By Kirk Stelsel
The U.S. military subjects recruits to a series of tests, such as obstacle courses and written exams, to determine their mental and physical strength from the moment they step onto base.
When it comes to military building materials – especially those protecting soldiers or equipment – strength is also a critical element. The military has built highly-fortified structures with concrete for decades, from Cold War-era missile silos designed to withstand nuclear blasts1 to the Pentagon. Precast concrete in particular is used by the military for everything from basic infrastructure to custom products.
Here’s a look at a few ways the U.S. military has deployed precast concrete at bases around the country.
Military bases are self-sufficient communities with all the needs and more of civilian cities. Like cities, bases use prefabricated precast concrete buildings for common applications such as storage, electrical buildings, field stations and restrooms. Other uses, such as ammunition storage and training simulations, are unique. Easi-Set Worldwide, based in Midland, Va., licenses a family of precast building designs used on many bases.
“Government officials often turn to us for military projects due to the ease of purchasing pre-engineered, pre-designed, precast concrete buildings,” said Jeremy Smith, building product manager with Easi-Set. “The design and construction process is simplified, allowing projects to go to bid more quickly. Delivery and installation typically happen in the same day.”
In Florida, Leesburg Concrete Company has experienced a growing demand for its Easi-Set precast buildings at government facilities. The company recently supplied a storage building and restroom to MacDill Air Force Base outside of Tampa, Fla. For Fort Benning in Georgia, it supplied a precast building that houses electrical equipment.
Modular construction saves time on site, but is also adaptable. Leesburg Concrete custom manufactured a storage building for MacDill Air Force Base which was strategically placed under the overhead beams of an inspection facility. The buildings supplied by Leesburg Concrete meet the strict requirements for secure military buildings.
In 2011, a standard, 3-inch-thick Easi-Set building panel passed a Level 5 UL 752 ballistics test. During the test, a 150-grain, 7.62 NATO round was fired from 15 feet away at 12-inch-by-12-inch test samples in varying conditions.
Superior Concrete Products, based in Euless, Texas, unveiled its new Superior Ballistics wall product that has undergone separate, similar testing. The company initially developed the new product line as a response to an increasing number of utility jobs requiring a ballistics rating.
Superior includes a membrane in its traditional casting process to significantly strengthen the panels. It can be added to any of its current wall panel products, which the company designs to mimic materials such as brick, stone and wood. In addition to the finishes, the company uses integral color to match any color the customer requests. Unlike the materials the walls mimic, Superior’s precast wall systems install faster, have a much longer service life and lower maintenance costs.
“It’s a decorative precast concrete fencing that we believe meets a different approach,” said Mike Taylor, vice president of finance and administration for Superior Concrete Products. “It’s friendly to the neighborhood and it’s visually pleasing. It’s a precise, high-quality product and everything is tested in our lab according to NPCA Certification standards.”
Although the company is just beginning to bid jobs with the product, it has worked with the military in the past and anticipates future military business.
“I ran into an officer at World of Concrete and he was very interested in our products,” Taylor said. “He saw our product and he complimented it. We have their needs in mind when it comes to being professional and providing high-quality products and helping secure our nation.”
Strength is also a major requirement for new construction on bases. On a 4-story building at Fort Belvoir in Virginia, the Army Corp of Engineers and the project architects achieved a number of goals using brick-finish Easi-Set Slenderwall panels from Smith-Midland Corp. in Midland, Va. Completed in just 12 months, it earned a LEED Gold certification and matches the look of other buildings on base while meeting anti-terrorism guidelines.
“The selected wall system already had approvals for meeting the strict anti-terrorism criteria for security and blast resistance,” said Matthew Smith, vice president of sales and marketing for Smith-Midland. “Yet it is a lightweight method of only about 30 pounds per square foot, mounted outboard of the floor slab.”
More than 1,000 miles to the west, the U.S. Strategic Command is currently constructing a $1.2 billion facility at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, Neb., with precast concrete wall panels. USSTRATCOM is responsible for detecting, deterring and preventing strategic attacks against the U.S. and its allies. The Command is vital to U.S. security and also serves as backup to both the Pentagon and U.S. Northern Command.
“Including components, the Command employs more than 4,100 people, representing all four military services, and Department of Defense civilians and contractors, who oversee the Command’s global operations – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” said Lt. Col. Martin O’Donnell, USSTRATCOM public affairs current operations chief.
The Command constructed its current facility nearly 60 years ago. As O’Donnell stated, it was “built to support typewriters and grease boards.” Planning and design of the new facility was a multi-year process and construction is underway. Reliability and security are paramount, particularly with the Command’s role as backup to other top military installations.
The new facility will include 84,311 square feet of precast including columns and blast-resistant façade panels with brick and acid-etched finishes. In addition to securing the building, the precast provided the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with other benefits.
“At USSTRATCOM, the biggest benefit of using precast concrete members is that they are manufactured under strict quality control processes,” said Richard Taylor, assistant chief, Engineering Division, Omaha District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “This ensures that the products are consistent in appearance from member to member. Fabrication off site also eases congestion at the job site and allows for on-time delivery and erection.”
The perfect partnership
The list of precast concrete products used on military bases is long. Cape Fear Precast in Jacksonville, N.C., supplies five bases in the area. Products have included sewer and water infrastructure, custom vaults to store firefighting foam and firing range products.
Western Precast Concrete in El Paso, Texas, has a long-term relationship with Fort Bliss, a local U.S. military post. One of the largest projects was an order for nearly 300 units of precast concrete military barrier used for a training facility. The barrier helped simulate conditions a soldier might encounter while deployed to a combat zone.
“In addition to a limited level of blast protection around the perimeter, the barrier was also staged as a component of force protection infrastructure known as an entry control point system,” said Richard Alvarado, general manager and quality control director for Western Precast and a veteran of the Iraq War. “The training provided by this installation is invaluable. It can prepare troops for scenarios that include security clearance and protocol response to attacks such as vehicle improvised explosive devices.”
And Smith-Midland is no stranger to training products either. It manufactured roof slabs, walls and prefabricated buildings to help the Marines construct a mock Afghan village inside a warehouse. The color and finish on the product mimics adobe mud huts to help make the simulation as realistic as possible.
Whether it’s troop training, security or infrastructure, the U.S. military has put precast concrete products to the test at installations across the country. From a hurricane-resistant U.S. Coast Guard hangar in the Bahamas (precast.org/hangar) to an all-precast administrative building in Texas (precast.org/built-army), examples are everywhere. As evidenced by continued use, precast has lived up to the high expectations.
Kirk Stelsel is NPCA’s director of communication and marketing.