CRANE, Ind. (July 23, 2015) – Crane Army Ammunition Activity, or CAAA, is supporting U.S. and coalition warfighters conducting airstrikes in Operation Inherent Resolve, the effort to eliminate threats posed by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, and other terrorist groups in the region of Iraq and Syria, by being the primary facility for renovating the Navy’s general purpose aircraft bomb inventory.
Naval Air Systems Command, or NAVAIR, which manages the inventory used by the Navy in training and combat roles, depends on the Army at the land-locked site to renovate its Mark 80 series and penetrator bombs carried by planes such as the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the F/A-18E Super Hornet.
The 500-, 1000- and 2000-pound bombs have no shelf life, with some still in storage manufactured as far back as the Vietnam War-era, but periodic renovation is needed to keep the Navy’s stock up-to-date. These munitions can be assembled into multiple configurations depending on mission requirements such as weather, drop altitude, speed and the intended target’s location or movement. Configurations routinely constructed include the so-called “smart bombs,” which can be guided by lasers or other means to a target as well as other fuzed bombs, mines and destructors.
Renovating older stock also provides significant cost savings to the government in lieu of new manufacturing. “The bomb renovation work that CAAA conducted for NAVAIR in 2014 and 2015 saved the U.S. taxpayer nearly $11 million in avoidance costs versus building new bombs while generating $1.4 million in revenue for CAAA,” said Derek Sheetz, a planner and estimator for CAAA’s ordnance division. “This is a win-win situation for the U.S. taxpayer, NAVAIR, CAAA and most importantly the U.S. warfighter.”
CAAA had already been in the business of renovating Mark 80 series and penetrator bombs for the Navy for more than a decade when engineers began looking at ways of automating the process in 2001. Much of the renovation work up to that point had been performed manually by skilled ordnance workers and painters.
But soon after the Navy began ramping up operations following Sept. 11, CAAA accelerated the automation process to fill the demands created by the global war on terror. Only six months after Sept. 11, Crane had an automated renovation system up and running and has been supplying renovated bombs to the nation’s warfighters ever since.
The highly technical work is conducted in a nondescript building tucked away among the wooded, hilly terrain, which surrounds CAAA’s headquarters in southern Indiana. Ordnance workers prep the bombs before hanging them from the conveyor-type monorail system that meanders through workstations strategically placed throughout the building.
The system, similar to a manufacturing assembly line, is completely computerized with built-in safety measures. At one station a robot-operated, 40,000 pounds per square inch high-pressure water jet system resurfaces the steel casing exterior of the bombs before sending them on to timed primer, painting and thermal coating stations.
The bombs then pass through an infrared heat oven before ordnance workers complete more detailed finishing work on each bomb by hand, such as on the nose or tail fuse wells. The bombs are then banded and palletized to ready them for shipment wherever the demand arises.
Robert Hendrix, an explosives handler, who has conducted bomb renovation work for Crane for six years, retired from the Navy after serving as an aviation ordnanceman, or AOs. “After having loaded these bombs in planes when I was in the Navy, I have a tendency to be more mission-oriented now at the depot end of the supply chain as we renovate these bombs that go out to the fleet,” Hendrix said. “I take exceptional pride in knowing that my fellow AOs are getting the support they need out there.”
Established October 1977, Crane Army Ammunition Activity maintains ordnance professionals and infrastructure to receive, store, ship, produce, renovate and demilitarize conventional ammunition, missiles and related components. Crane Army maintains up to one third of the Department of Defense’s conventional ammunition inventory. The activity also provides command oversight of Iowa Army Ammunition Plant, Letterkenny Munitions Center, Pennsylvania, and Milan Army Ammunition Plant, Tennessee.