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ORDNANCE originally referred to military firearms: gun tubes, ammunition, and auxiliary equipment supporting the immediate firing process. Since about 1890, however, technical revolutions in weaponry have continually broadened the meaning of the term, and in America it now stands for all types of weapons and weapons systems.

Army Ordnance

In the United States the manufacture of ordnance has traditionally been a federal concern. In 1794 Congress authorized the establishment of arsenals for the development and manufacture of ordnance at Springfield, Massachusetts, and at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. In 1812 Congress created a U.S. Army Ordnance Department to operate them. A major achievement during this early period was the introduction by Eli Whitney of interchangeable parts for mass-produced firearms.

In the nineteenth century five more arsenals were added to satisfy the army's demand for small arms, powder, shot, and cannon. Although Civil War needs sent arsenal and private ordnance production soaring, this hyperactivity ended abruptly in 1865. The navy had been given an Ordnance Bureau in 1842 but continued to rely heavily on army and civilian producers.

During the early twentieth century the pace of ordnance development accelerated rapidly and was accompanied by a growing gap between the designer-manufacturer and the user. Until 1917, the Ordnance Department, under Maj. Gen. William B. Crozier, dominated the army's weapons acquisition process; after 1917 and between the two world wars, the combat arms determined their own needs, and the department devoted itself to planning industrial mobilization. But the growing cost and sophistication of ordnance were making the centralization of procurement a necessity.

Another new factor was the increasing importance of private industry. World War I had shown the importance of private ordnance-producing resources, or at least the

need to be able to mobilize those resources quickly, but the United States abandoned its policy of restricting peacetime ordnance production to federal arsenals with great reluctance. On 16 June 1938 the Educational Orders Act authorized the immediate placement of ordnance contracts with civilian firms in order to strengthen outside procurement procedures and ease a future transition to a wartime economy. In World War II private arms production dwarfed governmental efforts, especially in weapons carriers and auxiliary equipment; at the same time, as ordnance continued to grow more complex, public and private defense production became more integrated.

From 1945 to 1973, worldwide commitments forced the United States to remain in a state of semimobilization and made dependence on arsenal production alone impractical. Ordnance was increasingly discussed in terms of weapons systems, which bore little resemblance to the firearms of 1860 or even 1917, and the army soon joined the naval and air arms in their dependence on private industry for a great proportion of their ordnance and ordnance-supporting equipment. In recognition of these trends, President John F. Kennedy's defense reorganizations of 1961–1963 placed the three service staffs on a functional basis, established three large matérielcommands, and continued the centralization of the ordnance selection process. The manufacture of ordnance had become one of America's largest enterprises and demanded constant executive attention. Even after the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, the United States remained the largest weapons manufacturer in the world.

Naval Ordnance

Naval ordnance includes all the weapons and their control systems used by naval forces. These can be classed by type (guns, mines, torpedoes, depth charges, bombs, rockets, or missiles); by warheads (conventional or nuclear); by launching platform (surface, airborne, or underwater); or by targets (submarine, air, or surface).

Until the mid-nineteenth century, U.S. Navy ships were armed with carriage-mounted, muzzle-loading, smooth-bore cannons, principally of iron, firing solid shot at point-blank range. At the time of the Civil War, pivot mounts, turrets, rifled guns, and explosive projectiles were in use. By World War I, directors, rangekeepers (computers), and breech-loading steel guns were in use. By World War II, radar and automatic controls had been added. Battleship sixteen-inch guns were capable of firing 2,700-pound armor-piercing projectiles at ranges up to twenty miles; proximity fuses for use against aircraft were developed; and bombardment rockets were also added.

Moored mines, contact-activated or controlled from the shore, were used in the Civil War. Starting in World War II, additional sensors were developed (magnetic, pressure, and acoustic). Preceded by spar-mounted "torpedoes" of the Civil War, self-propelled torpedoes were introduced into the U.S. Navy in the latter part of the

nineteenth century. Homing torpedoes first appeared in World War II. World War I aircraft were armed with machine guns and crude bombs. Gyroscopic bombsights and aircraft rockets were in use in World War II.

Introduced in combat against Japanese ships in 1945, the first homing missile was the Bat, an air-launched, antiship, radar-homing, glider bomb. Since then a variety of ship, air, and submarine guided missiles have been developed. The first of the navy's long-range ballistic missiles, introduced in 1960, was the submerged-launched, 1,200-mile Polaris, made possible by solid propellants, inertial guidance, small thermonuclear warheads, and sophisticated fire-control and navigational systems. Its successor, the Poseidon, has a 2,500-nautical-mile range and was later equipped with multiple warheads. The Trident missile system, with greater range and improved capabilities, was developed in the mid-1970s. At the height of the Cold War, in the early 1980s, the navy introduced Los Angeles-class nuclear submarines to the fleet. The collapse of the Soviet Union removed the navy's only major international rival, but naval innovation continued unabated. In 1989 the navy began construction on new Seawolf-class attack submarines, designed to be more than ten times quieter than LA-class submarines.


Battison, Edwin. Muskets to Mass Production: The Men and the Times That Shaped American Manufacturing. Windsor, Vt.: American Precision Museum, 1976.

Freedman, Norman. Submarine Design and Development. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1984.

Green, Constance M. Eli Whitney and the Birth of American Technology. Boston: Little Brown, 1956.

Hogg, Oliver F. G. Artillery: Its Origin, Heyday, and Decline. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1970.

Peck, Taylor. Round Shot to Rockets: A History of the Washington Navy Yard and U.S. Naval Gun Factory. Annapolis, Md.: United States Naval Institute, 1949.

Jeffrey J.Clarke

Edwin B.Hooper/a. g.

See alsoAircraft Armament ; Artillery ; Chemical and Biological Warfare ; Missiles, Military ; Munitions ; Rifle, Recoilless ; Torpedo Warfare .

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ord·nance / ˈôrdnəns/ • n. 1. mounted guns; artillery. ∎  military weapons, ammunition, and equipment used in connection with them. 2. a branch of the armed forces dealing with the supply and storage of weapons, ammunition, and related equipment.

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ordnance mounted guns, cannon; from the late 15th century, the branch of government service dealing especially with military stores and materials, under the control of the Master of the Ordnance. (The word was originally a variant of ordinance, and comes via Old French and medieval Latin from Latin ordinare ‘put in order’.)
Ordnance Survey in the UK, an official survey organization, originally under the direction of the Master of the Ordnance, preparing large-scale detailed maps of the whole country; it originated in a topographic survey (1784) of the Trigonometric Society.