Ammunition Logistics for Operation Noble Anvil

by Thomas J. Slattery

Ammunition depots and plants of the Army Industrial Operations Command (IOC), headquartered at Rock Island, Illinois,

Many of the ammunition depots and plants of the Army Industrial Operations Command (IOC), headquartered at Rock Island, Illinois, have provided ammunition to our Nation's warfighters since World War II. The latest conflict for which they supplied large quantities of high-priority munitions on short notice—in this case primarily to the Air Force—was Operation Noble Anvil, the United States' support to the North Atlantic Treaty Organiza-tion's (NATO's) Operation Allied Force. In that operation, NATO forces conducted an air campaign against Yugoslav-Serbian military forces from 24 March to 9 June 1999. IOC supported Operation Noble Anvil from early April through the termination of the operation, and it continues to support several peacekeeping missions in the Balkan region.

The Army cannot go into any conflict, like Kosovo or others, without the IOC.    
—Major General Joseph W. Arbuckle                                          Commanding General                                                                        Army Industrial Operations Command

As the Army's primary field operating agency for the Single Manager for Conventional Ammunition, IOC manages all ammunition, ranging from bullets to large projectiles, for the Department of Defense. This includes production, storage, preparation for shipment to the front lines, and demilitarization. IOC's subordinate Army War Reserve Support Command is responsible for imple-menting the Army's pre-positioned stocks mission. Following the Cold War, Army strategists predicted that regional conflicts would flare up in various parts of the world as we enter the next century. Under the leadership of Major General Joseph W. Arbuckle, IOC is in the process of updating standard procedures for future "short of total war" contingency operations.

Lessons Learned

Army combat forces deployed to an overseas theater initially fight with pre-positioned stocks and replenish them with munitions requisitioned from IOC ammunition storage facilities in the continental United States (CONUS). IOC, therefore, is critical to the "ammunition lifeblood" of our combat forces. With this in mind, Colonel William R. Pulscher, IOC Chief of Staff, directed all IOC organizations to submit Operation Allied Force/Noble Anvil lessons learned to the command's Emergency Operations Center (EOC).

More than 80 potential lessons learned were submitted to the EOC. The Mobilization-Operation Team, which operates the EOC, organized a board representing a cross-section of the command to review the lessons.

Management Agility and Flexibility

The Single Manager for Conventional Ammunition Center; the Joint Munitions Transportation, Readiness, Deployment, and Sustainment Center; and the Industrial Base Management Center were key IOC headquarters organizations that helped the ammunition depots and plants ship ammunition to Europe to support Operation Noble Anvil. During the operation, these IOC centers and teams learned valuable lessons about the need to interface with one another during an emergency.

Once the depots and plants became heavily involved in the outloading of munitions, the IOC EOC provided briefings at 0830 each morning. These briefings provided an opportunity for representatives of the various centers and teams to share information. The lessons learned board recommended that the EOC continue to hold the 0830 briefings during future contingency operations.

In the future, the EOC must continue as the central source for the distribution of contingency information. As the hub of communication activity, the EOC will provide IOC leadership with a complete logistics picture of outloading ammunition in support of contingency operations. This will increase the command's ability to circulate information, make decisions, and take action. For this to happen, the EOC must extend its hours early on in an operation to ensure communications get to the proper headquarters personnel on time.


Though many of the lessons learned could be classified under several categories, a majority of them concerned either depot outloading activities or transportation. In a positive lesson learned, the IOC Joint Munitions Transportation Coordinating Activity (JMTCA) provided a temporary liaison at the U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM). The liaison officer acted as a link between the two organizations and ensured that ammunition shipments within CONUS went smoothly. The liaison worked with the TRANSCOM Crisis Action Team, providing information on ammunition availability, movement status, delivery times, and confirmation of receipt at the designated port of embarkation. The liaison also used the Joint Operation Planning and Execution System to verify unit line-number status. This information was used to expedite ammunition shipments during Operation Noble Anvil. As a result, high-priority ammunition shipments arrived on time at the port of embarkation. The temporary IOC liaison was so successful that the position was made permanent after the operation.

JMTCA developed and coordinated munitions movement plans for the many munitions shippers who supported Operation Noble Anvil. These plans affected items managed by the Single Manager for Conventional Ammunition and component-unique munitions not managed by the Single Manager. JMTCA planned, coordinated, and directed the shipment of more than 1,400 ammunition containers in support of the operation. IOC provided munitions ranging from small arms ammunition to 500-pound and 750-pound bombs to HYDRA-70 rockets.

Air Force High-Priority Requisitions

The most prominent IOC support of Operation Noble Anvil was a high-priority Air Force requirement for a very large number of bombs. The Air Force sought to replenish its stock of M117 (750-pound) and Mark (MK) 82 (500-pound) bombs in Europe. Blue Grass Army Depot, Kentucky; Hawthorne Army Depot, Nevada; and McAlester Army Ammunition Plant, Oklahoma, stocked the majority of the needed bombs.

IOC received an initial requisition from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, for 45,000 M117 and MK82 bombs just before the Memorial Day weekend. More requisitions soon followed, pushing the total to 60,000. Hawthorne and McAlester provided the M117 bombs, and Blue Grass provided the MK82 bombs. The installations outloaded bombs from 29 May through the first week of June.

Working over a major holiday weekend to prepare the bombs for shipment made filling this requisition a challenge. Ammunition handlers, forklift operators, and blockers and bracers, who normally prepare the ammunition for shipment, had been released for the weekend. However, the installations welcomed the business. They quickly recalled as many employees as possible to work over the Memorial Day weekend. McAlester, with a larger work force than Blue Grass or Hawthorne, had an easier time handling its portion of the shipment. Still, McAlester augmented its work force with Oklahoma Army National Guard soldiers from the 1245th Transportation Company as well as employees from the plant's production, planning, and public works directorates.

The challenge was to overcome the extremely close delivery dates of 5 June for the initial 45,000 bombs and 8 June for the follow-on order of 15,000 bombs. In seven 12-hour days, McAlester filled 385 military and commercial metal containers with more than 13,000 bombs and bomb fins and loaded the containers aboard 96 flatcars for shipment to the east coast. McAlester successfully used load-and-roll pallet containers to prevent delays in outloading caused by the shortage of leased containers.

The requisitioned quantities were too large for air transport, so the bombs would be moved by rail and then on ocean vessels to Europe. They were loaded onto eight trains for delivery to Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point, North Carolina. Six of the trains had arrived at Sunny Point, and two vessels loaded with bombs had headed for Europe when the Yugoslav Government agreed to NATO's peace terms. The two remaining trains were diverted to storage depots.

Meeting the Personnel Challenge

IOC demonstrated its agility by temporarily shifting personnel and using Army Reserve units to supplement the three installations' staffs. Sixteen members of the Army Reserve 125th Transportation Company (Cargo Transfer), Lexington, Kentucky, were transferred temporarily to Blue Grass, where they fabricated blocking and bracing materials for the munitions shipments. Air Force reservists assisted Blue Grass personnel with bomb-loading operations. Blue Grass, with a work force of 410 employees, packed bombs into 469 containers to fill Air Force requisitions.

Although the IOC installations train for contingencies that have an increased tempo, it quickly became apparent that Hawthorne Army Depot was not ramping up fast enough with its available personnel. Forty-five Army reservists from the 802d Ordnance Company, Gainesville, Georgia; the 3d Corps Support Command, Des Moines, Iowa; the 125th Ordnance Battalion, Billings, Montana; and the 351st Ordnance Company (Ammunition), Romney, West Virginia, were diverted from Operation Golden Cargo to Hawthorne Army Depot to assist with the outloading. The Army reservists proved to be invaluable and stayed to assist the depot with loading containers destined for Korea before returning to their home stations on 10 June.

Hawthorne also received temporary assistance from Sierra Army Depot, California, and Tooele Army Depot, Utah, which sent 7 and 12 civilians, respectively, to assist the depot with loading bombs. The civilians returned to their depots once the mission was completed.

When depots shift to a wartime mode, certain peacetime operations, such as demilitarization, are halted. Efforts and resources are diverted to prepare ammunition for shipment. Employees temporarily leave their normal jobs and help load ammunition during periods of mobilization in support of contingency operations. Firemen at Hawthorne picked up saws and hammers and worked as temporary carpenters. They cut lumber into blocking and bracing materials used to build the bulkheads that secured the bombs during shipment.

The shifting of IOC personnel to sites where they were needed urgently was an effective use of available personnel when resources were scarce. But with downsizing, will personnel continue to rise to the occasion to fill high-priority requisitions requiring extended duty hours? Current work load levels and manpower strengths at Tier 1 ammunition sites need review to ensure that they have sufficient personnel to prepare ammunition for shipment on short notice.

The depot and plant commanders coordinated and communicated with one another on available personnel and reserve component issues. However, it may be beneficial to establish an official channel through which commanders can voice their views on shipment decisions. This may eliminate a commander's urge to lobby customers directly for shipments during contingency operations.

Demilitarization of Munitions

The Air Force directed the IOC Single Manager for Conventional Ammunition Center to stop all demilitarization of M117, MK83 (1,000-pound), and MK84 (2,000-pound) bombs with a condition code E or better. They wanted them held for possible shipment in support of Operation Noble Anvil. This halt in demilitarization activity was a precautionary measure; none of these bombs were shipped to meet Air Force requirements. The Air Force also considered requisitioning "dumb" bombs scheduled for demilitarization to use in the air war rather than depleting the satellite guided "smart bomb" stocks.

Blocking and Bracing

The board reviewed several lessons learned that addressed blocking and bracing issues. One of these recommended that the Defense Ammunition Center produce a videotape on blocking and bracing for training personnel temporarily assigned to that task.

Blue Grass encountered problems with loading side-opening containers. Their personnel strongly contended that the drawings for the blocking and bracing used in the side-opening containers contained faulty measurements that hindered their blocking and bracing activities. They believed the dunnage requirements for the side-opening containers were excessive and that the loading and bracing drawings needed review. (Dunnage is packing material that protects cargo from damage during transport.) The Defense Ammunition Center is reviewing these drawings.

Members of the 125th Transportation Company (Cargo Transfer), USAR, helped employees at Blue Grass Army Depot make blocking and bracing materials for munitions shipments. Members of the 125th Transportation Company (Cargo Transfer), USAR, helped employees at Blue Grass Army Depot make blocking and bracing materials for munitions shipments.

Railcar Availability

A serious readiness concern during Operation Noble Anvil was the lack of available railroad flatcars to transport loaded containers. Shortfalls in railcar support were evident at Blue Grass and McAlester. Blue Grass, in particular, had to halt its loading operations on one occasion because railcars had not arrived.

Before Operation Noble Anvil began, IOC had asked the Army Strategic Mobility Program to buy and pre-position over 1,300 railcars to support an initial 5-day contingency requirement. This figure was reduced to 321 railcars based on a carrier availability study performed by the Logistics Management Institute.

The selected contractor's delivery schedule did not satisfy IOC's distribution needs, either in quantity or timely delivery. IOC had to use a significant portion of the pre-positioned Army Strategic Mobility Program railcars to meet the Operation Noble Anvil bomb requirement that equated to less than 2 days of ammunition outload in a major theater war. A lesson learned submission recommended increasing the number of pre-positioned flatcars to 1,300, as originally requested, and distributing them to appropriate sites.

The rough-terrain container handler lifts a MILVAN loaded with 750-pound bombs onto a railcar at Blue Grass Army Depot.  

The rough-terrain container handler lifts a MILVAN loaded with 750-pound bombs onto a railcar at Blue Grass Army Depot.

Low Shipping Container Availability

Due to the slow delivery of leased containers, Crane Army Ammunition Activity, Indiana, shipped over 100 containerized ammunition distribution systems (CADS's), often referred to as Government-owned containers, to Blue Grass, and Tooele Army Depot shipped over 150 CADS's to Hawthorne. Hawthorne experienced a high rejection rate on both the CADS and the leased containers they received, which impeded their container-loading operations.

With low CADS availability, IOC decided to use the container-leasing market to meet the Air Force requirements. A sole-source contract was established, but the contractor could not deliver the required quantity of containers in time, which delayed munitions distribution. The lessons learned board recommended using multiple sources for leasing containers to meet contingency requirements. This would help reduce delays caused by lack of available containers from a single source.

Major General Arbuckle saw the questionable availability of shipping containers as a potential bottleneck. He had IOC's Joint Munitions Transportation, Readiness, Deployment, and Sustainment Center work with the Military Traffic Management Command to find more shipping containers. Unavailability of flatcars and shipping containers posed a threat to the just-in-time delivery of the bombs. The lessons learned board recommended that the Munitions Carriers Readiness Program and Joint Planning Advisory Group work together to establish carrier delivery procedures. The Army needs to seriously study pre-positioning rail flatcars and containers at IOC ammunition depots and plants for immediate use in critical situations. They could be either leased or Government owned, depending on which is more economical and practical. The plants cannot wait several days for the commercial industry to round up railcars and containers.

Blue Grass Army Depot, Hawthorne Army Depot, and McAlester Army Ammunition Plant met the challenge. They successfully completed the high-priority Air Force requisitions on very short notice. IOC now is actively reviewing many ideas combed from the lessons learned submitted by their employees—all in an effort to improve readiness, save time, and eliminate mistakes. The lessons learned from Operation Noble Anvil reaffirmed the importance of the logistician's ability to ship large quantities of munitions on short notice to our warfighters overseas. ALOG

Thomas J. Slattery is the historian and a member of the public affairs team at the Army Industrial Operations Command, Rock Island, Illinois. He has a bachelor's degree in history from St. Ambrose University, Iowa.