L-118 Review of Demilitarisation and Disposal Techniques for Munitions and Related Materials

January 2006
Josh Wilkinson, Royal Australian NavyDuncan Watt (Energetic Materials)


Demilitarisation is an increasingly important aspect of munitions management. With a drive for higher performance and greater safety, new munitions and fillings render old munitions obsolete and munitions stockpiles cost money both to establish and maintain so surplus munitions are an unwelcome expense and potentially a risk. The process of disposal is being shaped by a number of factors. Foremost is increasingly stringent environmental regulation restricting and modifying the methods. But other factors are also significant such as transhipment regulation, restrictions on proliferation of conventional weapons, and resource recovery either through financial pressure or policy. The result is a menagerie of demilitarisation techniques sometimes complementary, sometimes competing that this paper provides an overview of.

All munitions have a finite service life and will at some stage need to be either expended or disposed of. Disposal can involve dumping, resale and demilitarisation. Dumping is banned at sea as a result of the London Convention and related agreements. Dumping on land is severely restricted if not banned in most jurisdictions. Resale is an attractive option in terms of recovering value from munitions however munitions must be serviceable to resell and this option is restricted by issues of proliferation and security. This leaves demilitarisation as the primary method of disposal. Demilitarisation means removing or otherwise neutralising the military potential of an item, in this case a munition. This may or may not involve the destruction of the munition but it does require that the energetic material is destroyed or converted.