In honor of National Storytelling Day please enjoy this short history of the U.S. Army Joint Munitions Command (JMC). As George Washington mobilized our first Army, the beginnings of the nation’s ability to supply ammunition began. In 1775, the first Continental Army Depot was established, followed by 27 other depots and arsenals created to supply the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. The Continental Congress relied on committees to manage logistics and supply during the War. Everything except small arms was purchased, mainly by contract, and the Secretary of War personally supervised those contracts. As the Army grew, the task became unmanageable, and new management strategies had to be applied. By June 1776, the Congress formed a five-member Board of War and Ordnance to manage the task of supplying the growing Army.
The U.S. War Department was created in 1789 to organize and maintain the Army under the command of the President in times of peace and war. Congress supported the public manufacture of arms and powder by appropriating funds for the establishment of federal arsenals, armories, depots, laboratories, and magazines so that the U.S. would become independent of foreign nations for essential military items. One of the chronic problems throughout the American Revolution was a shortage of ammunition. Each of the 13 colonies sought supplies of ammunition, for their own needs and for the total war effort. The sovereignty retained by individual states actually complicated the problem of acquiring munitions, and the level of foreign support needed to adequately supply the war was never achieved.
The War Department established the Ordnance Department (OD) in 1812 to manage all ordnance items including weapons, combat vehicles, equipment and ammunition. By the Civil War, the Army had built several permanent arsenals and depots in major cities such as Boston, New York and Philadelphia to support the nation's first Army of a million Soldiers.
After the Civil War, the U.S. made critical turning points in terms of ammunition development. The OD recognized the need to keep pace with other countries making advancements. An experimental lab at Frankford Arsenal was one of the first built to research ammunition developments during the Civil War. Prior to the Spanish-American War, gun powder left heavy traces of smoke in the air after a shot was fired. Tactically, this was a great disadvantage, for a soldier, Navy ship, or entire Army’s location because smoke lingered in the air for the enemy to see and shoot back at. Several other countries acknowledged the need for a smokeless propellant and accomplished development in less than two years. Although Mr. John Pitman was not the first to create smokeless powder, he notably contributed to the standardization and advancement of smokeless powder in the United States for the Ordnance and War Department. As the sole chemist, John Pitman managed and expanded the lab into the 1900s. By 1900, the laboratory was considered the explosives testing center of the United States. Commercial firms and government agencies consulted the staff and used its facilities. Newly created explosives labs were modeled after the Frankford Laboratory.
Between the Civil War and WWI, the OD or industrial base wasn’t defined by great expansion. Modest improvements in the organization of the OD were implemented and scientific research continued, but the Nation remained unprepared for a major conflict. However, in the first half of the 19th Century, the OD is recognized as having played a crucial role in the Industrial Revolution and helped to establish the “American System of Manufacturing.”
During WWI, the War Industries Board (WIB) was created to bring order to the procurement process for war materiel. Mr. Bernard Baruch is most famously referred to as the leader of the WIB and he impacted significant change during this period of time. The WIB quickly built explosives, powder plants and loading, assembling and packaging (LAP) plants. The board drove companies to use mass-production techniques to increase efficiency and urged them to eliminate waste by standardizing products. During WWI, the ordnance mission was operated on a scale never experienced. By the end of WWI, 16 government ammunition installations, combined with 76 commercial contractors, produced powder and high explosives at 92 ammunition plants. An additional 93 LAP plants produced U.S. and foreign allies’ ammunition requirements.
After WWI, commercial producers were less willing to build facilities and change over commercial production to meet government wartime requirements. Thus, World War II required the largest government ammunition industrial base buildup in U.S. history. In 1941, a network of ammunition plants was built around the country, but at a greater cost to the government. The OD authorized construction of 112 ammunition plants and built 86 by the end of the War. The Corps of Engineers planned and managed the construction of all government-owned plants. The plants were initially managed by the OD and over time, smaller organizations like the Field Director of Ammo Plants were placed in charge of management.
After World War II, 30 plants were shut down immediately and 14 plants remained active, primarily engaged in demilitarization, renovation and production of fertilizer. The OD faced the task of rehabilitating 56 plants to meet the ammunition requirements of the Korean War. Due to long plant reactivation timelines, the industrial base didn’t produce significant quantities of ammunition until 1952.
Between 1953 and 1964, the Army ammunition industrial base was reduced to only 26 ammunition plants. The need to retain as many ammunition plants was considered unnecessary because of large stockpiles and advanced technology in production processes. During the Vietnam War, 26 government-owned ammunition plants produced requirements.
In 1962, the Army underwent a major reorganization. The old Technical Commands were disestablished and the U.S. Army Materiel Command (AMC) was established. AMC consolidated the research and development (R&D), production, storage, and sustainment functions. The creation of AMC caused a series of organizational changes for ammunition management, where we see the beginning of today’s JMC. The Ordnance Special Weapons Ammunition Command (OSWAC) split into the U.S. Army Weapons Command (WECOM) at Rock Island Arsenal (RIA) and the U.S. Army Munitions Command (MUCOM) at Picatinny Arsenal. MUCOM absorbed the procurement and R&D mission of the old Chemical Corps. The procurement function at Joliet, Illinois, remained subordinate to MUCOM and became the Ammunition Procurement and Supply Agency (APSA).
Over the course of the next 30 years, organizational change in the management of ammunition reflected changing philosophies on the relationship between R&D, acquisition, and sustainment of munitions. At the end of the Cold War, the munitions industry was burdened by excess capacity that it did not have funding to maintain or modernize. Throughout the 1970s, until the early 1980s modernization programs were implemented but often didn’t come to complete fruition. The government attempted to reduce expenditures and create efficiencies in a number of ways. A significant impact between Vietnam and the Gulf War was the creation of the Single Manager for Conventional Ammunition (SMCA) in 1977. The Army was charged with central management of conventional ammunition for all Services and three Navy ammunition installations were transferred to the Army. Thirteen of 26 ammunition plants actively produced ammunition in response to Gulf War requirements. Ten of the sites were actively producing ammunition while the greater mission was in the logistics challenge of rapidly moving and retrograding ammunition.
After the Gulf War, the Army closed several ammunition installations in accordance with Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) laws. During Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, the U.S. Army operated 15 ammunition installations and three ammunition depots. Additional BRAC actions, decreased the base size further during the wartime period. Over the course of history, technological innovation and automation generated the capability to meet and sustain ammunition requirements with a smaller footprint across the U.S. In 2021, JMC continues to modernize production capabilities and facilities while meeting the requirements for ammunition items for all Services from its HQs at RIA. JMC provides the conventional ammunition life-cycle functions of logistics sustainment, readiness and acquisition support for all U.S. military services, other government agencies, and allied nations as directed.
JMC is the logistics integrator for life-cycle management of ammunition providing a global presence of technical support to frontline units. JMC manages plants that produce more than 900M rounds of ammunition annually and the depots that store the nation's ammunition for training and combat and is accountable for $59 billion of munitions and missiles. In honor of National Storytelling Day, JMC is proud of our heritage and path forward.