Have you checked your department’s armory lately? If not, you had better convince the people in charge to start stocking up like a modern-day Prepper! How many hollow point duty rounds do you have? If you think you have enough, you might want to think again! Those agencies caught by surprise when the civilian ammunition market was choked dry during the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, would do well to pay attention to the military’s latest move that could have significant impact on civilian and law enforcement ammunition supplies.
The United States Army has been in the process of defining the bidding process to prospective manufacturers for the Army’s new “XM-17” Modular Handgun System. The official move towards the XM-17 have been years in the making, but in recent months the decision has been solidified, and the bidding process has already begun. This new handgun system has been talked about for years, as the decision to replace the 30-year old M9 (Beretta 9mm) has been on the table for several years now. However, one particular comment about the proceedings should have every civilian law enforcement agency at full attention, and preparing for a new crunch in the availability of duty ammunition.
The U.S. Army XM-17 Modular Handgun and Hollow Point Ammunition
In June of this year the U.S. Army announced that they were indeed moving forward with the XM-17, Modular Handgun project, despite ordering several thousand more M9 handguns from Beretta recently. Recently, the Army announced new provisions to the original specifications when they presented changes to its latest draft solicitation for the XM-17 that were posted to the Federal Business Opportunities website on June 8, 2015 under Solicitation Number W15QKN15R0001.
During the discussions on the XM-17 Modular Handgun project, Richard Jackson, Special Assistant to the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General for Law of War, had some very interesting points to make that hold an important impact for American law enforcement agencies. Jackson told attendees that federal, state, local and military law enforcement elements routinely use expanding and fragmenting ammunition in their handguns due to the increased capability it provides against threats.
Special Assistant Jackson is quoted from the discussions on the XM-17 project, as reported by PEO Soldier Live, an Army publication focusing on soldier needs, as further saying:
“Expanding the XM-17 Modular Handgun competition to include special purpose ammunition will provide the Warfighter with a more accurate and lethal handgun,” he said.
“Other types of ammunition allow the XM-17 Modular Handgun System to be optimized by vendors, providing a more capable system to Warfighters across the spectrum of shooter experience and skill level.”
In addition to the Army, the report indicates that other military service branches could also join in on the XM-17 order, increasing the number of handguns to well above 500,000. Debi Dawson, a spokesperson for PEO Soldier Live, went on to report the following from the Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey meetings:
“The Army is encouraging Industry to optimize commercially available gun, ammunition and magazine components in order to provide a system for maximum performance.
Current plans call for the Army to purchase more than 280,000 of the new handguns from a single vendor. Deliveries are scheduled to begin in 2018.
The Army also plans to buy approximately 7,000 compact versions of the new handgun.
Dawson said that other military services participating in the XM-17 program may order an additional 212,000 systems above the Army quantity.”
Army Hollow Point Impact on Civilian Law Enforcement
Though large agencies tend to have a significant pull in the market due to the large numbers in their orders, the U.S. government completely swamps even the New York City Police Department, the largest U.S. civilian police force. As such, when the U.S. government makes moves to order firearms and ammunition, every reputable manufacturer in the world takes note. A big government contract can mean assured revenue for years to come, and that means steady funds to research and advance product designs and technology for the company that wins the contract. That spells long-term sustainability.
For over 100 years the American military has selected Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) ammunition. Most of the world’s governments have stuck to the FMJ design that was first laid out in the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, and later the Geneva Conventions. Though not applicable unless the country signed the treaties, the United States has chosen FMJ ammunition for over a century, likely to ensure that ammunition from one ally to another would be interchangeable.
Now, the United States Army is officially opening the door to allowing Hollow Point ammunition for handguns issued to troops. At first this may not seem to be a big deal. However, the wise observer will quickly note that a military that typically has 1.5 million troops spread out among the different branches, will require those troops to know how to fire their weapons – including the new XM-17 handgun. If the Army does decide to adopt a hollow point round, the demand order is potentially looking at hundreds of millions of rounds each year to satisfy training and deployment requirements.
Since it is highly unlikely that one manufacturer will be able to supply all of the military’s needs, it is much more likely that many of the major ammunition manufacturers (Federal, Remington, etc.) will all become suppliers to the U.S. military, along with the leased Army Ammunition Plants. That could quickly spell a dire shortcoming of hollow point ammunition available for civilian law enforcement agencies.
It’s simple supply and demand economics. When the U.S. military “demands” millions of rounds of hollow point ammunition (with a guaranteed payment plan), the manufacturers are going to spend a significant amount of their “supply” to fulfill those large and profitable orders. That action starts a pecking order. After the U.S. military orders, the priority will go to large Federal and then State agencies. After that, the large metropolitan agencies will soak up the remains, until the smaller agencies will be scrambling to lap up some crumbs.
History Repeats Itself – The Ripple Effect of Government Orders
Most of American law enforcement did not immediately recognize the impact the American military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq would have on critical supplies necessary to fulfill the duty required of them at home. By 2004 the strain of rapidly increased military needs for everything related to small arms, including ammunition and accessories, began to leave the civilian market short for supplies. By the surges in 2005 and 2006, the military demands for ammunition and arms had caused the civilian market to nearly dry up. Remember all of the empty store shelves at your local sporting goods and firearms stores? This same civilian market feeds local and State law enforcement agencies, and very quickly supplies of duty and training ammunition began to disappear.
It is true that the United States leases around 12 small arms ammunition factories for the purpose of supplying the military with small arms ammunition. For instance, the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant east of Kansas City was built for the Army but run by Remington until 1985. Olin Corporation took over operations until 2001, when ATK, the same conglomerate that owns Federal, CCI, and Speer ammunition brands, took over operations. The Lake City Plant produces around 1.4 billion rounds of ammunition per year, including 5.56mm, 7.62mm, .50 caliber, and 20mm rounds. Lake City AR-15 ammunition is particularly popular in the civilian market for its quality and accuracy.
However, when the military calls, these same plants ramp up operations to fulfill military needs, and allow the civilian side of production to quickly drop off (yes, Lake City and other Army Ammunition Plants produce civilian ammunition). This begins a ripple effect throughout the entire market, and includes the solely civilian production plants as well. Just like the complete ammunition manufacturers, companies involved in brass, steel, nickel, lead, gunpowder, primers, etc. will all start to lean towards the big government orders, and the civilian market shrinks even more. There are only so many raw materials, and when the government takes a big bite, the rest of us are left with the crusts.
The market is always leery of big bumps, so even though demand orders will provide initial jumps in revenue, it could take several years for manufacturers to feel confident enough to ramp up total production capability that will suffice both the military and civilian market demand. This was exactly what happened in the mid 2000’s until just a few years ago.
During that time frame ammunition and certain firearms became scarce, and some of those products are still hard to come by. Have you tried to buy a brick of .22LR lately? What almost completely disappeared for several years, has finally started to return – but to a much higher price tag. Before the big surge in ammunition needs a brick of .22LR could be picked up for about $15-20. That was for 500 rounds! Now a brick of .22LR is twice that amount, most stores still have limitations on how many you can buy, and there are often very few bricks to be bought at that.
The same thing happened to the AR-15 market, until the demand side of the equation was so strong that a literal flood of new manufacturers joined the field. Even with the new influx of manufacturers and suppliers, the raw materials needed to make rifles was so scarce that many companies refused to take new orders, or had a waiting list over a year-long.
American law enforcement cannot afford to be caught off guard again. Just a few years ago there was another big stir when ammunition manufacturers received a 1.6 billion rounds of ammunition order from the Department of Homeland Security. Now I wasn’t as alarmed as some were about this order, because I sat down and did the math. How many rounds, divided by how many Special Agents, equals how many rounds per Agent. In most cases the round count only equated to about 1,000 rounds per Agent per year. Sounds like the Feds get more training than most cops.
However, I have to admit that several hundred million of those rounds for Alphabet Soup Federal Agencies raised my eyebrow. Seriously, do the Departments of Education, Agriculture, and some other hokey agencies in the giant monster of Federal Government really need to have armed Special Agents? In many cases my vote is no. I am a local cop who wants to make sure that other local cops have enough supplies to train appropriately to fulfill their duty. When officers cannot adequately train and familiarize themselves with the tools necessary to carry out their duties, it sets the officers up for failures in real-world confrontations.
Those failures can lead to unconstitutional and excessive uses of force, failure to use force or a tool (firearm, Taser, baton, etc.) when it would be appropriate to do so, and completely incompetent performance of duty in the most critical circumstances that demand our best. Whether an officer incompetently hurts or kills an innocent bystander, or is killed or seriously injured in the line of duty, the lack of proper training because of a failure to prepare is unacceptable!
The 21st Century started off very tumultuously for the United States. We are still living in a time of rapidly changing realities. Unlike our law enforcement predecessors just 20-30 years ago, today’s law enforcement professionals must be increasingly aware of actions for outside of the law enforcement arena. Simply keeping tabs on how the Courts interpret law enforcement, and any new laws passed by the Legislators, is not enough.
Today’s law enforcement professionals must be ready to address a variety of new fronts from social media blitzes, video recordings of their actions, to the rampant over-portrayal in media and “advocacy” groups that police are brutal and prejudiced against certain groups. And yes, today’s law enforcement professionals must be able to read the economic signs and prepare to train their officers to the highest levels of duty. Today’s local law enforcement must be firmly rooted in the needs and troubles of today, but must keep an eye on the distant future to prepare to meet the troubles of tomorrow.
EDITOR’S NOTE: A big thanks to our friends at The Firearm Blog for giving us a heads up on this news that will likely have a very significant impact on American law enforcement for years to come.