Nothing is more important to the effectiveness, security and survival of men and women in combat than their supply of ammunition. This truth was brought home to the U.S. military in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom when soldiers and Marines repeatedly found themselves in intense firefights, using up prodigious amounts of ammunition. Moreover, not only combat units but rear echelon forces were coming under attack. This created a requirement that all soldiers and Marines be well-qualified with their weapons. Faced with an adversary different from the ones the military had planned for, they discovered that it had not correctly anticipated its ammunition requirements which were ballooning.
The U.S. ammunition industrial base rose to the challenge. For example, within a few years the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant increased its production of small-caliber ammunition from 300 million rounds to over 1.2 billion rounds per year. Other facilities more than doubled the production of medium-caliber ammunition, the kinds used primarily by helicopter gunships, fighter aircraft and infantry fighting vehicles.
The increased production of ammunition would have been impossible without the products made at the Radford Army Ammunition Plant (RFAAP). This is a unique facility that produces the basic constituent materials that go into virtually every small-, medium- and large-caliber projectile and rocket made by the U.S. ammunition base. Without RFAAP, the U.S. military would be entirely dependent on foreign sources of supply for critical materials.
The U.S. military was fortunate to have retained a working ammunition industrial base. However, that base is old and desperately in need of modernization. The 11 facilities that constitute the core ammunition industrial base were built at the start of World War II; much of the machinery and virtually all the infrastructure at these facilities date to this time. Keeping the plants operational is a huge challenge.
The Army and the various private companies that manage most of the ammunition plants have been funding a number of modernization efforts. At RFAAP, the Army has modernized the power plant, built a state-of-theart water treatment facility and broken ground on a new acid concentrator. The plant’s private operator, Alliant Techsystems, has invested its own resources in RFAAP, brought in new ammunition operations and supported commercial activities at the facility.
The Army has plans and, most important, the funds, to complete the needed critical modernization at RFAAP. However, it has delayed moving ahead on this effort pending the award of a new contract to a private firm to manage the facility. This could take as long as a year. In the meantime, the military risks having its supply of ammunition virtually halted should there be a breakdown in any of a number of critical systems at RFAAP. Rather than waiting, the Army needs to move ahead expeditiously to begin the final phase of its modernization effort. Lives are potentially at stake.
This study was written by Dr. Daniel Goure of the Lexington Institute.
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