Field Support & Prepositioned Stocks: An Enduring Legacy

The Cold War was fraught with wonder, ingenuity, and a certain sense of mysterious danger as the two superpowers entered a stalemate of weapon development competition and stockpiling. Advancement in nuclear power, propulsion systems, and so much more led its development to the Cold War. It was within this period that wild theories were enabled, and the imagination was no limit of mortal man. However, far more worldly was the development of conventional warfare means.

In 1955, Ordnance Weapons Command (OWC) was activated with the mission of streamlining weapons research, development, and fielding along the lines of weapon commodities in the Ordnance Department. OWC owned the lifecycle of weapons in the U.S. Army from blueprints and drafting all the way to the weapon seeing action in the field. Within OWC and the subsequent Weapons Command (WECOM) (1962), were several research laboratories tasked with designing and developing everything from small arms to tanks.

There were four key laboratories operating in OWC and its subsequent incarnations from 1955 through 1973.These laboratories were the Airborne Systems Laboratory (ASL), the Small Arms Research Laboratory (SARL), the Bioengineering Laboratory (BIO), and the Artillery Systems Laboratory (ARL). From the late 1970s and into the early 1980s, these laboratories and sections were drawn down until they were totally realigned under a new command.

One of the first weapon systems fielded by ARL was the Triple Threat Weapon carriage that could cradle the 155-, 175-, and 203-mm guns and howitzers. These replaced the large T72 carriage mated to the T131 280-mm gun, known as Atomic Annie. Subsequent smaller systems included numerous modifications to the M101 105-mm howitzer and the then-new M102 105-mm howitzer in 1962.

SARL worked on design and development of the M14 rifle, the iconic weapon that accompanied many units in the Vietnam War. By the mid-1960s, SARL was also working on modifications and concepts for the replacement M16 rifle. Unilaterally, the small arms division worked on numerous other projects, including disposable magazines, combat shotguns, and new machine gun systems.

Other weapon systems and projects included airborne artillery platforms, that eventually birthed the armed variants of the Huey (AH-1 HueyCobra), AH-64 Apache, M198 155-mm Howitzer, and many others. Concepts were created for rotary towed rocket launchers, auxiliary powered artillery systems, tri-wheel carriages (co-opted with Lockheed), fire-less ammunition, rotary-borne artillery systems, and even weapon systems capable of use in outer space.

In 1973, these weapons laboratories were transferred to Rock Island Arsenal, where they were renamed the Thomas J. Rodman Weapons Laboratories. As missions transformed different sections and laboratories left Rock Island Arsenal and were allocated to other commands and installations. The transfer of this mission set was completed in 2018 when Army Materiel Command (AMC) was ordered to transfer the Research, Development, and Engineering Command (RDECOM) to Army Futures Command (AFC). Today, these functions belong to the Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM / CCDC), a major subordinate command (MSC) of AFC.

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