Explosive ordnance disposal

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Explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) is the set of tools and procedures for the detection, identification, on-site evaluation, rendering safe, recovery, and final disposal of unexploded explosive ordnance, explosive ordnance which has become hazardous by damage or deterioration, or improvised explosive devices (IED). The term "unexploded ordnance (UXO)", especially in British Commonwealth usage, deals with military weapons, such as bombs or cluster munitions, that have not, for some reason, detonated after impact. Every incident is different; it may be possible to render a device safe in place, or the EOD specialist may conclude that the only feasible means of disposal is a controlled burning or explosion, after the area has been cleared and all possible barriers put in place.

Obviously, military forces have EOD specialists of various types. They may be ordnance specialists that routinely work with ammunition, or combat engineers. Technical intelligence resources may have relevant data, which can be accessed remotely. The Swedish military, for example, does describe a service available to demining and other authorized personnel. [1]

A humanitarian demining study observes that "The basic deminer course is around 2 weeks; a military Engineer EOD operator’s training is between 3 to 6 months, whilst an Ammunition Technical Officer’s training is well over one year.".[2] While demining, especially in coutries that cannot afford expensive equipment, is a slow and dangerous process, if the mines in place tend to be of a common type, less training may be needed.

Police and other civilian organizations also may have the training and equipment to deal with potential or real explosives. The discipline is also highly relevant to humanitarian demining operations.[2] A large-scale military operation, during battle, to breach a minefield is outside the EOD discipline, and more a matter for combat engineers. In the restructuring of the United States Army, engineers, EOD, and chemical corps (i.e., decontamination specialists) are part of the Combat Support Brigade.

The discipline has obvious hazards, and only in the last resort will a technician handle the device. Remote viewing devices, either with distance viewing or carried by a unmanned ground vehicle, are increasingly common. Some evaluation is done from a heavily protected manned vehicle, with cameras, manipulators, and other equipment at the end of a long boom.

A phased approach to explosive ordnance disposal

The EOD process consists of distinct phases, which may take different skills or equipment. At any point, qualified personnel may determine that further investigation and manipulation is too hazardous, and the only rational action is destruction in place, limiting damage as much as possible.

Especially with IEDs, but also with professionally placed explosives, there may be hidden mechanisms intended to trigger the device while it is being examined. Both the tamper resistance techniques, and methods of overcoming them, tend to be classified information.

It is standard practice for the technicians working on the device to communicate each intended action before doing it, so if the action turns out to be terribly wrong, others will learn from it.

Access procedures

There is a seet of procedures, sometimes called explosive ordnance reconnaissance, used to locate the device and gain access to its mechanisms. In areas where IEDs are common, such as Iraq, some electronic methods may be used preemptively, to either predetonate IEDs or block their control channel.

Diagnostic procedures

Various actions can be taken to identify and evaluate unexploded explosive ordnance. When the item is a standard piece of ordnance of one's own side, or an enemy standard weapon on which there is reliable intelligence, it may be possible to determine if the device is armed, or even in a delayed-action mode that cannot be stopped and will produce an explosion.

A variety of nonintrusive imaging and sensing devices can be used. X-ray, ultrasound, and other techniques may be able to visualize the internal components. Some IEDs may be shielded against viewing, but it has not been suggested, in the open literature, that any device senses such examination and causes it to detonate. Other passive devices, much as in the swabs used for nitrate residue detection in airline screening, may be able to confirm the presence of explosives.

More intrusive methods may be able, safely, to penetrate a casing and observe the contents, but the details of such methods are sensitive.

Render safe procedures

Render safe procedures (RSP) are those procedures involving the application of special explosive ordnance disposal methods and tools to provide for the interruption of functions or separation of essential components of unexploded explosive ordnance to prevent an unacceptable detonation. One recent technique, which has become public as a result of police use, is to disrupt the device with an extremely high pressure water stream. Presumably, deionized water would not conduct electrical signals, and, if anything, would extinguish a burning fuse. Again, many techniques are not public.

Recovery procedures

Those actions taken to recover unexploded explosive ordnance, especially for technical intelligence exploitation.

Final disposal procedures

The final disposal of explosive ordnance which may include demolition or burning in place, removal to a disposal area, or other appropriate means.

Special situations

The primary training of EOD specialists focuses on conventional explosives and their detonation systems. If a suspected device may be a nuclear, chemical, biological, or radiological weapon, the EOD personnel may need to team with specialists who can deal with the additional hazards of the "NBCR" component. An EOD technician may well know how to render-safe a nuclear weapon of his or her own side, perhaps in an uncertain state due to a crash or other accident (see 1980 incident with W53 nuclear weapon), but other specialists may be needed for management of the payload consequences. [3]

In the 1980 case of the W53 warhead, thrown a considerable distance when its carrying missile exploded in an underground silo, there was no release of radioactive material. Other accidents (e.g., Thule, Greenland in 1968, and Palomares, Spain, in 1966) caused the complete disruption of the weapons, so the issue was not EOD, but decontaminating radioactive materials. [4] One of the most extreme situations, however, came with [5] a B-52 structural failure near Goldsboro, North Carolina. When the bomber broke apart in flight, one Mark 39 bomb's parachute worked and it landed with minimal damage. While the issue remains controversial, according to Daniel Ellsberg and Ralph E. Lapp, only one final switch in the detonation sequence had not closed. As a consequence, the U.S. and Soviet Union apparently cooperated in developing additional safety procedures as part of nuclear surety. The response, in this case, would have involved both EOD personnel to render-safe the bomb itself, but also considerable preparation to mitigate the effects of an explosion. This incident, of course, had the enormous advantage of the EOD personnel having full access to the design of the bomb.


  1. SWEDEC (Swedish EOD and Demining Centre), EOD IS (Explosive Ordnance Disposal Information System)
  2. 2.0 2.1 Group of Governmental Experts of The States Parties to the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons which may be Deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects, Explosive Remnants of War Information Requirements - Render Safe Procedures (RSPs) during Humanitarian Clearance Operations
  3. Assistant to the Secretary of Defense (Atomic Energy) (September 1990), Nuclear Weapons Accident Response Procedures (NARP) manual, DoD 5100.52-M
  4. Office of the Surgeon General, United States Air Force (May 22, 2002), Air Force Releases Reports on Palomares, Spain and Thule Airbase, Greenland Nuclear Weapons Accidents
  5. Tiwari, Jaya & Cleve J. Gray, "U.S. Nuclear Weapons Accidents", Center for Defense Information