Farewell to arms!
[b]Centre for Utilising Aviation Weaponry disarms old munitions and reuses detonators, via National Academy of Sciences’ Powder Metallurgy Institute State Scientific Production Association[/b]Armies need the latest weaponry and technologies to ensure they are ever ready to protect their country. This means that old equipment becomes obsolete and needs to be disposed of safely; storing old mines and bombs is no easy task. Various countries tackle the problem differently.
Armies need the latest weaponry and technologies to ensure they are ever ready to protect their country. This means that old equipment becomes obsolete and needs to be disposed of safely; storing old mines and bombs is no easy task. Various countries tackle the problem differently. For example, Russia detonates old munitions under controlled conditions, at empty firing ranges. Others remove the explosive compound (by melting, washing away, mechanical beating out, magneto-dynamic influence or the influence of ultra-low temperatures). Casing is then sent for recycling or scrap. The contemporary American army uses a water jet to wash away detonators. Meanwhile, Belarus’ Centre for Utilising Aviation Weaponry, located in Vitebsk Region’s Gorodok District, reuses old charges in the production of super-powerful industrial explosives.
Competently and cautiously
The Centre for Utilising Aviation Weaponry is situated at an operational military base, overseen by the National Academy of Sciences’ Powder Metallurgy Institute State Scientific Production Association. Its maximum security includes a deep moat along the perimeter, gates topped with several rows of barbed wire, a guard with a machine gun and video cameras. The factory’s technology and equipment were developed in Moscow Region, at Krasnoarmeisk’s Scientific Research Institute of Mechanisation — a leading Russian defence industry enterprise. Its security measures were developed there, and the staff are trained at the Institute. In case of emergency, staff can shelter behind walls over 1m thick. Meanwhile, an earth mound separates the administrative building from the major workshop and the fire extinguishing system can fill a room with 0.5 metres of water within a few seconds.
Pure ecology and economic benefits
The munitions processed by the factory have been stored for around 30-40 years, across Belarus. The wooden boxes holding the bombs are cracked with age. However, according to Valery Derban, the director of the factory, the real danger lies inside, as the chemicals contained in each weapon become dangerous with time and exploding them would pollute the environment. He adds, “From an economic point of view, it’s not beneficial to explode them anyway; we have the technology to reuse the ‘filling’ of old bombs and blasting mines, so we can manufacture industrial explosives.”
The process begins with the ammunition case being taken apart, and the detonator removed; this especially dangerous stage is conducted by a robot. Afterwards, staff place the dangerous cargo on a cart, taking it to the major workshop — to the washing unit. Blast-type mines are given the same treatment.
On visiting the workshop, I watch Ivan Kostyukevich, who has worked there for the past decade, deal with a mine. He tells me, “A stream of liquefied paraffin is sent to the back of the mine at a pressure of 4 atmospheres — to wash away the detonator.” The mixture is sent to the separator, where the heavier explosive substance pulls away from the paraffin; the latter returns to the pump unit. The staff occupy a semi-underground room, monitoring the process via video camera. Once all danger is over, they return to the workshop.
In fact, not all detonators are alike, as Mr. Kostyukevich explains.
“Melted trotyl can be moulded in its liquid state. When frozen, it can be packed. However, it’s far more difficult to work with explosives when a mixture is being used.”
I’m shown a blasting mine filled with aluminium powder, hexogen and trotyl. It’s a highly explosive cocktail, so its sensitivity is reduced by adding extra trotyl (recycled from other munitions). This creates algetol — a powerful industrial explosive.
Useful for career
Old bomb and mine cases are used as scrap while super-powerful algetol is sent to the warehouse. Unless it’s officially registered, it can’t be used in industry. However, the batch in hand has been tested at Dolomit enterprise — an open joint stock company, located 15km from Vitebsk and involved in extracting dolomite.
“To extract dolomite, you need to drill 30m down into the rock (into a cliff or lake shore),” notes Anatoly Bolotov, Deputy Director of Dolomit’s Pin Production. “We drill wells and place explosives inside; algetol is the most powerful, allowing us to extract more from a smaller area, which is more cost effective. Even our consumption of electricity is reduced, as is the wear on our machinery.” The use of this super-powerful industrial explosive, made domestically, saves Dolomit from importing explosives, saving foreign currency. At present, it spends around $1m annually on explosives from Russia and Ukraine. The saving can be spent on the repair and acquisition of new machinery; discounting BelAZ vehicles and loaders, Dolomit’s machinery is manufactured abroad — primarily, in the post-Soviet republics.
Sadly, the Centre for Utilising Aviation Weaponry doesn’t yet produce enough volumes of explosives to warrant export; Belarus uses all its manufacture domestically. However, the process tackles two birds with one stone: it neutralises dangerous munitions, while manufacturing import-substitution explosives. This benefits the whole Belarusian economy.
By Sergey Gomonov