Innovative Igloo Coverings at BGAD Increase Munitions Readiness, Save Money

A recent wide-angle view of a BGAD igloo with tarp cover. (Photo Credit: Mark Henry)

Blue Grass Army Depot (BGAD) is home to more than a chemical weapons stockpile. Among its other missions, it’s also the location of 902 earth-covered magazines, known as igloos, of which 853 are used to store a variety of conventional munitions destined for our country’s joint warfighters around the world.

BGAD Directorate of Public Works (DPW) Facilities Engineering Division Chief James Sivley says the vast majority of the igloos were built by troop labor in 1941 and 1942 during World War II, and some structures have started to deteriorate. 

“The reinforced concrete of these facilities has exceeded their design lifespan and is starting to allow water to infiltrate, which can negatively impact the stored materials,” said Sivley. 

Sivley said the DPW, along with munition handlers and Quality Assurance Specialist Ammunition Surveillance (QASAS) inspectors, survey each facility at least once annually, with the result being the submission of many work orders over the years to repair cracks caused by water damage. 

“We’ve been doing crack repairs for a long time, but it’s always just a temporary fix…like a Band-Aid,” said Sivley. “Generally, it only mitigates the leaks for a year or two.” 

Sivley educated members of DPW in 2018 on a tarp system he learned of being used at Milan Army Ammunition Plant in Tennessee. He found that their tarps not only cost less and were more effective than a previously implemented tarp system at BGAD…but also that they were more cost effective than individual igloo repair.

“We took a mini-tour and inspected how they did their tarps at Milan,” said Sivley. “We were so impressed by how well their tarps worked, we had to replicate their system.”

Soon after, BGAD initiated a pilot project to install the reinforced polypropylene tarps on 22 of BGAD’s igloos to test their ability to mitigate water infiltration inside each structure. 

The cost to install one igloo tarp is approximately $30,000 versus $750,000 to demolish and replace a single igloo. The new tarps are expected to extend each igloo’s lifespan by a minimum of 20 years…or about the lifespan of the tarp. 

“Think of it like a ship. You don’t want any water inside, not only to protect the cargo but also to help ensure you don’t sink. Of course, in this case, we’re not worrying about an igloo sinking, but we do worry about water and humidity damaging the stored munitions…or damaging the structure beyond repair.” said Jim Hawkins, BGAD DPW Director. “You can’t efficiently fix every hole on the inside of a ship’s hull. Instead, you put the ship in dry-dock then repair and re-paint the outside hull. Essentially, that’s what we are doing with our igloos…repairing and covering to extend service life and ensure our munitions workforce can perform their duties more effectively and efficiently. 

“While repairing and covering saves us about $720,000 versus replacement, the real benefit is not in the cost savings,” says Hawkins. “Our primary mission is to support the country’s joint warfighters by making sure they get quality ammo when and where they need it. So what we’re really doing is ensuring more efficient and effective operations that will positively impact the Army’s #1 priority of readiness and JMC’s role as the lead munitions sustainer. It’s all about material readiness and providing lethality that wins.” 

By the end of the calendar year, BGAD is expecting to have 123 of their 902 igloos covered, with 66 targeted for FY20…pending funding approval. 

“BGAD DPW does everything in its power to reduce facility and operating costs,” said Hawkins, “but in the end, whatever we do, it’s always framed by asking how it helps BGAD support our warfighters.” – By SFC Rebecca Wood

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