WASHINGTON -- U.S. and allied troops in the Persian Gulf face potentially serious ammunition shortages in a ground war, according to congressional, Pentagon and arms industry sources.
For some munitions, less than a 10-day anticipated wartime supply is available anywhere in U.S. stocks, according to one government official familiar with ammunition inventories. For others, the substitute round that troops will use once the preferred munition runs out is dramatically inferior.
"We've got a lot of everything except the bullets we need to shoot," Sen. Alan J. Dixon, D-Ill., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee's Subcommittee on Readiness, said in an interview yesterday.
"The smart stuff is great," he said, referring to guided missiles and laser-guided bombs currently in heavy use, "but when we get going on the ground with the grunts, we need the dumb stuff and the military never bought enough of it."
"We are either going to win this war or run out of munitions," said an ammunition specialist briefed on current ammunition requests from U.S. Central Command planners in the Persian Gulf.
On the critically needed list are some varieties of tank and artillery shells, machine gun bullets, rockets, mortars and other so-called "dumb munitions" consumed by ground troops in great quantities, according Pentagon, industry and congressional sources.
Stocks of about 10 categories of ammunition are so limited that U.S. Army Materiel Command officials are begging NATO allies for help, according to government and industry sources. The categories include:
* 25mm ammunition for the main gun of the Bradley infantry fighting vehicle.
* 120mm ammunition for the main gun of the M1-A1 Abrams tank.
* 2.75-inch rockets for Apache and Cobra attack helicopters flown in combat support of ground troops.
For other munitions, such as improved 155mm artillery rounds with a range of 18 miles, supplies are so short that gunners could be forced after a few days' combat to resort to standard rounds with a range of 11 miles.
All of these munitions are in short supply, said Army Maj. Gen. Paul L. Greenberg, commander of the Armament, Munitions and Chemical Command at Rock Island, Ill., which buys ammunition for all military services.
In an interview this week, Greenberg would not say how acute the shortage is, claiming the information is classified. He described the scarce munitions as among the "few exceptions" to supplies otherwise ample for a ground war.
"I feel very comfortable at this point that we're going to sustain that ground war if and whenever it comes," Greenberg said, "and I don't think things are going to slow down one iota because of ammunition.
". . . as an Army officer I have always understood that there is only so much of that scarce resource called money around and you have to balance everybody's needs," he said.
Whether ammunition supplies actually run short will depend on factors such as the war's duration and intensity, experts stressed. Moreover, projected needs themselves are only rough guesses.