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From Barracks to Barriers, Military Finding Creative Uses for Shipping Containers


From safely shipping weapons and equipment in the 1940s and 50s to re-purposing them as mobile offices and barracks or barriers during training, the military has been taking advantage of the benefits of using shipping containers (also known as Conex boxes) for decades.

During World War II, the U.S. Army began experiments with shipping containers to ship supplies to the front lines because cargo was being delayed at ports due to the time required by breakbulk loading and offloading of ships, and supplies being stolen or damaged during transport.

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Today, shipping container-based structures offer a practical alternative to traditional military building methods when mobility, durability and reconfigurability are critical. The military commonly uses shipping containers for training facilities, office space, housing for soldiers or storage for valuable equipment. 


To meet a U.S. Air Force requirement in 2013, an entire Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) training facility was built 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.

Shipping containers were also used in 2019 when a U.S. Air Force training range needed a check-in facility to accommodate groups and capable of relocating to other entry points. Within a day of placement, the containers were pushed together, sealed and connected to power. When the time comes for relocation, the shipping containers can be disassembled, loaded onto a truck and transported to the new location. 

Shipping container usage is limited only by imagination. Just like individuals and businesses who creatively use shipping containers for their projects, the military has also found unique ways to re-purpose these steel boxes.

The main reason the military leans on shipping containers for its projects is that they meet their important standards of dependability and versatility and serve them in multiple capacities under virtually any condition.

Here are some other specific ways the military uses shipping containers: 

  • Barriers for training operations: Shipping containers can withstand a significant amount of damage while maintaining structural integrity. So, it stands to reason that they would make great barriers during military training exercises. They mimic the kind of obstacles that troops might encounter in real military situations and serve as appropriate cover under fire during training operations, too. 
  • Office spaces: There’s paperwork and business to attend to in the military, too. Just as shipping containers are used for commercial businesses, they make an appropriate and portable office in the military field as well. A contained unit, away from harsh outdoor conditions and distractions of training operations, provides an environment for the clerical side of military work. Shipping containers can also be used as data centers or as central locations for planning and strategizing when it comes to military operations.
  • Supply storage: Shipping containers are commonly used for all types of storage by civilians. They are also used for this purpose by the military. They make for an ideal storage solution for all kinds of weapons and ammunition, food, paperwork, medical supplies, uniforms, linens, extra living supplies and more. 
  • Pop-up weapons system: Believe it or not, shipping containers can used as weapons. Recently, the Army converted a number of 20-foot-long shipping containers into remote weapons stations. An installed lift can support power weapon systems, including the M2 .50 caliber machine gun, Mk 19 grenade launcher, M134 Dillon 7.62-millimeter minigun, and the M249 squad automatic weapon. They can even support the Javelin anti-tank missile. The system is designed to be mobile and deployed at a moment’s notice, easily installed and used at any point on the battlefield.

All these military applications of shipping containers help the military train, protect and mobilize to keep us safe. With the benefits of offsite manufacturing, shipping containers provide a mobile, durable and reconfigurable option. Interested in learning more about shipping containers? Learn more about the history and the process of making shipping containers here.