What are military munitions?

Military munitions come in a variety of types and configurations including:  small arms ammunition, projectiles, cartridges, bombs, rockets, pyrotechnics, grenades, blasting caps, fuzes, pyrotechnics, simulators, and explosives.  Military munitions are designed to kill or injure enemy forces or damage enemy equipment, and contain some form of energetic material (propellants, explosives, or pyrotechnic mixes).  When military munitions do not function as intended (do what they are supposed to do) during use, they become unexploded ordnance or UXO.

Small arms ammunition (e.g., ammunition used in handguns, rifles, shotguns) does not have explosive filled projectiles and is not considered UXO.

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What is UXO?

UXO stands for unexploded ordnance.  UXO result from our military's use of munitions during live-fire training or testing and combat.  UXO is considered the most dangerous category of military munitions. Although the conditions that define military munitions as UXO are specific, you should consider any munitions or suspect munitions you encounter to be UXO and extremely dangerous.  By visiting this website and following the 3Rs (Recognize, Retreat, Report) of explosives safety, you have begun to protect yourself and family from the hazards associated with military munitions.

After decades of munitions-related activities (e.g., live-fire training and testing, demilitarization) to maintain military readiness, military munitions may be present at active and former military installations across the country.  It is also possible to encounter military munitions lost during training or disposed of improperly; munitions involved in accidents; and stolen munitions, such as those taken as souvenirs.  Although military munitions are most commonly encountered in areas that the Department of Defense currently uses (e.g., operational military ranges) or once used (e.g., former installations and ranges), they can be encountered anywhere.

Many people refer to UXO as "duds."  Regardless, of what they are called, munitions should never be approached, touched, or disturbed in any way because they can explode, causing serious injury or even death.

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What do military munitions look like?

Military munitions are produced in many different sizes, shapes, and colors.  Their size and shape depends on how the military intends to use them.  For example, small arms ammunition is used for training soldiers how to shoot their individual weapons, like pistols or rifles, and is small.  Munitions used to train soldiers on crew-served weapons, like tanks and artillery, are large.  Rockets, fired from helicopters, aircraft or ground vehicles, can vary in size, as can bombs dropped from aircraft.  Other types of munitions include hand and rifle grenades, mines and submunitions.  Weathering changes the appearance of military munitions making them more difficult to spot or recognize.

Visit the Photo Gallery for pictures of some more common munitions, both new and used.

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What should I remember about military munitions?

Remember that munitions:

  • Come in many shapes and sizes - some look like bullets or bombs while others look like pointed metal pipes, soda cans, small balls, or even an old car muffler
  • May be easy or difficult to recognize and can:
    • Look new or old
    • Be found alone or in clusters
    • Be extremely dangerous regardless of size or age

Munitions can be:

  • Found almost anywhere
  • Clearly visible on the surface or partially or completely buried in the ground or submerged in water
  • Partially or completely hidden by vegetation
  • Submerged in water and may be covered in algae or encrusted in sea life

Visit the Photo Gallery for pictures of different types of munitions, both new and used.

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Where would I encounter military munitions?

Although military munitions can be found almost anywhere they are typically found in areas where the military conducts, or formerly conducted, training or testing involving munitions.  The vast majority of military munitions, however, will be found in impact areas of operational and former ranges.  Historically, military training ranges were generally in rural, isolated areas.  Because of growing development near military installations, as well as base closures and realignments, there are many sites where former ranges are now outside the installation borders.  Signs normally mark such areas on active military installations or bases.

It is, however, important to know that some areas that the military once used to prepare our military for combat (e.g., World War I, World War II, Korean War) are no longer owned or used by the military (e.g., Formerly Used Defense Sites).  Although the Department of Defense attempted to remove munitions that resulted from training or testing prior to turning over the property for other uses, it is not possible to guarantee that all of the munitions were removed.  Some of these areas may also be marked with warning signs.

It is also important to remember that sometimes people who served in the military (maybe a grandparent, parent, or brother or sister) or who worked on or visited military installations or bases may have taken munitions home as souvenirs.  Even souvenirs that have been handled many times can still be extremely dangerous.  See Incidents.

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What should we do if we see a munition?

Remember the 3Rs:

  • Recognize - when you may have encountered a munition and that munitions are dangerous.
  • Retreat - do not approach, touch, move or disturb it, but carefully leave the area.
  • Report - call 911 and advise the police of what you saw and where you saw it.
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What will happen if I pick up a munition?
If picked up, touched, or moved it may explode, injure or kill you.  When encountered, military munitions may pose an immediate explosive hazard.  Follow the 3Rs of explosives safety. Return to Top
If I step on a munition by mistake, or run over it on my bicycle, what will happen?

If you step on a military munition or run it over with your bicycle, it could explode.  If you're lucky and it does not, do not touch it!  Immediately leave the area in the same direction from which you entered.  Report the suspect munition to an adult (a police officer, a teacher, a parent).  Ask the adult to call 911.

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What if I accidentally enter an area where I encounter a munition?

If you see munitions, you are probably in an area where you should not be.  However, if you accidentally or intentionally enter an area where you encounter or think you could encounter a munition, then you should leave the area immediately.  To avoid munitions, retreat by retracing your steps out of the area in the same direction from which you entered it.  Do not go near the munition, do not touch it, and do not move it.  Do not explore the area.  Try to remember the area in which you saw the munition.  (If possible, when you are safely away from the munition, mark the area with a piece of clothing.)  Help protect yourself, your family, and your friends:  Follow the 3Rs and immediately report what you saw to a parent, teacher or the police.

Remember, you should never go onto operational ranges on active installations because they are extremely dangerous.

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My family has something that looks like a munition at home. Could it be dangerous?

Yes, it may be dangerous.  If you are concerned about a souvenir, even one that your family has kept in its home for years, the best thing to do is to report it by calling 911.  Many people get "war" or "military" souvenirs from their grandparents, parents, or even brothers or sisters who have served in the military in both peacetime and war (e.g., WWII, Vietnam, Iraq).

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If a munition exploded, how far would the pieces go?

It depends on the design and size of the munition, and how much explosives it contains.  When a munition explodes, its metal body breaks into many different sized fragments (pieces).  The explosion causes these metal fragments to fly at very high speeds in all directions.  These fragments are very hot, very sharp, and often jagged.  Generally, larger munitions will throw fragments farther.  If a small munition exploded in a room the size of a bedroom, it could damage the bedroom and kill or hurt everyone in the room.  If a large munition went off in a room the size of a bedroom, it would most likely destroy the bedroom and kill or hurt everyone in the room, and it could very well damage nearby rooms or the entire house, and kill or injure others in the house.

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If there is a munitions site in my neighborhood, does that mean there is a danger to my family?

It means there is a potential danger of which you should be aware.  The Department of Defense conducted an inventory to identify sites that are known or suspected to require a munitions response.  This was done to address the potential explosive hazards presented by munitions.  The inventory, which included any site for which there was an indication that munitions-related activities might have occurred, simply means that there is a potential for an explosives safety or environmental risk at these sites.  Those sites deemed to have the greatest potential risk to the public will be given priority for munitions response actions.

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Why were the munitions left when the Department of Defense released the property?

The Department of Defense cleaned up the property based on its expected future use, sometimes leaving munitions in place.  Although much of the property released by Department of Defense was remote, in many cases it is now subject to intense development pressure.  That is why military munitions are sometimes found in public areas.

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How can I tell if a property was previously used by the Department of Defense?

Information about the location of Formerly Used Defense Site properties can be found using the Geographical Information System tool on the FUDS website at www.fuds.mil.  When you click on the Geographical Information System link on the left side of the page, instructions will display on how to use the system.

You can also determine previous military ownership through a title search.  Further historical information may be obtained from sources such as the local library, county records, local historical society or government archives.

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What is the Military Munitions Response Program?

The Military Munitions Response Program, established in 2002, is an element of the Defense Environmental Restoration Program, under which the Secretary of Defense carries out environmental restoration resulting from past Department of Defense activities.  The Defense Environmental Restoration Program is over 20 years old and initially focused on the cleanup of hazardous waste and petroleum contaminated sites.  The Military Munitions Response Program addresses the safety, health and environmental issues presented by unexploded ordnance, discarded military munitions and munitions constituents.  More information on the Military Munitions Response Program is available from www.denix.osd.mil/mmrp/

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What are FUDS?

The Formerly Used Defense Sites (FUDS) Program cleans up environmental contamination and munitions and explosives of concern at properties formerly owned, leased, possessed, or used by the military services (Army, Navy, Air Force, or other Defense agencies) prior to October 1986, which is the date the program was established.  The Army is the Department of Defense lead agent for FUDS and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for executing the program.  More information on the FUDS Program is available at www.fuds.mil.

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What does it mean to disturb a munition?

Poking it with a stick, throwing rocks at it, or using it for target practice are all forms of disturbing a munition.

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