But thought is exactly what the U.S. government has put into it. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal dated February 20, 2009, the Pentagon estimates that approximately 10 million acres of training facilities have embedded rounds that have never exploded. This means they pollute the area with toxic materials like lead and tungsten that leach into the ground and surrounding waterways. The government spends about $200 million each year just digging up these leftover shells, or unexploded ordinance (UXO).
“Green munitions…are our long-term solution to the unexploded-ordinance problem, and they should be pursued aggressively,” the Defense Science Board said in 2003 as quoted in the Wall Street Journal article.
So what’s an army boy to do? Obviously, the practice drills are necessary for training. But by the same token, these “duds” litter the training field. In the joint mission between the Department of Defense and the Environmental Protection Agency to be more eco-friendly, American Rheinmetall Munition, a U.S. subsidiary of the German company Rheinmetall Defence, was hired to manufacture “green” ammunition. But that also goes against a directive from the government to “buy American”. So really, it’s a Catch-22. There’s a desire to be green, but it has to be done by supporting a non-American company.
The green ammunition, or MK281, is a high velocity cartridge used in grenade launchers. They eliminate the “dud” factor by using this “chemilluminant” cartridge that incorporates light and color to indicate the point of impact. This apparently leaves no remaining debris to burrow into the ground while maintaining the power and precision of earlier models. The first use of these munitions for training purposes was conducted at Fort Irwin in California earlier this year.
According to an article posted by the Army Times on May 23, 2009, the U.S. Army has been on a lead-free ammunition kick since the late 1990s. Prior to this, the ammunition used was 1970s manufacturing that included heavy metals and toxic materials.
Other materials, like tungsten mixed with tin, were more recently tested and thought to be the solution to the lead problem. Unfortunately, tungsten was found to increase the risk of certain cancers like leukemia. Developments like the MK281 as well as the M855A1 lead-free 5.56mm bullet, scheduled for training starting this August, are the Army’s attempts to be green while still trying to provide a viable weapon that, well, seeks and destroys.
“What other purpose could ammunition serve, other than to maim, kill, or otherwise mangle a person until they are no longer functioning?” said Derek Markham in his article posted on February 17, 2009, on Eco Child’s Play. “So how does that fit into the green theme? Population reduction?”
Environmentally speaking, the kill factor does seem like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Violence aside, however, it’s just one more aspect of daily life that needs a change for the better. Let’s hope it actually becomes a green one.
Photo courtesy of FeedSee.