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Ammunition Management: A Joint or Army Function?

Without question, “the arsenal of democracy,” as President Franklin D. Roosevelt characterized the U.S. industrial base, has acquitted itself marvelously in supporting U.S. warfare since the start of World War II. However, there is also no question that the U.S. Government’s organic ammunition industrial base is filled with World War II-vintage production equipment (leavened with a smattering of Vietnam War-era machinery) and that this Government equipment is actually considered the “modernized” production equipment in the overall domestic base. How can the United States be considered the world leader in industrial capabilities and yet allow the organic ammunition base to degrade to the point that all U.S. energetics, small-arms ammunition, and larger-caliber ammunition are produced or assembled on the very best equipment that our great-grandparents could make?

The overall history of how the ammunition base arrived at this juncture is too large a story for this article. Instead, our timeframe will be the post-Cold War era since 1992. The Army Materiel Command (AMC) has been the major command supervising the ammunition base during that time. Based on our experiences, we believe that munitions management should be moved away from sole Army management, specifically AMC, and placed in the joint community.

The Program Executive Office (PEO) Ammunition works directly for the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology. We recommend that overall service munitions management be moved directly under the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics (DUSD [ATL]) to provide a real view of munitions requirements across all of the services and that munitions item management be placed directly under the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA).

Reorganization and Reductions

During the 1990s, the Army and AMC concluded that the munitions base was much
too large, too expensive, and too inefficient and successfully worked to break it into three basic parts:

  • AMC-owned munitions item management, safety management, and production, load-assemble-pack, and storage facilities.
  • A PEO responsible for the overall acquisition of munitions.
  • Research and development facilities.

AMC recommended reductions in munitions facilities and force structure, both military and civilian. This downsizing resulted in the elimination of duplicate capabilities and compelled the ammunition industrial base to do away with redundant laid-away plants and depots. But downsizing also severely handicapped the base in its ability to produce munitions for national emergencies and to develop military leaders with expertise in munitions operations.

It is important to note that during the time of downsizing, the meager and often underfunded ammunition requirements funding was often raided during the year or “served as a bill-payer for other Army Programs.”1 Colonel Schorr unfortunately witnessed this happen on a regular basis while serving as the commander of Savanna Army Depot in Illinois and the Kansas Army Ammunition Plant.

In addition to reducing industrial capabilities, the overall force structure of the Army was cut during the same period. This downsizing eliminated many of the noncommissioned officer and executive officer (XO) positions throughout the munitions base and led indirectly to2 the commercial contracting of ammunition supply points (ASPs).3

Loss of Uniformed Expertise

The Army’s downsizing or eliminating of the uniformed leadership of the munitions program has had a disastrous effect on overall munitions officer management at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels. Munitions managers are no longer required in the continental United States (CONUS) because AMC has contracted out most CONUS ASPs, and many overseas sites have been contracted out or are operated by foreign employees.

The tactical level of the Army has lost its expertise in munitions management—and munitions is arguably the most important supply commodity on the battlefield. The Ordnance Officer Basic Course used to be divided into munitions and maintenance phases, with the munitions portion of instruction lasting for months. That is no longer true; now, munitions instruction lasts only 240 hours, and then only if the add-on courses offered online are included. To add insult to injury, munitions management instructors at the Ordnance School tell newly commissioned officers to avoid ammunition assignments if at all possible. The reason is that the contracting of most ASP operations leaves no promotion opportunities for new officers in munitions.

Contracting out the ASP mission has resulted in munitions personnel and leaders who have little or no hands-on experience in managing munitions or munitions-related systems. When young ordnance officers deploy to support brigade combat teams (BCTs) on the ground in combat operations, they quite often have little idea, other than what was taught in the initial 7 days of munitions school instruction, of what is required of them.4

Today, military personnel no longer have the basic skills or equipment to perform the tasks that have been privatized. “Unfortunately, in the rush to privatize, this problem has been ignored.”5 In the end, combat commanders on the ground are left wondering what munitions services they can count on and whom they can trust. In the absence of experienced munitions handlers, they order much more ammunition than they really need for their operations.

When BCT commanders in a combat area ask questions of their munitions support officers, they want decisive answers, and they want support immediately. The failure of many munitions support officers to know their commodity leads many BCT commanders to lose faith in their munitions personnel and request two, three, and sometimes four times their combat load of munitions. (A combat load is the ammunition needed to start and sustain combat operations for the unit’s assigned weapon systems and designated mission.)

At the operational level, theater sustainment com­mands often use officers who have been force-aligned from other branches to manage ammunition. Fortunately, senior-level warrant officers often are onboard to help manage munitions forecasting, ordering, transportation coordination, port operations, storage operations, and issue, but that is not always the case. Many warrant officers have been forced into performing other staff officer duties out of necessity.

Munitions warrant officers are technical experts in their fields. While a senior munitions warrant officer certainly has the wherewithal to conduct operational planning and staffing officer duties, it is a waste of their expertise in munitions management to force them to spend time attending meetings, generating briefings, and attending to personnel business.

Too Much Ammunition in the Field

BCT commanders requesting and holding combat loads that exceed their unit needs affect overall theater munitions operations in several ways. First, within the theater, excess munitions transported to the BCT mean that ground convoys or aircrews are undertaking unneeded missions. These missions put transportation personnel and equipment in peril for no good reason.

Second, keeping munitions on the ground for units that will not need them prevents units that do need munitions from obtaining them. This is an important point because Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Enduring Freedom compete for munitions production. The industrial base cannot manufacture preferred precision munitions on a grand scale, nor can it afford to. Many preferred munitions, such as Hellfire missiles and 30-millimeter high-explosive dual-purpose rounds, and common items, such as caliber .50 armor-piercing-incendiary rounds, are in short supply and have had, or are currently under, controlled supply rates.

Third, munitions are expensive, have a specific shelf life, and must be maintained. Additional ordnance personnel must be deployed to account for and maintain excess munitions, and extra ordnance personnel are not available. Ordering and holding excess ammunition is fiscally irresponsible. The battlefield cannot afford commanders who simply order supplies they want rather than ordering supplies they require. This is not a criticism of commanders but of the bad advice they receive from poorly trained ammunition logisticians.

Lastly, munitions that are not used must be retro­graded, renovated, or destroyed. At the time of this article, an estimated 65,000 tons of munitions were on the ground to support OIF alone. Munitions not required for current operations should be drawn down through expenditures. Munitions no longer required for operational support should be retrograded.

Elimination of Production Facility XOs

AMC’s decision to eliminate the XO position at ammunition plants has meant that very few officers remain in service who have the skills needed to manage production facilities. None of the battalion-level officers currently commanding munitions production facilities have a munitions manufacturing, storage, load-assemble-pack, and fabrication background, and only one at the brigade level has such experience.

The skills needed to manage munitions facilities are learned on the job and not in school. That comment probably can be made about many manufacturing positions within the Department of Defense (DOD), but on-the-job experience is especially critical for munitions management.

For example, at the beginning of OIF, Lake City Army Ammunition Plant in Missouri was producing 350 million small-arms rounds annually and was ordered to begin producing up to 650 million rounds in support of anticipated operations. However, the plant was in such disrepair from funding shortfalls that the operating contractor could not meet production schedules. DOD was forced to buy small-arms ammunition from overseas companies to meet combat requirements. If AMC had not eliminated the XO positions from the plants, experienced commanding officers would have been available over the years, and those experienced officers could have easily identified contractor challenges and the needed fixes.

We are concerned that the creation of the Logistics Branch will result in officers who know a little about everything but have no depth of knowledge in any commodity. Missing the mark on class I food items may leave Soldiers hungry in combat, but missing the mark on managing munitions will limit battlefield commanders’ options and could lead to combat defeats, reverses, and catastrophic accidents, such as the destruction of Forward Operating Base Falcon.6

XOs should be put back into the munitions base immediately to begin gaining manufacturing experience. Placing XOs in the base has several advantages. First, officers in the XO positions will gain a wealth of knowledge in wholesale munitions operations, and their expertise will enhance the overall management of munitions. Second, they will have the ability to rotate in and out of Department of the Army and theater staffs and understand in detail the real needs of the services and combat commanders. Third, young officers in these positions will realize that they can have a future in munitions management.

Failure to Manage the Munitions Base

Overall Army management of the munitions base has been defined by poor management and neglect. Forty-nine critical points of failure have been identified within the munitions base, but a mitigation strategy is in place for only 23 of them.7 The Army by law is DOD’s single item manger of conventional ammunition, and it executes this function through AMC’s Joint Munitions Command (JMC). During the last 18 years, JMC has undergone 5 name changes, which have led to confusion among supported personnel and services, let alone logistics officers.

In a rush to cash in on the perceived peace dividend in the 1990s, many facilities in the munitions industrial base were realigned and closed. (That process continues today under base closure and realignment.) AMC was under pressure from the Army during this time to find savings. So, at the beginning of OIF, AMC offered up many munitions production facilities for closure and consolidation, which reduced the ability of the organic base to support munitions surge requirements if a major war were to be fought.

We recognize that maintaining excess production capacity is expensive, and the Government has historically been unwilling to bear such costs. However, “some US prime contractors are now down to sole-source suppliers [and sub-suppliers] for the majority of components and subsystems they buy rather than make, and there is some dependency on foreign suppliers.”8

Planning Considerations and Foreign Buys

For U.S. military planners, a concern generated by current outsourcing trends is that their forces rely more than ever on the surge capacity of private sector firms. “Despite this, few operation plans (or contracts) consider the risks, and field commanders, unaccustomed to these vulnerabilities, often operate unaware.”9

Worse, basic munitions processes of national importance, such as manufacturing nitrocellulose, small-arms ammunition, Navy gun ammunition, and many other critical needs, have been allowed to atrophy or simply disappear, along with secondary sources of munitions productions and supply chains. Many production lines at installations have been either laid away in storage or cannibalized within the installation in an attempt to minimize maintenance costs.

The deficiencies of the munitions base came to light during the operations following the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. When contract clauses for additional rounds were activated, not one plant within the system could meet the requested production schedules immediately. Herculean efforts at plants and depots brought many, but not all, munitions contract buys up to speed.

One of the major problems was the manufacturing of small-arms ammunition. When Lake City Army Ammunition Plant, as the only small-arms ammunition plant in DOD, could not meet expanded contract requirements, DOD was forced to buy small-arms ammunition from the United Kingdom, Israel, and South Korea to meet its requirements. Lake City was able to produce the contract-scheduled rounds 3 years after the terrorist response began in 2001, but many ammunition lots bought by the Government were acceptable only after quality waivers.

The small-arms purchases from our allies did not go well. Ammunition procured from the United Kingdom performed to NATO standards in our weapons, but a difference in propellant mixes fouled out combat weapons quickly. The Department of the Army quickly directed that United Kingdom ammunition would not be allowed into combat areas and would only be designated as training ammunition.

Our purchase from Israel did not fare much better. Though the ammunition worked as intended in our weapons, many in the theater were concerned that use of Israeli head-stamped ammunition would create a backlash in Arab nations. All Israeli ammunition was relegated to training requirements, just as the United Kingdom ammunition had been. Only the Korean buy of ammunition worked out well for us. In the end, the United States shipped much of the foreign-bought small-arms ammunition to other nations requiring munitions support.

Tangible Results of Loss of Expertise

During the early to mid 1990s, many uniformed munitions leaders foresaw the coming crisis in the munitions base. However, a response was hampered by the loss of munitions-experienced general officers in senior leadership positions and by the insistence of higher headquarters on consolidating or eliminating selected operations, such as contracting out installation ASPs. Munitions general officer positions were incorporated into an Ordnance Corps that is dominated by vehicle maintenance concerns and spends very little time on munitions-associated challenges. Munitions operations have struggled ever since.

Radford Army Ammunition Plant in Virginia, the only domestic maker of nitrocellulose (used in
pro­pellant production), did not degrade overnight into its current shape. The failure of Radford to produce nitrocellulose for any length of time would halt the production of any items requiring propellant. Yet the concerns of each commander at Radford (and those at other plants) have fallen on deaf ears.

The munitions base has problems because of the overall neglect of capital and real-property improvements since the early 1990s. The few remaining installations in the ammunition base are being used at the same, if not greater, levels than during World War II, the Korean War, or the Vietnam War, and with essentially the same equipment.

What the munitions base requires now is real leadership and novel ideas, not the same solutions that have been proposed, considered, and ignored over the last 20 years. And the ammunition community cannot afford to continue to be the billpayer for other Army and AMC programs.

Should DLA Manage Munitions?

DLA is responsible for all classes of supply except munitions, an oversight that has had a negative impact on overall munitions management. Theater commanders and planners need one person to talk to about munitions needs, not a committee of all service personnel as exists today.

DLA provides item management for more than 80 percent of all supplies to all services and does it very well.10 Why then does DLA not manage munitions? In our research, we could not unearth any basis for this exception except anecdotal reasoning. We came to the conclusion that service munitions managers are under the mistaken conviction that a joint munitions representative would not understand their requirements and needs. However, this was exactly the same argument that was raised when DLA was established to manage all commodities except class V. DLA can look across all services to rectify any supply challenges—a capability that does not exist today in munitions.

For example, during Colonel Schorr’s time as the theater ammunition planner of the Coalition Forces Land Component Command (CFLCC), his shop had to overcome many obstacles and challenges invented by services outside of the Army about why CFLCC could not manage their munitions. However, when service challenges occurred, it was up to the CFLCC shop to settle the issues.

One such issue arose when an Air Force-ordered ship carrying 14 million pounds of net explosive weight was bound for a port with a 2-million-pound limit. If DLA had had visibility of all requisitions (or, for that matter, if the CFLCC shop had visibility), many of the challenges and disputes that occurred among the receiving country, the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, the services, and the harbormaster could have been avoided. We believe, there is no reason why DLA cannot manage all service munitions today.


We suggest the following changes to improve the management of munitions in DOD.

Move munitions item managers from AMC to DLA. DLA manages all classes of supply except munitions. From a management perspective, it makes much more sense to have one manager of all munitions for all services to take advantage of unity of effort in accounting, ordering, storing, and issuing. All munitions managers could be on one automated accounting system (such as the Standard Army Ammunition System-Modernization) rather than the service-specific systems in use today. The reduction in accounting services would save funding designated to upgrade, monitor, and train on separate systems and improve visibility of the entire DOD stockpile.

(During a recent briefing, PEO Ammunition personnel were concerned that DLA would make combatant commanders account for their munitions. We found that comment particularly alarming because that is exactly what regulations require commanders to do. PEO Ammunition also had an issue with the DLA surcharge on services provided, but AMC does exactly the same thing—except that AMC calls its additional charges a “tax.”)

Move PEO Ammunition to the DUSD (ATL). The PEO must be given the power to buy all munitions for all services, not just common munitions items. The buying power for service-specific munitions components (such as steel, brass, and electronics) at sub-suppliers has eroded because the buys are much smaller when done separately. Consolidating purchases makes commodity prices much cheaper and will put DOD farther up on a manufacturer’s customer list. The DUSD (ATL) could certainly draw more attention to the needs of the munitions industrial base and would be able to request and prioritize construction requests from the base.

Restructure the contracts that govern contractor-operated ASPs around the world, specifically garrison operations, to allow and encourage military participation. Currently, munitions handlers at most installations are not allowed to operate, or even partially operate, ASPs. Munitions management and handling skills are perishable, as other warfighting skills tend to be. The worst time to learn your trade in support of combat operations is on the battlefield.

Reinstate the munitions officer specialty, or at a minimum, reinstate the ammunition management requirements under an additional skill identifier. Munitions are poorly managed on the battlefield because personnel do not receive the experiences in garrison that they need to operate muniti ons facilities and information systems before they deploy. BCT commanders have little confidence in their munitions managers, and their doubts lead them to request excess munitions for “just in case” scenarios. This is an expensive and wasteful way of conducting business.

Restructure ammunition production facility contracts so that munitions operating contractors have a minimum of 20 years of time at a production facility.
This contract restructuring should be a first step in commercializing munitions productions and will enable DOD to gauge whether or not commercial munitions production is viable. Past studies from RAND, Pacific Northwest National Laboratories, the Government Accountability Office, and the National Defense University have recommended the commercialization of all munitions production.

Commercialization of munitions productions will lead to modernized and efficient production facilities that are capable of meeting future munitions changes and needs for all services. As it stands today, our munitions infrastructure is meeting wartime requirements after an infusion of hundreds of millions (if not billions) of dollars, but it will become older, more expensive, and less flexible in meeting future weapons needs without major improvements.

Revitalizing the ammunition industrial base requires some major innovations. We believe that moving ammunition management from an Army single manager supporting all of the services to a joint function under DUSD (ATL) and DLA will help to ensure that our Nation will continue to be the “arsenal of democracy” in the 21st century.

Colonel Thomas S. Schorr, Jr., is team chief of the Digital Liaison Detachment-Ground, Eighth U.S. Army, in South Korea. He previously served as commander of Kansas Army Ammunition Plant, Savanna Army Depot in Illinois, and Lake City Army Ammunition Plant in Missouri, and as theater ammunition planner of Coalition Forces Land Component Command at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Otterbein College and is a graduate of the Ordnance Officer Basic and Advanced Courses, the Combined Arms and Services School, the Army Command and General Staff College, and the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.

Colonel Kenneth Deal is the chief of combating weapons of mass destruction opera­tions at the Army Nuclear and Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction Agency at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. He holds a B.A. degree from the University of Idaho and a master of social science degree from Syracuse University and is a graduate of the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.

1. Steven Mullen, “Ammunition Readiness: Current Problems and Future Implications for Army Transformation,” Association of the United States Army, Landpower Essay No. 02–1, February 2002.
2. Ordnance company deployments in the Persian Gulf War of 1990 to 1991 also left many installations without uniformed ordnance personnel to operate ASPs. Installations were forced to temporarily contract out this requirement until ordnance personnel could return from the war.
3. “Ammunition Field Expertise,” Ammunition Logistics White Paper, Defense Ammunition Center, 2006, https://www.us.army.mil/suite/page/212150, accessed May 2009.
4. Ibid.
5. P.W. Singer, Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, 2003, p. 162.
6. Forward Operating Base Falcon was destroyed by an insurgent mortar round in October 2006. Ammunition had been stored in the open, was not properly barricaded, and was without a top cover. Encroachment led to the placement of working and living quarters within safety arcs.
7. Ammunition Industrial Base Strategy briefing, December 2008.
8. Barry D. Watts, Strategy for the Long Haul: The US Defense Industrial Base, Past, Present and Future, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, Washington, DC, 2008, p. 55.
9. P.W. Singer, pp. 160-161.
10. Clark A. Murdock, et al., Beyond Goldwater-Nichols: U.S. Government and Defense Reform for a New Strategic Era, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, DC, July 2005.

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