The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Weapons of Mass Waste

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


The Department of Defense (DOD) maintains approximately $70 billion worth of conventional ammunition in case of unexpected contingencies.  From this reserve, the DOD routinely removes ammunition that it deems excessive, damaged, unusable, or otherwise obsolete.  This surplus is transferred to various Army facilities for storage, or eventual destruction.  In fiscal year (FY) 2012, the DOD transferred 44 million items, including bullets, detonation cords, fuses, and grenades.  The stockpile awaiting destruction is valued at $16 billion.

According to a February 2016 report released by Rep. Steve Russell (R-Okla.), funding for demilitarization of unusable ammunition is inadequate, resulting in an ever increasing growth of the stockpile and its storage cost.  Demilitarizing the stock costs $2,000 per ton, while storage fees are estimated to be $42 per ton.  The stockpile currently holds 529,000 tons of ammunition, which costs roughly $1 billion annually to store and dispose.  Although it may seem cheaper to store the ammunition than destroy it, depots are reaching their capacity limits, with no long-term solution in place.  

Rep. Russell’s report noted that a segment of this stockpile could be reused.  Some ammunition ends up in storage awaiting destruction despite being in good condition and could be shared within the government or sold internationally.  Some ammunition that does not meet the Pentagon’s standards is still perfectly suitable for use by other departments, such as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  Low caliber ammunition could be transmitted to state and local law enforcement agencies.  

Some ammunition that is labeled unusable by the U.S. military could be sold to foreign allies whose military forces have lower standards.  Engagement in such deals would allow the DOD to free up storage space and to bring in additional revenue that could be used to reduce the deficit.

In 1997, the DOD started a data sharing program.  Increased data sharing regarding its stockpile enabled the Army to redistribute usable ammunition to the Marines and Air Force, saving $1.3 billion since implementation.

A March 2014 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report called for the DOD to further improve its data collection procedures.  Furthermore, the GAO suggested that the Pentagon should more deliberately share data with other government departments and agencies, such as DHS and the U.S. Marshals Service.  With another 583,000 tons of ammunition forecast to be added to the stockpile by FY 2020, improvements in data collection and management policy are urgently needed.

Better planning by the Pentagon is required to prevent surplus ammunition from ending up in Army depots awaiting destruction at taxpayer expense.  In addition to the aforementioned data collection and tracking improvements, the DOD should reexamine its ammunition acquisition polices.  For example, questions should be raised as to why the Army requested $1 billion to procure new ammunition in FY 2016 while sitting on a stockpile worth $16 billion, of which a portion is usable.

  -- Filip Cukovic

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