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Sunday, January 11, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
U.S. ammunition plant reaching its limit
By Joseph L. Galloway
FORT BELVOIR, Va. The U.S. military's only plant making small-arms ammunition is running at near capacity, 4 million rounds a day, and the United States still is forced to look overseas and to the recreational industry for ammunition for troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and those training to deploy there soon.
Gen. Paul Kern, commander of the Army Materiel Command, said Friday that giving those 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 ammunition, Kern said.
The 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. The plant provides 5.56 mm rifle, 7.62 mm and .50 caliber machine gun as well as 9 mm 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 of East Alton, Ill., and Israeli Military Industries for each to produce 70 million rifle rounds per month starting 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 said the Army has put an additional $225 million into small-arms ammunition production and additional armor for Humvees since the 9-11 attacks.
In addition to combat requirements, two other factors 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.
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