SACRAMENTO, CA - The Pentagon has temporarily banned the use of all 60mm mortars following the death of eight Marines when a mortar they were using for practice at the Hathorne Nev., Army Depot base blew up.
"We won't know for a long time, until after the official investigation what happened out there at Hawthorne," said retired Army Command Sgt. Major Dan Sebby, who is now the curator of the State Military Museum in Sacramento.
"Anytime you deal with artillery or explosives, there's always that chance of something going wrong," Sebby said.
The 60mm mortar is a staple of light, fast-moving Marine Corps units. The victims of the blast were at a remote location at the sprawling base in Hawthorn where the terrain, altitude and conditions are very similar to Afghanistan.
"It's very critical, especially if you're going into the mountains of Afghanistan," Sebby said. "You're in hilly terrain. You need to direct fire onto the top of a hill. A mortar is the perfect weapon for that."
A Marine Corps spokesperson said the mortar round detonated inside the weapon's tube.
"They will look at rounds from that same lot number to see if there was a manufacturing error, along with investigating any other possible issues that may have caused the blast," Sebby said.
The projectile the mortar fires weighs about 3 pounds, is 14 inches long and a little more than 2 inches across.
"It's very simple. It's a tube with the firing pin at the base of the tube" Sebby explained. "You drop the projectile at the muzzle end, it slides down, it hits the pin and it goes out."
Mortars are essentially light artillery, for short-range use that can be moved quickly.