- The US Army is looking for companies that can build up to 12,000 155 mm artillery shells a month.
- The Army’s survey comes as the US supplies Ukraine with arms, including some 800,000 155 mm rounds.
- The scale of the effort to supply weapons has raised concerns about the status of US stockpiles.
With US ammunition stockpiles being depleted by deliveries to Ukraine, the US Army is looking for new manufacturers for 155 mm howitzer shells.
The Army recently put out a market survey to identify US and Canadian companies that can manufacture up to 12,000 M795 155 mm high-explosive shells a month.
The M795 is the standard shell for Army and Marine 155 mm howitzers and would be the prime ammunition for any US-designed 155 mm howitzers sent to Ukraine, which is already using M777 towed 155 mm guns sent by the US and Canada.
The US has sent 126 M777 cannons and more than 800,000 rounds of 155 mm ammunition to Ukraine as of early September. Now the Pentagon fears that American ammunition stocks are reaching dangerously low levels.
Meanwhile, as the Russo-Ukraine War becomes a struggle of contending artillery — which has emerged as the dominant killing weapon on the Ukrainian battlefield — Kyiv is certain to demand more shells. Ukrainian forces were already firing 6,000 shells a day in June, Ukrainian officials said at the time.
That is good reason for the US Army to beef up production of 155 mm ammunition.
The Army’s Project Manager Combat Ammunition Systems is now doing market research “to identify potential sources within the United States and Canada that can Load, Assemble, and Pack (LAP) and deliver the 155mm M795 High Explosive (HE) Projectile.”
Among the requirements for potential manufacturers is demonstrating “existing production capacity, projected monthly production and delivery capability of 12,000 projectiles per month, maximum monthly production capacity, and if they have made this item or similar items in the past,” according to the Army survey.
The government would provide “projectile metal parts, rotating band covers, wooden pallets, lifting plugs, IMX-101 explosive and TNT/PBXN-9 supplementary charges.” However, the contractor would need to procure “bulk TNT” on its own.
It’s not clear how many shells the Pentagon is aiming to produce.
In 2021, the Army wanted to cut funding for 155 mm shell production that had been approved by Congress. Legislators recently approved $600 million in emergency Defense Production Act spending to expand US shell and missile production capacity, including “modernized and expanded large caliber shell forging capabilities.” However, expanding munitions-production capacity can take a year or more.
The Army’s Joint Munitions Command wouldn’t say whether the market survey is intended to expand shell production or just identify new manufacturers.
“The market survey is used to identify potential sources of the item identified and can be used to support any number of service requirements,” spokeswoman Justine Barati told Insider.
The M795 is an unguided shell first deployed in 1999. It is 103 pounds and 33 inches long and has an attached fuze.
The high-fragmentation steel projectile is armed with 23.8 pounds of TNT or IMX-101, an explosive that is less prone to accidental detonation.
The M795 has a kill radius of about 55 yards, though fragments can inflict damage beyond that distance. It can be “employed against personnel, trucks, electronic surveillance and target acquisition devices, supply points, command and control and communications (C3) installations, and mechanized and armored forces,” according to US defense firm General Dynamics.
The M795 has a range of about 14 miles, longer than that of the 1950s-era M107 shells that it replaced but still considerably shorter than Russian weapons such as the BM-30 multiple rocket launchers, which has a range of 45 miles.
The range disparity is particularly important in the Ukraine war, where the side with the longest-range artillery can destroy enemy guns while remaining safely out of range of retaliatory fire.
The US has also been sending M982 Excalibur GPS-guided 155 mm shells to Ukraine. Excalibur shells have a range of 25 miles and can hit within a few feet of their targets.
The GPS-guided rounds are much more expensive, each costing about $100,000, making the far cheaper M795 more economical for the rate at which Ukraine is firing its artillery. (The Pentagon now also plans to spend nearly $100 million to replenish its Excalibur stocks.)
The US isn’t the only one with an ammunition problem. Canada has shipped 155 mm shells to Ukraine and is now asking South Korea to replenish its stocks.
Michael Peck is a defense writer whose work has appeared in Forbes, Defense News, Foreign Policy magazine, and other publications. He holds a master’s in political science. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.