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Only U.S. Factory Making Key Explosive for Artillery Rounds and Tomahawk Missiles Still Offline After It Blew Up in 2021

Only U.S. Factory Making Key Explosive for Artillery Rounds and Tomahawk Missiles Still Offline After It Blew Up in 2021

U.S. Munitions Stockpile Update – factory making explosive used in many critical DOD weapons systems is off-line, exacerbating U.S. military’s stockpile woes

We have reported in detail on the sorry state of the U.S. military’s weapons stockpile in light of the tens of billions of dollars of front-line munitions we have provided to Ukraine free of charge:

I also discussed this issue in detail on “The Rod Arquette Show,” based on 105.9 KNRS out of Salt Lake City, Utah:

Well, it turns out that the situation is even worse than we thought.

On Wednesday, in an article entitled “The U.S. Military Has an Explosive Problem,” the Wall Street Journal reported that “the sole domestic source of an explosive the Department of Defense relies on to produce bullets, mortar shells, artillery rounds and Tomahawk missiles” was completely destroyed in a massive explosion:

Nearly two years ago, an errant spark inside a mill caused an explosion so big it destroyed all the building’s equipment and blew a corrugated fiberglass wall 100 feet.

The ramshackle facility makes the original form of gunpowder, known today as black powder, a highly combustible material with hundreds of military applications. The product, for which there is no substitute, is used in small quantities in munitions to ignite more powerful explosives.

No one was hurt in the June 2021 blast. But the factory remains offline, unable to deliver its single vital component to either commercial or Pentagon customers.

The article then reinforces our earlier reporting:

After months of supplying Ukraine with Stingers, howitzers, anti-armor systems and artillery ammunition, stocks are low in both the U.S. and its NATO allies, especially in 155mm howitzer shells, an ammunition that has been crucial to pushing back Russian forces.

You may recall from our earlier reporting that we have provided over 1 million rounds of 155mm howitzer ammunition to Ukraine as well as 1,300 Stinger anti-aircraft missiles.  And, importantly, the Center of Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) report we cited in support of these numbers indicates that even if the U.S. was to “surge” production of these munitions it would take at least five years to rebuild our 155mm howitzer ammo stockpile, and at least six and 1/2 years to rebuild our stockpile of Stinger missiles.

Every 155mm artillery shell uses half an ounce of the now unproduceable black powder, which is used to ignite the 26 pounds of propellant the artillery shell uses to reach its target.

The scary thing is that it is unclear whether the CSIS report, published three months ago, took the devastation at the black powder factory into account when it generated its estimates for how long it will take to rebuild our stockpile of munitions.

In any case, “U.S. military contractors who use black powder have been drawing on [existing] stockpiles,” and the good news is that Estes Energetics, the new owner of the black powder factory, has refurbished it and “is scheduled to relaunch production and restart supplies to military contractors by this summer.”

Unfortunately, that is not the only problem plaguing the U.S. military’s munitions stockpile.  As the Wall Street Journal reports, “[o]nly one foundry in the U.S. makes the titanium castings used in howitzers, and only one company makes the rocket motor used in the Javelin antitank weapon widely used in Ukraine.”  In addition, there are “a number of weaknesses in the U.S. military’s supply chains[, including] a lack of skilled workers in casting and forging, shortages of infrastructure for battery technology and periodic shortages of advanced microchips.”  And, to top it off, “[l]ate last year, the Defense Department identified 27 critical chemicals that have no U.S. production and are sourced from places, including Russia and China, considered adversaries of the U.S.”

In our earlier reporting, we cited a Department of Defense official who “explained that the only reason the issue isn’t ‘critical’ is because ‘the U.S. isn’t engaged in any major military conflict’ at the moment.”

The current Wall Street Journal article similarly cites Jeff Rhoads, executive director of the Purdue Institute for National Security, a defense-research institute at Purdue University, who asked “Can you imagine what would happen to these supply chains if the U.S. were in an actual state of active war, or NATO was?”  Then he answered his own question: “They could be in trouble very quickly.”

We will continue to update the status of the U.S. military’s munitions stockpile as the picture becomes clearer going forward.


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While it’s out of commission, now would be a great time for Jen Granholm to make sure the facility converts to all electric and rips out its gas stoves and furnaces, and for Pete Buttigieg to review its trucking and rail lines and eradicate any leftover traces of racist transportation. Who knows, the FDA might even want to make 100% sure there’s no cronobacter in the employee lunchroom before giving the factory the OK to continue production.

You can’t be too careful in the Biden administration!

    txvet2 in reply to henrybowman. | April 29, 2023 at 1:28 pm

    Gee, I hope there aren’t too many gas stoves and furnaces in a black powder plant.

    BierceAmbrose in reply to henrybowman. | April 29, 2023 at 2:37 pm

    Exactly so.

    The Apparatus demonstrates every day what they find important, and not.

    Who needs arms and armies to work against external “foes.” They still have plenty of F-15s to drop nukes on any unruly citizens in country. Just quoting The Swallwell Doctrine, for anyone keeping score. (Which this admin declined to denounce.)

It wouldn’t take too much for the Pinova Hercules powder plant in Brunswick GA to startup black powder production again. There are other factories that can easily be re-configured for the essential items. There are other forces going on.

First of all, how hard can making black powder be? If the military needs it, why not make it themselves. Spend a billion of those billions they’re giving to the Ukraine to build a factory ASAP. The fact that they haven’t tells me this is just another way the Biden Administration and communist backed woke elements of the military are deliberately weakening our military readiness.

But in any case, back in February 2022, Estes Energetics (sister company of the model rocket maker) announced that they had acquired the assets of the GOEX brand from the Hodges Powder Company, including the black power factory that blew up. See . They said they planned to restart production of the plant and their CEO indicated they would ramp up production later in 2022.

Obviously that didn’t happen. Estes has now said production will begin in 2023. In fact, Goex Distributor Buffalo Arms announced that they expect GOEX black powder to be available for purchase in June or July. Why the Wall Street Journal didn’t mention that in their articles is puzzling. Maybe they’re like most media, trying to create a feeling of crisis in the public … except when it comes to having Joe Biden in the Oval Office.

“… and blew a corrugated fiberglass wall 100 feet.”

When I saw that line in the WSJ article, I assumed the number must be a typo. 100 feet doesn’t sound like a sufficiently long distance for debris to travel, in a massive explosion.

    henrybowman in reply to guyjones. | April 29, 2023 at 6:03 pm

    Me, too. I had a common Arizona dust devil carry a medium wood pallet that far two weeks ago.

    In any event, the stuff about Estes and Goex crossed my mind also. I’m not a black powder shooter, but I’m pretty sure that other manufacturers have been in continuous operation for quite some time and would be happy to contract out, just like the manufacturers who ramped up to make military guns during the World Wars (including a sewing machine and a typewriter company, and rumors of a toy company doing new plastic gun parts for Vietnam). If all the military needs is small packages to act as primers, they could probably buy model rocket engines off the shelf at current production rates.

      diver64 in reply to henrybowman. | April 30, 2023 at 7:22 am

      I shoot black powder and make fireworks on occasion. If I don’t make it at home I can still buy it in the store but it has gotten much more expensive. There are also a couple of black powder substitutes that muzzleloaders can use. I’m not sure why one of those wouldn’t work.

It’s astounding to me that DoD doesn’t insist on having at least two, geographically separated production locations for essential munitions, for the purposes of redundancy and back-up, in case one of them goes off-line, for whatever reason.

    BierceAmbrose in reply to guyjones. | April 29, 2023 at 4:13 pm

    They’re not in the business of being competent at their “official” job any more.

    See the statements by current leadership.

      guyjones in reply to BierceAmbrose. | April 29, 2023 at 5:21 pm

      By which I assume that you refer to Pentagon brass’s focus on alleged “white rage” and “trans” accommodation, among other nonsensical Dumb-o-crat fetishes.

        BierceAmbrose in reply to guyjones. | April 30, 2023 at 2:38 pm

        Yeah, those, among other things.

        In the ideal theory, the military’s job is to kill people and break stuff, as an extension of international politics by other means, as a last, desperate, last resort.

        Prioritize enough the other goals, and you fail at the first ones. One recent non-US example is Russia over that last year or so, discovering that their paper-army encrusted with enough graft and grift isn’t nearly as good at army-ing as they thought.

      henrybowman in reply to BierceAmbrose. | April 29, 2023 at 6:06 pm

      Y’all heard that the last lead smelter in America was closed in 2014 by Obama’s EPA, right?

        randian in reply to henrybowman. | April 29, 2023 at 9:17 pm

        I assume the EPA is responsible for a lack of domestic production of critical resources, the same as they’re responsible for there being zero domestic uranium production for our nuclear reactors.

    CommoChief in reply to guyjones. | April 29, 2023 at 4:18 pm

    A few decades ago the DoD sat down all the defense contractors and told them they had to consolidate to gain sufficient economy of scale to cut prices. Lots of things are now single vendor only. Made the acquisition process much easier, not a lot of biding going on with single source providers. Not to mention making it far easier for SR Officers SR DoD Civilians and Congress to ensure they championed the winning company/gizmo to land a cushy post retirement gig as an Exec or on a Board.

      guyjones in reply to CommoChief. | April 29, 2023 at 5:24 pm

      Interesting info; thanks. It occurs to me that even a single vendor can still operate two separate production facilities, though. More expensive than operating a single facility, no doubt, but, strategically imperative, I’d argue, for supplying basic munitions.

        CommoChief in reply to guyjones. | April 29, 2023 at 6:48 pm

        They could but only if the investment into plant, equipment, management and employee training was justified by orders of product via long term purchases contracts. That’s the finance side then add in the regulatory burdens and opposition from all sorts of groups; anti war, environmental, useful idiots of foreign regimes and old fashioned NIMBY. Sometimes from existing local employers who fear having to raise their wages to compete for the best employees.

        Then consider the raw political consideration of choosing to locate the facility in one CD and one State which then disappoints 98 Senators and 434 members of the HoR who wanted that pork for their State and CD.

      BierceAmbrose in reply to CommoChief. | April 30, 2023 at 2:44 pm

      Such naivete of the single-sourcers. Spreadsheet jockeys who don’t realize the really real world is more complex than a collection of rows n columns.

      I’m so old, I remember when major defense contracts had “contract followers” — the #2 bidder in the competition, paid to follow along, n take over if the “winner” foundered. As the follower had access to all program internals — so they could take over in a hurry, doncha know, and were near always a major subcontractor to the program as granted — only so much capacity in the system, it made for interesting times within the programs. What is “sabotage”, really?

      Sure looks expensive and counter-productive, but to quote an insightful fellow, “compared to what?” Single-source supply chains and low-inventory, JIT production look all efficient … as long as nothing breaks. They’re brittle. Once you account for the world being an imperfect place, where screws fall out all the time, you can see how expensive they are.

      An expense-optimized supply chain makes all the sense in the world, unless you depend on it working reliably. In a world you can’t completely predict.

        CommoChief in reply to BierceAmbrose. | May 1, 2023 at 10:56 am

        Gotta get wring every cent out of defense spending aka 1990s era Peace Dividend. Which might have been ok had the $ not been used to expand the welfare system and crony capitalist boondoggles to corporate donors.

          BierceAmbrose in reply to CommoChief. | May 1, 2023 at 5:44 pm

          Yeah. There never was a peace dividend to be had. BUT, no argument or example will suffice with people who’ve already spent it in their head.

          I figured this from watching people deal with sales and delivery contracts in the mid-90s. You couldn’t get any “this ain’t gonna work” traction with the guy who’d already spend the bonus in his head, until it was crashed hard from outside. Something similar happened with Web 1.0 — they had spend the unvested options in their heads already.

    Dathurtz in reply to guyjones. | April 29, 2023 at 6:39 pm

    They don’t exist to be ready. They exist to pocket tax dollars.

    txvet2 in reply to guyjones. | April 29, 2023 at 8:17 pm

    Based on my very limited experience (and possibly outdated) in military procurement, they seem to favor small businesses and exclusive contracts over large companies and multiple sources.

      BierceAmbrose in reply to txvet2. | May 1, 2023 at 6:02 pm

      It’s weird, as goes with it being mostly a monopsony. What I’ve seen, the procurement is heterodox, depending.

      They don’t so much select for small or exclusive, as they end up with some small, exclusive suppliers. Often they have needs so unique, maybe they can convince one org to do the thing; maybe there’s only one capability or a few guys.

      Then there’s the massive purchases of commodity stuff, that many people can do.

      The third kind of procurement is big system integration. There’s a pretty much fixed capacity to do that, with a few organizations that bid. Whoever wins ends up using the same capacity the other guys would have; they just get to drive and take the prime contractor cut. Interesting game, bidding on large development that depends on capacity and capability you only have some of.

irishgladiator63 | April 29, 2023 at 2:18 pm

Has the strategic oil reserve been replenished since Biden drained it?

Cause if not, we’re also out of fuel in an emergency, along with ammo and missiles.

Never fear. Our transvestite brass will flash both their pink panties and hairy legs at the enemy and frighten them to death!

BierceAmbrose | April 29, 2023 at 2:28 pm

The Pentagon failed at a spending audit again this past year or so.

Why would they have any idea what’s going on with their logistics, stockpiles, or supply chain if they can’t track the checks they’re shoveling out the door?

    randian in reply to BierceAmbrose. | April 29, 2023 at 9:20 pm

    At least they did an audit. I’m still wondering why no audit was done when the State Department reported many tens of millions of dollars missing under Hilary’s direct supervision. Embezzlement is an obvious motive for such discrepancies.

Behind the doom and gloom, it’s likely the war will get a lot of production restarted.

Explosions at black powder plants are routine and should not cause such a long shutdown. The DuPont factories along the Brandywine River in Delaware had this figured out in the early 1800s. They processed everything wet until the very last stages of drying, crushing, and seiving, which were done in small buildings with a blow-out wall next to the river.
Also, the quantity of black powder in any one building was carefully controlled.

    BierceAmbrose in reply to OldProf2. | May 1, 2023 at 6:06 pm

    The hot-take chorus so don’t get processes with intrinsic error rates. And everything in the really real world is a process, with an intrinsic error rate.

    They need to take two Demings and have an opinion in the morning.

The primary explosives in US military munitions are RDX and HMX. They are manufactured at Kingsport Army Ammunition Plant in Kingsport, TN. Black powder has very little use in today’s munitions. The military and commercial ammunition makers long ago switched to less hazardous smokeless powder in firearms from nitrocellulose. There are commercial makers of black powder.

E.I.DuPont was founded on making gun powder for the American Revolution. As such, it is still a fireable offense to carry a ‘strike-anywhere’ match on company property.