With demand high in Ukraine, US Army ramps up artillery production

ANATOLII STEPANOV

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army is rapidly moving to expand its domestic production capacity of 155mm artillery shells, according to the Army’s acquisition chief, as Ukraine uses thousands daily fending off Russia.

U.S. defense officials said last year Ukrainians expended roughly 3,000 rounds a day, while a Pentagon fact sheet issued this week said the U.S. government has already sent over 1 million 155mm rounds to the country.

Prior to the war in Ukraine, the U.S. could build about 14,400 155mm artillery shells a month. But as Ukrainian forces burn through the ammunition for howitzers sent to the country, the U.S. is hoping to ramp up production to roughly 90,000 shells a month, according to a New York Times report this week.

Army acquisition chief Doug Bush, in a Jan. 25 press conference, did not detail the Army’s production goals, but said the Army wants to expand production at facilities that build the outside shell as well as those focused on packing explosives and producing fuzes and charges.

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Activity for 155mm shells “is almost exclusively at one place — Iowa Army Ammunition Plant,” said Bush, referencing a government-owned factory in Middletown, Iowa. “We are looking to both expand there and stand up additional capability in the private sector to supplement them.” This includes both metal shell body production as well as fuzes, explosive fill and charges, he added.

Initial contracts to ramp up production awarded late last year are focused on manufacturing the metal body, which is the line that will take the longest to build up, Bush said.

The Army is working with General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems to expand production capacity at Scranton Army Ammunition Plant in Pennsylvania and a neighboring facility. GD OTS runs the government-owned facility.

And the Army is under contract with the company to stand up another plant to do the same work in Garland, Texas, Bush added.

The Army also awarded late last year a $391 million contract to an Ontario-based company — IMT Defense — to make shell bodies.

“That would give us potentially four locations where this is being done,” Bush said.

The Army is “very close to or [has] already made contract awards” to establish additional locations to assemble fuzes, load the bodies with explosives as well and pack them for shipment in “Arkansas, Canada, and also potentially Iowa and potentially also Kansas,” Bush said.

While those contracts “aren’t final yet,” he added, “I think we’re going to go from having one production chain to having several all working at the same time.”

Most of that expansion, he noted, is through the private sector.

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The U.S. government began working with foreign partners last year to increase their production capacities to produce 155mm shells, he told reporters.

“We are sourcing and looking worldwide and a lot of that’s now actually flowing through,” Bush said. “I think we are looking at various sources including foreign production to make sure Ukraine has what it needs.”

He said the Army is moving “to get ahead of the problem.”

“I would rather have more capacity, which gives us options, us or our allies, rather than being caught short,” Bush said. “There is some risk in that, in that it’s a production ramp-up, you can’t guarantee exactly what the demand is going to be, but I think we’d be able to make a sale with Congress that it’s better to be wrong on the high side than wrong on the short side.”