While the new investment in the nation’s ammunition plants will offer a significant boost in production, it is still just a fraction of the manufacturing capacity that the military mustered in the 1940s.
By the end of World War II, the United States had about 85 ammunition plants, according to a congressional report from late last year. Today, the Pentagon relies on six government-owned, contractor-operated Army ammunition plants to do most of this work.
The military’s ammunition infrastructure “is comprised of installations with an average age of more than 80 years,” and much of it still operates in “World War II-era buildings, and in some cases, with equipment from the same period,” according to the Army’s report on modernizing those facilities, which was drafted in 2021.
Representative Rob Wittman, Republican of Virginia and a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said the invasion of Ukraine was a “Sputnik” moment — referring to the 1957 Soviet launch of the first satellite into space — that made clear the need for this rapid expansion in ammunition manufacturing capacity in the United States.
“The Russian invasion of Ukraine has really exposed how brittle and fragile our supply chain is, particularly as it relates to munitions, which is now clearly kind of an emergency in terms of trying to replenish,” Mr. Wittman said this month, during remarks before a group of top Pentagon officials.
The production of artillery ammunition in the United States is a complicated process that primarily takes place in four government-owned facilities run by private defense contractors. The empty steel bodies are forged in factories in Pennsylvania run by General Dynamics, the explosives for those shells are mixed together by BAE Systems workers in Tennessee and then poured into the shells at a plant run by American Ordnance in rural Iowa, while the propellant charges to shoot them out of howitzer barrels are made by BAE in southwest Virginia.
The fuzes screwed into the nose of these shells, which are required to make the projectiles explode, are produced by contractors in other locations.