Although the Powder Factory had taken on a research and development emphasis, the larger-scale employment at Indian Head depended on production facilities. With the decline in smokeless powder consumption and employees’ layoff in the postwar months, Congress members and senators from Maryland soon came to the facility’s defense. Shortly after these political pressures, the Bureau agreed to establish a set of pilot plants at Indian Head, which would have the capacity to produce experimental new propellants for naval research use. By the summer of 1947, the Bureau of Ordnance agreed to a plan to construct four pilot plants at Indian Head to include a nitroglycerin pilot plant; a plant to produce varied nitrogen-content nitrocellulose; a plant for mixing and rolling experimental lots of solvent and solventless propellant; and the fourth plant for experimental production of cast propulsion units. Over the next six years, Indian Head gradually built up its “pilot plant” capacity, building on experimental propellants’ strength. Coming at a time of crisis, the pilot plants began to reshape the mission of Indian Head as its redefinition slowly emerged.
In 1950, the Korean conflict provided the impetus for the factory’s stepped-up explosive and propellant production. During the Korean war, the plant built four new production facilities, the worker population increased, and additional employee housing was built. Employment grew from 1,590 in 1950 to 3,044 employees in 1953. And by 1954, the Biazzi nitroglycerin plant (patterned after a Swiss design), a nitro-guanidine, and cordite N plants were in full operation.
With Indian Head carrying the name Powder Factory, CAPT Francis SCANLAND, Commanding Officer in 1952, argued that the term “powder factory” itself “implied a plant to primarily engage in the manufacture of gun powder.” While the facility’s name had been correct in the 1940s, he stressed, “it is no longer correct and becoming more and more incorrect.” He recommended the name be changed to the Naval Propellant Development Station, pushed for a research and development and pilot plant focus, and continued housing of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal School, established at Stump Neck in 1946.
Following the congressional hearings in 1958, considering the Naval Powder Factory’s future when smokeless powder production had ended, the Indian Head’s mission became more apparent. Building on work done at the facility’s Patterson Pilot Plant during the 1940s, the factory would now produce missile fuel for the long-range Polaris missile and smaller rockets. Later, propellants for emergency ejection mechanisms. With participation in the Polaris program at Indian Head, 23 new buildings began construction in 1959 to support the workload. Reflecting its unique mission and direction, the Naval Powder Factory shed its former name and officially became the Naval Propellant Plant on August 14, 1958.
During the 1950s, the Navy began to phase out housing for civilians instead of making necessary repairs. In the late 1950s, the housing that surrounded the Village Green was demolished, with the last civilian occupants moving out in 1965.
The Navy completed Twenty-three new buildings in 1960 for the manufacture of propellant for Polaris Missiles. Highlighting the year 1962 was the pilot-scale manufacture of the X-248 third stage motor for the Scout missile, followed by the Indian Head’s development of Otto Fuel II for high-speed torpedoes 1963, retooling the Biazzi Plant for its production. Additional growth came from the increase in weapons during the Vietnam conflict, specifically from 1965 through 1969.
Reflecting the diversification from propellants into related fields of chemistry, engineering, and production contract management, the Naval Propellant Plant again changed its name, becoming the Naval Ordnance Station in 1966. The mid to late-1960s was characterized by the production of such products as the plastic explosive C-3 in 1965, an updated Zuni rocket in 1966, Polaris (A2 and A3) casting powder from 1961 through 1967, Poseidon casting powder (C-3) in 1967, and composite propellant and PBX explosive processing.
Through the late 1970s, the tempo of production increased, and the volume of business expanded. With the national mood turning in a more pro-business direction, the Navy-owned facilities at Indian Head in the early 1980s had found several niches in the propellant market. In addition to providing engineering services to translate a laboratory process into a production process for the private sector and providing a national “back up” resource in the case of emergency, full-scale production at Indian Head would concentrate on several methods/products too unprofitable, too dangerous, or too difficult for the private sector to manufacture.
Continuing a trend that began during the 1970s, NOS increased the proportion of engineering and administrative roles overproduction. Recognizing the station’s achievement, NAVSEA reconstituted several previously acquired agency roles as official “centers of excellence” for the Navy. This meant that the Navy would not duplicate the effort elsewhere and treat the facility as the primary collection of experts in a particular area. NOS acquired the “center of excellence” designation by mid-1989 for six technologies, grown out of an established track record. These were: guns, rockets, missiles; energetic chemicals; ordnance devices (CAD/PAD); missile weapon simulators; explosive process development engineering; and explosive safety, occupational safety and health, and environmental protection.
By 1989, the Naval Ordnance Station served as a Navy resource and provided innovative work on the next decade’s systems. Special teams were assembled to work on critical issues such as the investigation into the gun turret explosion aboard the USS IOWA on April 25, 1989, and projects for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and other agencies.
The world watched the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1988 and 1989, democratic reforms in Eastern Europe, the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, and heard terms such as “glasnost” and “perestroika,” all suggesting that relations with the Soviet Union would improve. Facing new budgetary cuts, just as it had experienced in the 1920s and 1940s, Indian Head once again looked toward becoming a “lean and mean” facility.
Indian Head Division’s importance to the DoD is more significant than ever. Private companies in energetics are getting out of the business, and more are expected to follow as the volume of work goes down. There is no commercial market for their products, their large, expensive facilities are idled, and the cost of environmental compliance is skyrocketing (DuPont being one example). The Navy has been planning for this and has taken actions to consolidate energetics work at Indian Head. The Navy’s explosives research and undersea warhead development work (about 300 workers) has been transferred from NSWC White Oak Maryland to Indian Head by BRAC 93. The explosive loading facilities at Naval Weapons Station Yorktown have begun to be shut down with the work transferred to Indian Head.