What is Lake City Anyway
Across 3900-acres of sprawling land just outside of in Independence, Missouri lies the US Army's primary factory that produces almost all of its supply of small arms ammunition. Founded just months before the United States' entry into World War 2, the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant (LCAAP) is still churning out the brass.
Founded in 1940, LCAAP was put into service in October 1941 producing small arms ammunition, mainly 30.06 caliber-- then the military's standard rifle and machinegun round. By the end of the war nearly 6-billion cartridges left the city for the GI's in the field. It was a drop in the bucket of the estimated 100-billion rounds that were produced for the military during that great war by dozens of private companies and publicly owned ammunition plants.
The LC head stamp on the bottom of brass has meant US military issue rounds since 1941
It is currently a Government-owned, contractor-operated (GOCO) facility, in which the Army still owns the 485 buildings, property, and machines, while a contractor staffs and operates it. Remington ran the plant for the Army from 1941-1985, and Olin (Winchester ammo) ran it from 1985-2001. The contractor since 2001 is ATK, a company that you may know best for its commercial line of ammunition that includes CCI and Federal.
During the Cold War, some 34 government owned plants produced small, medium, and large caliber ammunition. Currently, the Lake City, Missouri plant is the sole provider of small caliber ammunition to the DOD. This includes 5.56x45mm, 7.62x51mm NATO, and .50 caliber rounds. The minimum the plant can produce at current staffing is 350-million rounds per year. Peacetime (pre-2001) training requirements and rotating old stock from depot reserves required that more than twice this minimum, some 730-million rounds, was needed to satisfy the military.
The Great Ammo Shortage of 2001-2006
During the first few years of the Global War on Terror, with troops being deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa, the Philippines, and other terrorist hotspots, the plant produced more than 800-million rounds per year at its maximum capacity. This wasn't enough to meet operational demands and the Defense Department had to dip into its War Reserve stocks as well as buy additional ammunition commercially and overseas. This included buys from companies in Sweden, Israel, as the United Kingdom (where some 120-million rounds of surplus 5.56mm was bought from the Ministry of Defense's own war reserve-- talk about Lend Lease!)
86,400 round pallet of 5.56mm being loaded at Lake City in 1998. The
DOD (Army, Navy, USAF, Marines, etc.) burn through this amount every
48-minutes since 2001.
Part of the problem was the long lead-time to increase production. According to a study by the GAO, "All ammunition cartridges are composed of several components that must be assembled at different stages of production. See figure 1 for an example of a 5.56mm cartridge. It takes, on average, 23-months from the time a production order is placed until final delivery." This has led to many in the military to complain that the Lake City operation has placed 'too many eggs in one basket' for the military.
In 2004, Lake City was both increased and modernized, enabling production to increase to a maximum of 1.5-billion rounds of ammunition per year. The government paid some $93-million to update the small caliber line upgrades, replace the die sets for manufacturing ammunition components, and generally bring the plant out of 1941. However, this still wasn't enough as in some years in the past decade the Army alone required more than 1.8-billion rounds of ammunition. With real-life shooting wars across the world, the Army doubled its requirements for weapons qualifications in addition to operational deployments and work ups of National Guard and Reserve units headed overseas.
In 2005 alone, the Army fired some 1.353-billion rounds of 5.56mm, 282-million rounds of 7.62, 74-million rounds of 12.7mm (.50 cal), and 81-million rounds of 9mm. If you do the math, that is something on the order of 3.5-million rounds just of 5.56mm per day that the Army needs.
Lake City Today
Currently, ATK was just awarded a 10-year contract extension, worth up to $8-billion to produce as many as 1.7-billion rounds per year of small arms ammunition for the DOD at Lake City. It operates with a staff of 20 uniformed Army personnel commanded by a one star general (who do quality control and inspections), 5800 DOD civilian employees, and some 8000 ATK contractors.
Another 300-million rounds per year are being produced for the time being by General Dynamics.
That's a lot of bullets.