The munitions sit, year after year, because in the short term, “it’s cheaper for the military to store it than to get rid of it,” said Keith Byers, Letterkenny’s ammunition manager. “What’s counterproductive is that what you’re looking at is stocks that are going to be destroyed eventually anyway.”
Also, an Army spokesman said, the Pentagon requires the Army to store munitions reserves free of charge for the other military services, which thus have no incentive to pay for destroying useless stock.
To access ammunition and other inventory still in use, depot staff often must move old explosives, much of which is stored in flimsy, thin-slatted crates. “Continuing to store unneeded ammunition creates potential safety, security and environmental concerns,” Brigadier General Gustave Perna said in a 2012 military logistics newsletter, when he was in charge of the Joint Munitions Command. The cost and danger of storing old munitions “frustrates me as a taxpayer,” he said. Perna declined requests for an interview.
Sometimes the danger leads to action, as when the C4 was detonated. And the depot recently received funding to destroy 15,000 recoilless rifles last used during World War II, Pike says.
Yet, on the day of the C4 blasts, piles of Phoenix air-to-air missiles - used on Navy F-14 fighter jets that last flew for the U.S. in 2006 - had just been offloaded from rail cars and were waiting to be put into storage.
In 2010, as part of the Defense Department’s modernization effort , the Joint Munitions Command scrapped a computer system that kept track of inventory and automatically generated required shipping documents. It was replaced with one that Pike says doesn’t do either.
His staff now must guess how much inventory and space Letterkenny has. The Army built at additional cost a second system to create shipping documents and an interface between the two systems. “We’re having problems with the interface,” Pike says.