JUST IN: Army Modernizing, Expanding Munitions Production Facilities

By Josh Luckenbaugh

Army photo

The Army is revolutionizing how it builds munitions as it looks to significantly ramp up artillery production, the service’s top acquisition official said Feb. 5.

The Army has set a goal of producing 100,000 155 mm shells per month by 2025. Doug Bush, the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, said the Army is “on a path” to be producing 70,000 to 80,000 shells per month by the end of calendar year 2024 or early 2025.

Increasing production will not only support Ukraine in its fight against Russia but “also allow us to restock ourselves and also restock our allies, all of whom have now recognized the need for a deeper well of munitions on the shelf but also more production capacity,” Bush said during an event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

To maximize its production capacity, the Army is investing in new manufacturing technologies such as robotics, he said.

“If you could maintain a factory of robotics that don’t need as many people and the robots could be maintained at a relatively lower cost, there is your surge capacity, as long as they're maintained,” he said. “And also you get better quality [munitions] and they don't take breaks. There are many advantages to just using modern manufacturing techniques.”

The Army is investing half a billion dollars in its artillery plant in Texas to adopt “an entirely new way of making the shell using entirely new tech we’ve never used before,” Bush said. Modernizing production facilities won’t necessarily mean fewer jobs, but rather “different jobs,” he added.

Bush compared it to how the car industry has adopted automation on its production lines while still maintaining a large workforce that is now “doing different things.” The government will need to “upskill our workforce, make sure people get new training so they have opportunities for these things, but … I don’t see it as a great downsizing,” he said. “I see it just as a shift in what people do day to day.”

Alexis Lasselle Ross, a non-resident senior associate at CSIS and a member of the Army Science Board, said infusing digital approaches and new capabilities such as sensing and artificial intelligence into the manufacturing process provides numerous benefits, such as identifying design flaws earlier so you don’t have to do as much reengineering later, reducing complexity on production lines and streamlining assembly.

“We really need to be critically thinking about how to invest now in advanced manufacturing to be able to produce at scale, especially during a protracted conflict,” Ross said.

Along with modernizing the artillery production facilities it already has, the Army is planning to open more facilities, Bush said. In particular, the service needs “dramatically more capacity” to fill artillery shells with explosives, which is currently done “at one place in one building,” he said. “We're going to bring on two [entirely] new facilities … to supplement that building.”

The shells themselves are primarily made in “just two buildings, and they're about 10 miles apart,” he said. “We're going to bring on two major new sources for artillery shells” and three or four new locations to produce “the charges that actually shoot the shell out of the can,” as well as develop “more new types” of charges.

Meanwhile, the Army has had excess capacity of the fuses on the front of the shells, and is working with industry to maximize that capacity, Bush said. “So, the whole shell from the back to the front is part of that ramp up.”

In addition to 155 mm shells, the Army is looking to boost production of precision munitions such as Javelins, Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, Patriots, Stingers “and some others that stocks have been drawn on to support Ukraine,” Bush said. Having a stockpile of precision munitions would be key in a potential conflict against China, he added.

“It's not that there wouldn't be conventional munitions or we wouldn't need artillery shells, but I think in different scenarios with China that precision weapons — anti-ship, anti-air, air defense — of course become a premium asset when you’re in that kind of conflict,” he said. “Stockpiles are important,” as is the “location of the stockpiles,” he said.

“For example, against a sophisticated enemy where your ability to transit new munitions to the front could be challenged, that could mean you need larger in-theater stockpiles,” he said. “I think the department's looking at all that. It's not just how much you have, but where is it, and when can you use it? And as far as deterrence, I don't think there's anything that deters better than vast magazines of American weapons near an enemy.”


Topics: Land Forces

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