Even in the age of unmanned aerial vehicles, satellite-guided bombs and night-vision goggles, the US army cannot fight a war without its most basic necessity: bullets. And with more troops in Iraq, more intense combat than expected and the need for almost every soldier from frontline infantryman to rearguard logistician to be prepared for an ambush, the army suddenly finds itself in something of a bullet crunch.
According to a requisition last week by the Army Field Support Command, the service will need 300m to 500m more bullets a year for at least five years, or more than 1.5m a year for combat and training. And because the single army-owned, small-calibre ammunition factory in Lake City, Missouri, can produce only 1.2m bullets annually, the army is suddenly scrambling to get private defence contractors to help fill the gap.
The bullet problem has its roots in a Pentagon effort to restock its depleted war materiel reserve. But it has been exacerbated by the ongoing operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, where rearguard and supply units have been thinly-stretched throughout the countryside, occasionally without active duty combat soldiers to protect them.
The army’s formal solicitation acknowledges that its current manufacturing abilities have been all but exhausted. “Increasing military contingencies have created a situation where the capability to produce small calibre ammunition through conventional methods has been fully exercised,” it said.
Specifically, the army is looking for 300m more bullets annually, potentially rising to 500m a year.
Alliant Techsystems, which runs the army-owned factory in Lake City, is in talks with the military about remedying the bullet production shortage, insisting it could expand output by 200m to 300m a year.
General Dynamics, the US defence contractor which submitted its proposed solution on Tuesday, said it had pulled together several small bullet suppliers – including Winchester, a unit of Olin Corporation; Israel Military Industries; and Canada’s SNC Technologies – to meet the army’s gap.
“We’re using so much ammunition in Iraq there isn’t enough capacity around,” said Eric Hugel, a defence industry analyst at Sephens Inc. “They have to go internationally.”