Ammunition Plant Sees Production Surge

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. (AP) -- With wars under way in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant is experiencing its biggest surge in production since the Vietnam War.

This year the plant will produce about 1.5 billion rounds of small-caliber ammunition. The Kansas City Star reported Monday that the complex is also in the middle of a $244 million modernization program to keep up with the demand.

The work force at the plant has increased from 600 people a decade ago to about 2,800 workers now.

Lake City has been the primary small-caliber production facility not only for the U.S. Army, which supplies ammo to the other branches of the military, but many NATO allies as well. The plant was producing 350 million cartridges a year when Minneapolis-based Alliant Techsystems, known as ATK, started its contract to operate the plant.

"9/11 happened, the Middle East environment changes and at the same time the Army changed its training doctrine with more thorough training for the National Guard and Reserve," said Mark Hissong, the new vice president and general manager of the plant. "The demand for bullets went through the roof."

ATK recently received a $372 million order from the Army, the second year of a four-year contract that has a potential value of $2 billion. The plant makes polished cartridges of 5.56 mm, 7.62 mm and .50-caliber ammunition each day. A more limited supply of 20 mm cannon shells also is made there.

Although the plant is owned by the Army, all but one of the employees are civilians. At the core of the complex is a 400,000-square-foot building where three shifts produce 4 million to 5 million cartridges daily.

The plant also has a host of environmental problems and is an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site. For many years, wastes were disposed of at the plant by using lagoons, landfills and burn pits, according to the EPA.

One of the more significant cleanups was completed last year when the remnants of munitions that used depleted uranium were removed. Still, the EPA reports the groundwater beneath the site, along with soil and surface water, is contaminated with a variety of toxic substances.

Cleanup programs, including the pumping and treatment of contaminated groundwater, have reduced the potential for exposure to hazardous substances, according to the EPA, but more work is required.

The plant has a total payroll of $137.5 million, and the overall economic effect to the community is estimated at $481.3 million. Its nonunion workers are paid $15 to $20 per hour with full benefits.

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