An influx of new money at the Pentagon will help replenish cruise
missiles and satellite-guided bombs, but it will not necessarily
fix industrial base problems in the ammunition sector, sources said.
Companies such as Raytheon and Boeing are working to ramp up production
of the Tomahawk cruise missile and the satellite-guided Joint Direct
Attack Munition, two of the weapons most heavily used in the air
war against Afghanistan, in Operation Enduring Freedom.
But funding shortfalls in conventional ammunition accounts will
remain, even though the Defense Department received a $20 billion
supplemental appropriation after the September 11 attacks, said
industry officials. The United States still has large stocks of
conventional ammunition in storage—left over from the Cold
War—which would be needed to fight an extended conflict on
the ground. But U.S. and allied commanders in charge of the war
in Afghanistan so far have relied heavily on precision-guided weapons
for air strikes. Massive land forces are not in the near-term plans.
Even though the United States has an abundant supply of conventional
ammunition and sufficient smart bombs for the current conflict,
there are “broader issues” in the industrial base that
should be of concern to the Defense Department, said Rich Palaschak,
director of the Munitions Industrial Base Task Force, which represents
Palaschak and other experts interviewed for this article pointed
to various sub-sectors of the ammunition industrial base where domestic
suppliers are dwindling. In the short term, this may not affect
the Defense Department’s ability to modernize its weaponry
and replenish inventories, these experts said, but the trend could
worsen in the years ahead.
The U.S. engineering and production capabilities for cruise missiles
and precision-guided munitions are adequate, despite the consolidation
of the industry in recent years, Palaschak said. “The problem
with precision-guided munitions is not the health of the industry,
but the fact that they can’t produce them fast enough to replenish
the inventories after a conflict.”
After the Gulf War, he noted, “it took us a long time to
replenish precision-guided bombs and cruise missiles.”
During his confirmation hearing in August as chief of staff of
the U.S. Air Force, Gen. John Jumper said that the service has a
$2 billion shortfall in its munitions accounts.
Pentagon officials have not discussed publicly any long-term spending
plans, citing post-Sept. 11 budget reviews. They also asked defense
contractors to not disclose information about their munitions manufacturing
capabilities or ramp-up production plans.
It is no secret, however, that the U.S. ammunition industrial base
has been shrinking rapidly, as a result of post-Cold War downsizing.
The Defense Department spent about $6 billion on munitions in fiscal
2001, compared to $16 billion in 1991.
Responding to a reporter’s question about expected munitions
expenditures in Operation Enduring Freedom, Pentagon comptroller
Dov Zakheim said, “We don’t know what munitions we are
going to expend. What I am concerned about is that I not be the
stumbling block, that people don’t come to me and say, my
God! We’ve run out of munition X and munition Y.”
The munitions industry includes manufacturers of missiles, rockets,
bombs, bullets and projectiles, as well as makers of associated
products such as propellants, fuzes and pyrotechnics.
Even though there are still significant amounts of conventional
ammunition in war reserve, the stockpile is aging and needs to be
modernized, said Col. James Naughton, deputy chief of staff for
ammunition at the Army Materiel Command.
In a briefing to industry executives in February, Naughton said
that there is not enough money to remanufacture obsolete ammunition
stockpiles. Outdated ammunition not only poses a safety hazard,
but also is unusable for combat.
According to statistics provided by the Munitions Industrial Base
Task Force, the U.S. military munitions accounts are under-funded
by more than $400 million in fiscal year 2002.
At the briefing, officials from the Industrial Committee of Ammunition
Producers said that the Defense Department should be concerned about
the “availability of product or re-supply” during a
conflict and the “ability to replenish inventories”
after a conflict.
Since the Gulf War, so-called smart munitions have gained prominence
as symbols of modern warfare. They made up only 8 percent of the
bombs fired against Iraq in 1991, but amounted to 84 percent of
the cost of munitions for that operation. By 1999, precision-guided
munitions were used in more than 90 percent of NATO air strikes
Autonomously guided munitions are expensive (guided cruise missiles
cost about $1 million each, and laser-guided bombs about $30,000
each), so they are produced in smaller quantities than “dumb”
bombs. This generally prompts concerns at the Pentagon about the
ability to increase production during and after a conflict.
The industries that produce smart munitions and sophisticated guided
weapons are in “relatively good shape,” said Art Heyderman,
president of the Iowa-Illinois Chapter of the National Defense Industrial
“The problem with the base is not with the exotic stuff,”
he said. A more troubling situation is that “we can’t
even make routine, old-generation items.”
In his opinion, the ammunition industrial base is “very sick”
in several areas.
The United States, for example, only has one manufacturing plant
that makes ammunition links (tiny metal clips) for small arms —
the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant. The company that operated the
plant, Valentec, was about to go out of business, and subsequently
was bought by Alliant Techsystems.
“As you go around the base, in most items, we are literally
one-deep,” said Heyderman. “These companies are on the
Many of the subcomponents in the ammo sector are military-unique
items, with limited or no commercial market. The upshot is that
companies have exited the business in droves, said Heyderman. Given
the small production volume, he said, “it’s impossible
to get the tooling you need to make products” that comply
with today’s environmental and safety regulations, for example.
Sectors that are in the most “danger,” according to
Heyderman, are pyrotechnics and energetics.
Some government officials also have pointed to the fuze industry
as an industry that is declining and losing expert skills.
Phil Gorman, associate director of the Army Fuze Management Office,
said that the number of fuze suppliers has declined from 31 in the
late 1980s to seven today. Additionally, he said, there are “areas
to monitor” in supporting technologies, such as batteries,
electro-explosives, gun hardened electronics, turbine alternators
and liquid crystal displays.
Another Army official, who did not want to be quoted by name, said
that the problems in the fuze industrial base affect not just the
Army but the other services as well.
The “main issue,” he said, is that “we are not
buying enough ammunition.” The Defense Department wants to
maintain a “robust base, but nobody has defined the number
of companies that represent a robust base,” said the official.
One product line that is difficult to find suppliers for is power
sources, he added. “For everything we are developing for smart
projectiles and smart fuzes, you need a power supply.” These
systems require tiny batteries, he explained. “We are pushing
the state of the art of the available chemistry. There is little
money from any services going to the tech base for power supplies
Miniaturized power supplies often have no commercial application,
he said. Watch batteries could be used on fuzes but they don’t
have the 20-year shelf life required by the Army. “The companies
won’t invest, because they don’t see a payoff. We can’t
guarantee them contracts.”
Many of the fuzes that are in the inventory today are not adaptable
for precision-guided munitions, without making major modifications,
he said. “The current inventory supports dumb bullets, not
precision weapons,” the official explained. “The cost
of modifying old fuzes to support smart munitions would be too high
[so] it would be better to buy new ones.” The Pentagon spends
millions on guidance systems and on the warheads, he added. “Fuze
is an afterthought.”