David H. Hackworth
Aug.20, 1996


Two years ago when I visited our forces in Korea, I found many U.S. Army ammunition dumps were crammed with useless bullets, shells and missiles, some left over from the 1950-53 Korean War.

There were, for example, over 1 million rounds for a recoilless rifle that, as with C rations and Douglas MacArthur, have long been retired from military service.

Besides wasting tax dollars, old ammo is dangerous, uses costly storage space and degrades a depot's ability to move the good stuff in a hurry.

A recent General Accounting Office report says the 1994 Korean ammo problem is just the tip of the firecracker in the Pentagon's ammo stockpile.

The damning report says the Pentagon's $80 billion inventory contains $31 billion more ammo than our armed forces need.

This includes $9 billion in useless ammo such as:

· Army: 147,300 155 mm rounds for the M-60A2 tank; 269,00040 mm rounds for the M-42 self-propelled gun; and 97 million rounds of small arms ammo. All for weapons phased out years ago.

· Navy: 4,000 16-inch rounds (each about the size of a VW Beetle) for its retired battleships and millions of 3-inch shells and 50-caliber rounds. One depot that was brimming over with old bang-bang reported it had not had an order for these slugs in "15 years."

· Marine Corps: Three million 50-caliber rounds for their retired M-85 machine gun and over 4,000 105 mm rounds for the long junked M-60A1 tank.

The June 1996 report blisters the Pentagon for:

· Stockpiling $22 billion in ammo - more than their worst case war plans call for.

· Spending $125 million on ammo the armed forces don't need. For example, the Army bought $79 million worth of 155 mm rounds when it already had more of these rounds in its inventory than required.

We're not talking $600 hammers, $7,000 coffeepots or even $12,280 hooks for the C-17 cargo aircraft. We're talking big money, more 0's than your kids could scribble on your walls in a month.

A ranking ammunition expert says, "It's a real mess involving politics, inefficiency and sheer inertia." Billions of dollars pissed down the tube by managers without a clue about how much ammo they've got or what shape it's in.

The GAO report says some services have 50 times more ammo than their needs. One example cited a $185 million ammo purchase that could have been avoided had one service shared its surplus of ammo with another service in need of it.

Clearly, the Pentagon's left hand ain't got any idea what the right hand is doing. The report says, "The services have to do a better job of managing their ammo needs."

This is the understatement of the century!

Instead of jet-setting around the world in his fancy personal VIP aircraft, Secretary of Defense William Perry, who's responsible for ammo management, should stay home, start managing our tax dollars or find another job.

Congress is guilty, too, sneaking unnecessary ammo orders into the defense budget - a sleight of hand that greases the skids for re-elections by providing jobs in their districts but doesn't do much for defending our country.

Happy districts. Sad America.

Fatcat depots. Needy schools.

The media are also at fault. Billions of your dollars have been wasted and not one word of this scandal in any major newspapers or on TV.

And the Republicans want even more money! If Congress only insisted the Pentagon use its resources more wisely, it could get along just fine on half the dough now thrown around so wildly.

While the political parties are talking about saving America in conventions across the land, it's ironic that all avoid discussing Pentagon waste. This becomes even more screwy when you consider that in a recent Center for Defense Information poll, 76 percent of Americans agree that the military budget is inflated by "congressional representatives promoting defense-related jobs in their districts, the military branches duplicating functions and defense contractors influencing members of Congress through campaign contributions."

This poll shows the people obviously know what's going on, but the politicians and bureaucrats don't. Or don't want to.

Military reform must become a major issue in Election '96. We've got to stop the waste before the waste stops us.