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U.S. facing alarming ammunition shortfalls. (President's Perspective).

Since the war against terrorism started last October, the Defense Department has requested--and Congress appropriated--several billion dollars in supplementary funding for military equipment needed to fight the war.

A portion of that money is being used to speed up production of smart ammunition, as well as to replenish conventional stockpiles. For example, the recent $20 billion Defense Emergency Reserve Fund (DERF) included nearly $1 billion for precision-guided weapons and $93 million for training munitions.

These emergency appropriations ate necessary during wartime, so we avoid depleting our reserves. But the supplemental funding only addresses the near-term shortfalls.

The U.S. military services confront a much larger, long-term problem when it comes to their ammunition accounts and the ability of the industrial base to surge the production of smart munitions. Of particular concern is the situation that confronts the U.S. Army. The Army not only buys and maintains its own ammo stockpiles, but also serves as the single manager of conventional ammunition for all the services.

The Army is responsible for managing a $2.5 billion annual ammunition program (including research, development, procurement, operations and maintenance).

The problems in the ammunition base were highlighted in a white paper published in February by the Institute of Land Warfare of the Association of the U.S. Army.

It's not a pretty picture. Because the ammunition budgets have been hundreds of millions of dollars short every year during the past decade, the Army is woefully short of the critical, state-of-the-art munitions that are needed for combat in the 21st century.

The current stockpiles are aging rapidly. An aging stockpile is not only costly to maintain but also expensive to demilitarize. Meanwhile, of great concern to NDIA are the implications these problems have for the nation's defense and industrial preparedness.

The fact is that the U.S. ammunition production base is suffering. According to the white paper, the Army is not financially able to make up preferred munitions shortfalls during a major conflict. The estimated replenishment time for many preferred munitions (120mm tank and most artillery and mortar ammunition) is at least three years. In essence, the United States lacks an adequate surge capability.

A report by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that government-owned ammunition plants, which are managed by the Army, lack modern equipment, have inadequate quality control processes and have not implemented modern business practices. The sub-tier contractor base, additionally, continues to dwindle, to the point that in many product categories, there is only one supplier left in the entire United States. Further, some raw materials needed to produce ammunition only are available from foreign sources.

The underlying cause of these problems is, once again, money. Traditionally, ammunition has served as a bill payer for other Army programs. The Institute of Land Warfare pegged the funding shortfall at $6 billion over the next six years.

It seems alarming that 60 percent of the ammunition that the Army has in storage today is "substitute" rather than "preferred" ammunition. This means that soldiers must fight a war with munitions that fail to meet the range, performance and lethality requirements for peak performance. As the white paper stated, having substitute ammunition means that U.S. forces are equipped with substandard weapons--tank ammunition designed and produced 15 years ago, rather than five years ago and artillery rounds that have less range than many of our enemies' systems.

Training ammunition shortfalls also must be dealt with. Our forces have been training with excess supplies left over from the Cold War. But that stockpile is running our. And there is not enough procurement funding to meet the current training requirements. The Army procures each year 60,000 tons of training ammunition (costing about $700 million), but uses 80,000 tons to meet qualification and training needs. So the 20,000 additional tons are drawn from reserve stockpiles. At this rate, the Army estimated that it will be more than $800 million short in its training ammunition account over the next five years.

These problems need to be addressed now. Our forces, from all the services, are fighting Taliban and al Qaeda foes in Afghanistan, and doing quite well, despite taking several casualties. Our leadership in Washington must worry about the military's immediate wartime needs, but also must look at the big picture.

The conflict against terrorism could expand beyond the Afghan borders. In a global campaign, the United States cannot afford to be worrying about ammunition shortfalls or about whether the industrial base can surge fast enough. It is time now for the nation's leadership to rake action to appropriately fund the Defense Department's ammunition accounts.
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Author:Farrell, Lawrence P. Jr.
Publication:National Defense
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2002
Words:768
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