The Army is upgrading its manufacturing facilities and reaching
out to more contractors to replenish its diminished supply of small-caliber
ammunition, Col. Mark Rider, project manager for maneuver ammunition
systems, told National Defense.
A modernization plan for old machinery is being matched with a new
procurement strategy. Both are intended to fill the immediate demand
and create a stockpile that will meet coming needs, military and
industry officials said.
Among the most debilitated munitions stocks are .50 caliber and
7.62 mm rounds, which have few reserves, a low production rate and
some of the oldest assembly-line machines. It’s a perfect
storm for an ammo crisis if nothing is done, Rider said. “We
must stockpile ammunition, especially with these calibers.”
The increased demand for direct fire ammunition is not entirely
attributable to shooting in war zones, but also to the many live-fire
exercises that precede deployments. Building ammunition reserves
is a vital part of maintaining overall readiness, Rider said. The
need for small-arms ammunition “is going up, and is going
to keep going up.”
New government-owned production plants are not the answer, Rider
said. “We’re not discussing a new facility.”
Instead, private firms have picked up the slack. “We went
out and outsourced to the commercial sector in large quantities
to augment the organic base,” Rider said. “And the commercial
base is viable.”
Among the emergency contracts for small-caliber ammunition signed
in 2004 were deals with two foreign firms, located in Israel and
One goal of the new program is to formalize and expand private-sector
contracts. By the end of the year, the Army will issue a contract
for 300 million rounds. The winning contractor will have to produce
rounds at its facilities, rather than at the government’s
single low-caliber ammunition plant still in operation, the Lake
City Army Ammunition Plant in Missouri.
A major ammunition supplier will be selected as a lead systems
integrator. To fill the order, the LSI will partner with domestic
and international companies. That selection is expected by the end
of this summer.
If there is a need in 2006, a contingency contract may be issued
for another 200 million rounds, Rider added.
During World War II, 12 government-owned plants made ammunition.
By Vietnam, only two remained. The Lake City plant is the only one
remaining in operation. The facility there is the largest small
arms ammunition manufacturing plant in the world.
Concurrent with the private-sector contracting is an effort to
maximize production at Lake City by rehabilitating its aged equipment.
The facility, run since 2000 by ATK Alliant Techsystems, has reached
annual production of 1.2 billion rounds, and is aiming for 1.5 billion
rounds, said ATK spokesman Bryce Hallowell.
In 2000, Lake City delivered 350 million rounds a year, he noted.
To produce those increases, ATK is busy overhauling equipment that
dates to World War II.
Hallowell said ATK has been trying to consolidate the infrastructure,
with staff moving 200-foot-long assembly lines and 15-foot-high
heavy machinery into fewer buildings. “We try to stand up
equipment that had basically been in mothballs,” he said.
“There hasn’t been a whole lot of change in the manufacturing
process. It’s the scale.”
Since 2002, ATK has hired 1,400 new employees. The plant has been
operating ceaselessly, and military and industry officials make
sure to note that the front line units are not suffering shortages.
They assert the effort is heading off a calamity at the pass. “The
forces in the field are getting the ammo they need,” said
Hallowell. “The issue is, let’s make sure we can avoid
During the Vietnam War, Lake City approached an annual production
rate of 2 billion rounds. Equipment from that era, and before, is
refitted for today’s needs, but the unceasing pace of production
hampers modernization. “You can’t afford to have a shutdown
when you’re running around the clock,” Rider said.
Hallowell said that by rotating feeder lines and cutting out unnecessary
steps from the process, modernization and maintenance can be worked
into tight schedules. This “proves to be a logistical challenge,
but right now it’s what the Army needs.”
Hallowell said 80 percent of the modernization effort at Lake City
was spent on hardware, such as new presses and automated inspection
systems. The remainder funds electronics and software upgrades.
Even with Lake City at full production, Rider said that more ammunition
is needed to fill the stockpiles.
ATK is one of the bidders for the new, private-sector contract,
Hallowell said, and hopes to leverage its expertise into another
large sale. If ATK wins, it would convert a sports ammunition line
to military specifications, and rely on national and international
partners to reach 300 million rounds, he said.
The budget for ammunition and expanded production has increased
to $285 million this year, including $100 million in supplemental
funds provided by Congress for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Funding for munitions looks good,” Rider said, later
adding that “we’ve gotten more funding, but we need
Rider said the military must adopt an organized approach that takes
into account surges in the requirements for ammunition if it is
to avoid past mistakes. He called for better tracking and logistics
abilities to predict short- and long-term ammunition needs.
“We simply can’t go up and down like we did in the
past,” Rider said. “We must have a prognostics capability.”