L-074 Benefits and costs of Insensitive Munitions: Literature Survey and Highlights

May 2001
Pascal Marchandin (Warheads & Fuzes)

Historical mishaps involving munitions or explosives have been widely reported in the past and will continue to be the headlines of the news in the future. The 2 main characteristics of these incidents are:

  • They are rare or extremely rare
  • Their consequences are often catastrophic, killing and/or injuring up to thousands of people and destroying and/or damaging buildings and military platforms.

The costs of such events are often huge and difficult to assess, since they include lost platforms, lost buildings, loss of production, fire fighting and rescue costs, investigation cost, life insurance payments, etc. Consequences are not only financial but also operational (loss of warfighting capabilities and/or assets), political (legal processes, including trial), environmental (release of hazardous material) or Health and Safety (number of people injured or killed).

For many years, three issues have been raised regularly:

  • Reduce the probability of an incident (accident or deliberate attack). Safety and Suitability for Service activities have promoted safe design rules for explosives and munitions. Realistic tests such as drop tests simulating accidental conditions have already permitted the reduction of the probability of an event, while other threats such as cook-off, sympathetic reaction or deliberate attacks have become part of the Insensitive Munitions concept.
  • Reduce the consequences of an incident, given the event occurs. Intensive studies have been made at system level (reduced vulnerability of a particular platform) for many decades. Nevertheless, detonations of munitions in fires or after an impact still imply a kill to the platform. Recently IM technology has moved forward and now is starting to influence the approach of stakeholders.
  • Keep the munitions and the explosives at safe distance from the other assets, buildings or people. This protective approach is the one adopted by most of the nations in their storage. Quantity/Distances (Q/D) rules based on the Hazard Divisions (HD) internationally agreed for the transportation of hazardous goods are enforced. Nevertheless it might be difficult to apply these rules at each phase of the life cycle, and especially in transport.

By definition, Insensitive Munitions should reduce the probability of a response to unplanned stimuli and the consequences on the surroundings. Performance and cost are two areas of concern, which are raised whenever IM are discussed. However, there are an increasing number of examples of IM, which exhibit just as good performance as their more sensitive predecessors and even a few which claim superior performance. As for costs, IM might be more expensive to produce than non-IM systems and there will be a non-recurring cost penalty on start-up of plant and equipment during the transition phase. However reduced risk as well as reduced safety distances during Operations and Support activities (storage, handling, transport, maintenance) should balance the ownership cost of an IM in comparison with a non-IM.

The purpose of this paper is to give a non-exhaustive overview of the issues that should be discussed during the NIMIC Workshop on Cost Benefit Analysis of the Introduction of IM/MURAT into service. It is a workbook and a reference document.