The unexploded ordnance on U.S. bases—which has become a liability of
tens of billions of dollars for the Defense Department—is likely to turn
into an even bigger problem as the Pentagon approaches a new round of base closures.
A number of technologies currently are in development to help the Defense Department
expedite the cleanup process. But experts caution that the Pentagon must continue
to fund research efforts aimed at UXO removal, before the cleanup burden becomes
too large to handle.
According to Raymond F. Dubois, the undersecretary of defense for the environment
and installations, the Defense Department has two distinct UXO problems—the
operational test and training ranges, where the military conducts current operations
for weapon systems development and war-fighter training; and the “munitions
response areas,” which include Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) installations.
“The expectation is that BRAC will increase the need for technology,”
said Jeff Marqusee, the director of the Environmental Security Technology Certification
A possible round of base closures in 2005 will up the demand significantly
for UXO removal, Marqusee told National Defense. The research, science and technology
community is capable of providing new UXO-cleanup technology “when it
is needed, in the next couple of years,” he said.
An upcoming Defense Science Board report on unexploded ordnance estimated that
the liability from UXO on already closed ranges is $52 billion. “The projection
is that, with technology, we can drop that liability to $16 billion. That is
tremendous payback,” said Brad Smith, the director of the Strategic Environmental
Research and Development Program (SERDP).
While the DSB used a ballpark figure based on its own formulas, the Defense
Department estimates that the cost of cleaning up UXO, discarded munitions and
munitions constituents on already closed ranges would cost between $8 billion
on the lowest end and $21 billion on the highest end. For operational ranges,
the price ranges between $15 billion and $83 billion.
These figures appeared in the 2002 Defense Environmental Restoration Program
report, the latest information available at press time.
“Those numbers are uncertain,” said a source, who did not want
to be quoted by name. “People get too caught up in numbers.” Once
the price tag reaches the order of a billion, it is already huge, the source
said, and solutions need to be found, no matter how many billions of dollars
the estimates end up being.
The primary funders for finding UXO clean up solutions are SERDP and the ESTCP.
The two programs receive their money under separate appropriations, but are
managed out of a joint office. SERDP is a science and technology program, while
ESTCP is a demonstration and validation program.
According to Marqusee, funding for UXO technologies varies from year to year.
In fiscal year 2004, ESTCP will receive about $10 million, up from $4 million
in 2003. SERDP is taking a cut in 2004, dropping from $9 million in 2003 to
$8 million in 2004.
“Our expectation is that it is a one-year occurrence and that the funding
will be returning in the future,” said Marqusee.
Up to 90 percent of the ESTCP investment in UXO technology focuses on land
contamination. Shallow water UXO detection also is starting to gain some ground,
he said. “Only over the last maybe three years has it [UXO] become that
big a part of the program.”
Given the enormous liability, UXO cleanup has arisen as one of the top priorities
for new technology, he said.
“It is going to take tens of billions of dollars, and it is not clear
given the current technologies how well one can do it,” Marqusee said.
“If you look at where we think technology can get in five to 10 years,
you can cut that by an order of magnitude and probably increase safety by an
order of magnitude,” he said.
The Army still is struggling with the basics—the detection and discrimination
of unexploded ordnance. “We do not want to spend all of our resources
digging up wires, trash cans, frag[mentation], but actually spend the resources
cleaning sites to reduce the risk,” he said.
Existing technologies do not do discrimination, said Marqusee. “It could
be as many as 99 pieces of garbage for every piece of ordnance,” he said.
“If you think there is something there, you have to go in, and that means
clearing areas for safety, barricade and bringing in specialists.”
Cleaning up an acre of land contaminated with UXO can cost as little as a few
thousand dollars and can go up to $40,000, depending on how many holes need
to be dug, explained Marqusee. “Every time you dig a hole, you spend between
$200 and $400,” he said. “If you have very contaminated sites, you
have lots of holes.”
Labor is a big driver in the cost, but safety concerns, security and the right
equipment add up, as well. “One of the problems with the current system
is that, because you spend so much time digging holes, you end up with a huge
overhead of the infrastructure,” said Marqusee.
“Over the last five years, we have looked at everything you can imagine:
magnetometry, electromagnetic induction, micro gravity, acoustic, ground penetrating
radar, synthetic aperture radar,” Smith said in a presentation to the
Pollution Prevention and Hazardous Waste Management conference in San Antonio,
“The goal is to reduce the false alarm rate by a factor of 10,”
which means that for every piece of ordinance, users dig up 10 pieces of scrap.
“We are at a point where we have a factor-three reduction with some prototype
systems,” said Smith. “We have done that largely through modifying
existing geophysical exploration equipment.”
According to Smith, the Defense Science Board made a projection that “if
we were able to double our investment in this area to $40 million a year, then
we can...get to a 10-1 false-alarm ratio in about five years. ... If we do not
get that investment, we will get there in seven to 10 years.”
The most promising technologies currently are magnetometry and electromagnetic
induction, he said. These technologies are being fielded on man-portable, towed
and airborne platforms.
Digital geophysical methods have changed somewhat the way sites are characterized,
said Marqusee. One of these systems is called Multi-Sensored Towed Array Detection.
“Cleanups done with digital geophysics remove the vast majority of ordnance,
but there will still be cases where it is quite difficult,” he said. “The
shortcomings are, though, that for every ordnance item that we remove, we remove
50 non-ordnance items for a typical site, so we are not as cost effective as
we would like.”
A new generation of systems is emerging, based on modifications of older systems,
Induction sensors paired with signal processing are the next big thing coming
out in the next two or three years, according to Marqusee. The signal processing
will be translated into practical application software, he explained.
“The average guy who cleans up a site does not need to understand all
the physics behind it,” he noted. Therefore, the system will be designed
so that he can input data and, based on the outcome, decide whether he needs
to dig a hole or not.
A new generation of hand-held sensors will be available in four to eight years,
according to Marqusee. These devices would allow users to determine that “‘this
is the shape of the thing under the ground; this is how deep it is; this is
what type of metal it is made of,’” he said.
Marqusee’s prognosis is that sensor research will continue for about
three years. Testing will take another three, he said. “You have got to
have a lot of testing if you are going to make a decision not to dig up something
that might explode in the future, so it is going to take a couple years to get
A hand-held system called GEM, built by Geophex, has been deployed to Iraq,
said Marqusee. The GEM system is based on electromagnetic induction. “It
puts out electromagnetic fields at different frequencies, and then you listen,
and you can create a spectrum of what the object underground is and try to identify
it,” Marqusee said.
One of ESTCP’s most successful technological advances is an airborne
detection system, according to Marqusee. Helicopter-based sensors are effective,
he said. “We think they are going to have a big impact on our ability
to characterize large tracks of land. We have places that are tens of thousands
of acres and some are hundreds of thousands of acres.”
In order to map out the area of concern, the helicopter has to fly very low.
That is doable on flat land, but poses serious problems in environments that
have rolling hills and brush.
The testing of the airborne system is finished, and the new technology is in
operation, according to Marqusee.
ESTCP funded two groups to develop different versions of the airborne system—the
Naval Research Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Another challenge is how to handle the data gathered from the cleanup sites
and compare it to come up with the best technology, said Marqusee.
The U.S. Army Environmental Center has set up two testing facilities at Aberdeen
and Yuma Proving Ground to test equipment performance and analyze the results
“so that we can make improvements,”said Marqusee.
“They have actually created artificially contaminated sites,” said
Marqusee. “We have gone out, and we have buried inert ordinance...things
that fool sensors a lot of times,” he said. The junk and fragments are
either laid out in a grid system or scattered randomly.
Having a facility in Aberdeen helps with testing equipment under conditions
that are common around the East Coast, such as grassland and forest, while the
facility in Yuma tests under conditions in the Southwest.
Even though new ideas and technology developments are in the pipeline, it still
is going to cost a lot of money to clean up UXO sites, said Marqusee.
“You are in a situation where you are not going to stop the ongoing cleanup
to wait for technology,” he said.
Technology alone is not the answer, he added. “We have the best success
when we have the stakeholders involved up front, the regulators involved up
front, and we have the community involved up front, and we go out and do full-scale
demonstration at the site, and we leave the system at the site,” he said.
Other facets of the UXO problem are the highly toxic components inside the
munitions. Some of them are making it into the ground water. Citing the DSB
report, Smith said that this kind of pollution is “by far the more dangerous
issue to readiness.” For example, at the Massachusetts military training
reservation, the public put pressure on the base to stop training on the basis
that it would create a threat to the water supplies.
“We really have to a have a pollution prevention solution” to address
this, Smith said. “We fire roughly 280 million pounds of high explosive
a year in training. That is a lot of explosive. The dud rates vary tremendously,
but it could be as high as 90 percent. That leaves a lot of unexploded ordinance
that then can spill their contents.”
Heavy metals such as chromium, lead and arsenic, also contaminate the ground,
he said. “This is a particularly difficult problem, because metals are
elements that we can not destroy,” he noted. “You have to either
extract them, or we have to sequester them in some way.”
Nevertheless, heavy metals are used in most systems, because of their high-performance
characteristics. “Whatever we develop, one of the key things is that we
cannot abrogate its performance,” Smith said.
“No way and in no manner can we degrade the performance of a weapon systems
or a platform for environmental reasons,” he said.
Heavy metals are chosen, because they can survive in corrosive environments.
A small group from industry has been working on a replacement for cadmium plating,
which is used on landing gear for tactical aircraft.
Under the SEED program, for a contract of $100,000 a year, the group came up
with a sturdy stainless steel. “They got within 90 percent of the specs
of the steel that they needed within a year,” Smith said.