Outdated technology and government wastefulness seem to go hand in hand, but this time the two are combining for a startlingly huge money sink: the Pentagon is planning on destroying $1.2 billion in excess bullets and missiles, some of which could still be used by troops. And it's all because the military has no way of tracking its stockpiled ammo.
USA TODAY obtained the Government Accountability Office report detailing the sorry state of ammo management in the U.S. military, and it is gruesome: while the Pentagon is responsible for an ammunition stockpile worth $70 billion, the Army, Navy, and Air Force have no way of sharing data on how much surplus ammo each branch is holding. Ammo that's past its expiration date must be destroyed, naturally—but since the Pentagon doesn't know which ammo is expired, the organization will end up destroying plenty of perfectly good munitions in the process of jettisoning the bad.
As USA TODAY puts it, while the services have an annual conference to swap excess munitions, "data about ammunition left over after the meeting disappears from the books, resulting in an unknown amount of good bullets headed to the scrap heap."
Even if the branches wanted to do more ammo-sharing, a frighteningly obsolete inventory system makes the process nearly impossible: if the Marine Corps were to email the Army requesting ammunition, for example, the Army would have to print out and manually re-type the request into its database—the two branches use incompatible systems to track ammunitions. Imagine the havoc a single typo could cause.
The final result is that the Pentagon has no way of knowing how much of that billion-dollar bullet pile is still usable. That's especially troubling considering that war fighters in both Iraq and Afghanistan have run into ammo shortages in the past, as a senior military officer told USA TODAY. The GAO report did not extend to troop ammunition shortages.
While the armed services have been working for decades to develop a universal ammunition database, only the U.S. Army currently uses the Pentagon's standard format; the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps all use obsolete, incompatible formats. The GAO, however, reports that the Army does not report its existing usable stockpiles, and only began filing its required annual missile supply report last month.
Update: Commenter borkbork69, a former military unit weapons custodian, posted a helpful little explainer about how these ammo expiration dates might work. No guarantees that this is still how it all works regarding this particular ammo dump, but it's interesting insight nonetheless.
Image: Shutterstock /GrandeDuc