Magazine article National Defense

Army Not Producing Enough Ammunition: Aging Stockpile and Shortage of Suppliers Pose Long-Term Risks, Experts Contend

Magazine article National Defense

Army Not Producing Enough Ammunition: Aging Stockpile and Shortage of Suppliers Pose Long-Term Risks, Experts Contend

Article excerpt

At a time when precision strike warfare dominates U.S. military tactics and strategy, the Army is facing a sobering reality: its ammunition stockpile is becoming outdated and is woefully short of the modern "smart" munitions needed for current and future conflicts, officials said.

The Army's predicament is not new by any means, nor is it directly tied to massive expenditures of ammunition in the war in Iraq. The problem is not that the Army is running out of bullets, but rather that it has too much old ammunition in its war reserves and not enough precision-guided munitions. Even though the Army has numerous smart missiles in its inventory--such as Hellfire, Javelin, TOW and the Tactical Missile System--it has failed to get into production gun-fired guided munitions. A number of programs went through fits and starts and ended up getting the budget ax before they could go into production.

"The Army needs ammunition, but lacks the resources," said Col. James Naughton, former deputy chief of staff for ammunition at the Army Materiel Command. "It's safe to predict that by 2010, most of the ammo we have today will be unserviceable or of limited utility."

Less than 6,000 tons of war reserve ammunition was produced last year. That is only 1 percent of the Army's requirement of 600,000 tons, Naughton said in an interview. That has been the average production level during the past decade.

The Army's budget for ammunition last year was about $1.2 billion. Although the Army manages conventional ammunition programs for the entire Defense Department, each service keeps its own separate budget.

"We do have war reserve ammunition in hand," Naughton said. It is not necessary to produce all 600,000 tons to get ready for war. But the Army should be concerned that, unless production rates go up, the existing stockpile will get too old and increasingly "suspect" when it comes to reliability and performance, he said.

Not only is the Army not buying enough ammo, but it is spending most of its ammunition dollars on training rounds, rather than war-fighting ammunition. "What we are producing does not resemble, by any stretch of the imagination, what we would like to shoot in a war," said Naughton. Current annual production of training ammunition is nearly 60,000 tons--10 times higher than the production of war reserve ammo.

AMC estimated two years ago that the Army would need $16 billion to make up for its conventional war reserve ammunition shortfall. Billions more would have to be added for the smart munitions. Maj. Gen. William L. Bond, the deputy for systems management at Army headquarters, wrote in Army Magazine that the "current cost estimate to fix the Army munitions problem is approximately $26 billion."

Ammunition accounts have been on a downslide for at least 15 years, so the current situation should be no surprise to anyone, said Col. Nathaniel Sledge, program manager for combat ammunition systems. "The Army has taken risks in its munitions investments," Sledge told a Defense News precision warfare conference. He estimated that the Army would need $6 billion more worth of ammunition to be able to fight in two conflicts (one major war and one low-scale contingency), as stipulated by Pentagon strategy.

Some experts, meanwhile, contend that the Army often inflates its ammunition requirements. One industry source said that projected ammunition needs are drawn from war-games, which in some cases are based on flawed assumptions. Another source said that the Army's situation merely reflects the realities of Pentagon budgets. During peacetime, "we don't buy many of those smart munitions. We divert the funding to platforms," he said.

Naughton seemed skeptical about the prospect of higher budgets for ammunition. "If the war in Iraq lasts a long time and stresses the ammunition stockpile, then quite possibly we'll see some rethinking of the problem," he said. …

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