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The Shipping Container Alternative for Military Construction

Meeting the infrastructure needs of the military is no small feat. Whether it’s a training facility, office space, housing for soldiers or storage for valuable equipment, constant construction is needed to keep an organization of this stature functioning.
By Stephen Shang
November 6, 2019
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Meeting the infrastructure needs of the military is no small feat. Whether it’s a training facility, office space, housing for soldiers or storage for valuable equipment, constant construction is needed to keep an organization of this stature functioning.

When addressing this demand, contractors turn to either traditional construction methods, such as stick-built structures, or ready-made mobile structures, such as mobile trailers. These methods have proven to be viable over time, but certain projects require contractors to seek out alternative methods to meet mission objectives. Deviations from common methods occur when projects require quick deadlines and need assets to be relocatable or reconfigurable.

The military has used shipping containers—often referred to as Conex boxes—since the Korean War. Today, shipping container-based structures offer a viable alternative to traditional military building methods when mobility, durability and reconfigurability are important.

Offsite manufacturing accelerates the delivery process and minimizes the need for onsite labor, reducing cost and putting fewer people in harm’s way. Production can scale quickly, too. To meet a U.S. Air Force requirement, an entire Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) training facility was manufactured in 2013 using 700 shipping containers modified with moveable internal walls, breach doors and windows to resemble a city. These structures were completed in a fraction of the time and cost it would have taken to build conventionally, with the added benefit of flexibility for reconfiguration to meet changing mission requirements.

Mobility is an inherent benefit of shipping containers. Standardized sizes and connection points, such as corner castings and forklift pockets, make transportation and relocation easy. In most cases, containers don’t require foundations, so they’re easy to relocate and stack into larger buildings. Recently, a U.S. Air Force training range needed a check-in facility large enough for groups, with the mobility to accommodate changes in the entry point. Within a day of placement, the containers were pushed together, sealed and connected to power. When the time comes for relocation, the containers can be pulled apart, loaded onto a truck and driven to the new location. Elements such as desks and countertops get to go along for the ride.

Conex boxes were created to withstand the hardships of transportation, making them incredibly durable and secure. Mobile workforce housing structures are developed with relocation, safety and comfort in mind. Traditional travel trailers quickly fall out of repair with frequent relocation, but containers create a durable and comfortable living space for deployed personnel. Climate-controlled units can be manufactured as housing units, kitchens, living spaces or restrooms.

Shipping containers have a special place within the spectrum of military operations, both for training and deployed forces. With the benefits of offsite manufacturing, shipping containers provide a mobile, durable and reconfigurable option.

by Stephen Shang

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