five-year contract to have ammunition produced by a consortium of small business vendors that assemble 40 mm dud producing M918 ammunition at the Milan Army Ammunition Plant, Tenn.
Grassano said in an interview that the Army has decided to pursue a gradual shift from the mixed belt to non-dud producing designs in the next few years. Kate Roa is a public relations consultant who represents small businesses in the defense and homeland security industry.