Pioneering Solid Rocket Motor Technology
The facility traces its roots back to America’s entry into World War II, when the Kelly-Springfield tire company opened an ordnance facility that became informally known as the “Pinto Powder Farm.” Not long after the facility opened, Kelly-Springfield abandoned the ammunition business to refocus on producing tires for the war effort and by the summer of 1943, the Pinto Powder Farm, with its handful of employees, had gone almost completely dark.
At the same time, the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC) organized some of the best civilian minds in the country to advance the growing field of rocket ordnance, and the Pinto site was perfectly suited for the team’s needs. In early 1944 the Army site was re-christened the Allegany Ballistics Laboratory.
At the end of the war, the Navy quietly arranged for the continuation of work at ABL due to Operation Bumblebee, a secret program to develop the first surface-to-air missiles, or SAMs. Over the next five decades the site was managed for the Navy by the Hercules Powder Company, and ABL continued to be a source of innovation in the fields of propellants and solid propulsion, supporting numerous government missile programs such as Sprint, Polaris, Terrier and Sparrow. Additionally, ABL began developing expertise in the use of composite materials.
A State-of-the Art Manufacturing Facility
In the 1990s, Alliant Techsystems purchased the Aerospace/Defense business from Hercules, which relocated its tactical rocket motor, ammunition and precision metal parts manufacturing to ABL. Almost overnight the historic military research center was transformed into a state-of-the-art rocket motor manufacturing, ammunition and metal forming and machining facility.
Working under the direction of the Naval Sea Systems Command, the company, now known as Orbital ATK, has added surrounding properties and invested more than $100 million into facilities and construction. It remains West Virginia’s largest defense operation and is the state’s third largest manufacturing employer. In 2002 the facility was identified as a Historic Aerospace Site by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
ABL entered the latest phase of its expansion history in 2016 when Orbital ATK broke ground on its new Large Tactical Motor Manufacturing Facility (LTMMF). Scheduled for completion later this year, the new facility will bring an additional 80,000 square feet of manufacturing space and as many as 200 additional jobs to the site.
The new facility is designed from the ground up to be a flexible and efficient production center to provide reliable, affordable deliveries of propulsion systems for the most critical air-launched and ground-launched systems used today by the U.S. military and allied forces around the world. Systems built at ABL will almost exclusively use the company’s proprietary Insensitive Munitions (IM) technology. Orbital ATK IM technology makes munitions safer to transport, store and use in battle by incorporating more chemically stable propellant and casing materials that are more resistant to accidental discharge from impacts from bullets or shrapnel or exposure to fire.
ABL by the Numbers
|Approximate figures for one year at Orbital ATK's Allegany Ballistics Laboratory|
|Years in Operation||73|
|Manufacturing Sqare Footage||1,250,000|
|Structures & Components||18.600|
|Safe & Arm Devices||190,700|
|Pounds of Propellant||500,000|
|Fuzes & Sensors||1,290,000|