Army running short on small-arms ammunition

FORT BELVOIR, Va.—The general who runs the Army Materiel Command said Friday that the Army's only plant making small-arms ammunition was running at near capacity and that new production was being directed to units fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq and those training to deploy there in the near future.

Gen. Paul Kern, the AMC commander, told Knight Ridder in an exclusive interview that giving these units priority ensured they had enough small-arms ammunition. "Everyone else will have to pay the price" and wait for it, he said.

The increased demand for ammunition for combat shooting and intensified training has made deep inroads in the nation's war reserves of small-arms ammunition, Kern said.

The Army's sole plant making small-arms ammunition, the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant in Independence, Mo., is running three eight-hour shifts a day, six days a week, turning out 4 million rounds a day. The plant provides 5.56 mm rifle, 7.62 mm and .50 caliber machine gun as well as 9mm pistol cartridges for all branches of the military.

Because of the increased demand for ammunition since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and America's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Kern said the Army in late December let two supplemental contracts to Olin Winchester Co. and Israeli Military Industries for each to produce 70 million rifle rounds per month beginning in June.

The general said it would probably take until 2005 to get small-arms ammunition production to a level at which there will be enough to cover all the increased training needs and begin rebuilding the war reserves.

"We can't just go out and buy our ammunition commercially, " Kern said. "We maintain very tight quality controls. Our ammo has to work, at 40 below zero or 140 degrees."

He added that the Army has put an additional $225 million into small-arms ammunition production and additional armor for Humvees since the Sept. 11 attacks.

In addition to combat requirements, two other things were driving the increased demand for ammunition: increased live-fire training for combat service support units and the fact that Reserves and National Guard were shooting as much as the active Army as they trained for deployment to combat, Kern said.

Kern said the Army wants to manufacture an experimental plastic cartridge for the 5.56 mm rifle. "It weighs a lot less, which means soldiers can carry more of it," Kern said, adding, "but we have spent the last two years qualifying a manufacturer to make the new cartridges."

Kern also told Knight Ridder that beginning in late summer or early fall the Army will outfit two brigades with a prototype of the first new combat rifle introduced in 40 years: the XM-8 5.56 mm carbine which Kern said was "shorter, lighter, simpler and more rugged."