Even by the standards of a military installation, Naval Surface Warfare Center Indian Head can be a dangerous place.
The center on the Potomac River in Southern Maryland is where the Navy's bomb makers come up with new ways to blow things up.
Once explosives and rockets are packed up and sent out to the fleet, they're relatively safe. But the raw ingredients for bombs are much more volatile, and the safety measures at the base are extensive. More than sixty miles of steam pipes snake between the buildings, delivering heat without furnaces, and spikes several stories tall rise into the sky to corral any lightning that might strike.
"Lightning and explosives don't mix," said Robert Beagley, a bomb tester.
Making things explode has been central to warfare since the first guns were introduced to the battlefield centuries ago. But Ashley Johnson, the top civilian at the Indian Head Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Division, is worried that in the last two decades the United States has put research into bombmaking on the back burner, and risks losing its edge over other countries.