Calibrating collaboration with industry

By July 25, 2016September 1st, 2018Acquisition, Army ALT Magazine
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Tasked with delivering ammunition for weapons ranging from handguns to tanks, PM MAS customizes strategies and partnerships with the private sector to develop the best solutions for the warfighter.

by Col. Moises M. Gutierrez, Lt. Col. John Todd Masternak, Mr. Christopher R. Seacord and Lt. Col. Kyle A. McFarland

From the handgun ammo supplier who straddles the commercial demand-driven market to the unique, military-only tank ammunition supplier who must rely on foreign military sales to retain market competitiveness, each segment of the DOD direct fire ammunition portfolio demands different, multiprong, process-driven strategies to gain the best value and profit while maintaining product overmatch.

The project manager for maneuver ammunition systems (PM MAS) develops all Army direct fire munitions and manages DOD direct fire procurements with government-to-industry partnerships. As one of the project managers within the Program Executive Office for Ammunition, which executes the role of single manager for conventional ammunition, PM MAS leverages multiple strategies, processes and key partnerships for each of the family of products.


Pfc. Francisco Rodriguez, an M240B machine gunner with the 24th Infantry Regiment, engages targets at an M4 range at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, in March. (Photo by Sgt. Corey Confer, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division Public Affairs)

Cooperation between the Army’s ammunition enterprise and Orbital ATK Inc. continues to pay dividends three years into the operating contract for the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant (LCAAP) in Missouri. An April – June 2013 Army AL&T magazine article titled “Competition Case Study” discussed the government-encouraged investment in LCAAP, the Army’s premier small-caliber ammunition manufacturing facility, through a competitive acquisition strategy. Bidders responding to the request for proposals had an incentive to propose investment plans in exchange for commercial use authorization. A win-win situation for the Army and the operating contractor resulted in reduced costs, improved production efficiencies, a continuous workforce and less downtime for equipment. This innovative strategy required documenting governance controls and clearly defined procedures up front.

Orbital ATK’s capital investment in LCAAP has resulted in improvements to many areas of the plant: design and implementation of advanced material handling and control; design and implementation of process control technology; replacement of water traps on test ranges; implementation of safer primer delivery containers; and modernization of packaging equipment and processes. The investments have resulted in more efficient and sustainable production; delivery of higher-quality small-caliber ammunition; and a better and safer workforce environment.

Army and Orbital ATK leadership are generally in agreement on the future vision for LCAAP. However, the team diverges at times on plant priorities and project scopes. To work through these differences, the government adopted Orbital ATK’s proposed establishment of an investment board consisting of two members from the Army ammunition enterprise and two members from Orbital ATK’s program management leadership. At its monthly meetings, the board provides joint oversight and coordination at the appropriate level to make sound and timely decisions. This partnership enables the team to resolve conflicts while continuing to move plant improvements forward.


Small-caliber ammunition encompasses 5.56 mm, 7.62 mm and .50-caliber rounds, and includes cartridges for combat (ball, tracer, armor-piercing and incendiary) and training (blank, short-range training, marking and dummy). Because there’s a commercial market for small-caliber ammunition, the industry is less vulnerable to swings in DOD demand, so the Army and Orbital ATK, a contractor that runs the government-owned LCAAP, have been able to focus on improving ammunition quality and improving safety at the plant. (U.S. Army photo)

Although Army and Orbital ATK leadership agree this structure improves execution of the investment plan, both would recommend establishing and documenting clear governance controls and procedures earlier in contract execution to allow leadership to focus more on developing the vision and making good investment decisions.

The product director for medium-caliber ammunition (PD MC) strategically focuses on two areas in its partnership with industry: industrial base preservation and development collaboration.

While it may seem counterintuitive that an industrial base could be at risk despite our continued conflicts, the reality is that the medium-caliber sector production quantities have been in decline since 2009. The decline was the result of reaching healthy training and combat stockpiles with a simultaneous reduction in the requirement.

The decline has had a significant effect on the industrial base, leading to consolidation at the supplier and sub-tier supplier levels. In order to preserve the medium-caliber industrial base, the product office developed a plan to combine calibers across services and limit the playing field to our known suppliers to save key production capabilities at the supplier and sub-tier supplier levels, with the goal of ensuring long-term viability.

The plan, created in partnership with industry, was put into action in 2009 and is known as the Medium-Caliber Family Acquisition (MCFA). The intent was to right-size production lines, preserve dual-source suppliers for key capabilities and lower costs. The first contract awarded under this plan was implemented in 2013. Since its initiation, the MCFA has met, and in some cases exceeded, its goals by maintaining dual-source viability for key production capabilities, lowering unit costs while reducing quantities and ultimately delivering the highest-quality munitions to the warfighter.


The medium-caliber ammunition family, used with medium handheld and crew-served weapons, includes armor-piercing, high-explosive, smoke, illumination, training and anti-personnel cartridges to defeat light-armored targets. The medium-caliber ammunition industry was to some extent a victim of its own success: The Army was able to produce enough ammunition for active use and develop a healthy stockpile quickly enough that production has declined steadily since 2009. To preserve the industrial base, PD MC combined orders with those from other services and stuck with known suppliers. (U.S. Army photo)

The second area in which PD MC engages our industry partners in a novel way is through the development of new munition solutions to meet identified gaps in warfighter capabilities. As the capability gaps are discussed, we engage our in-house research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) asset, the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC), and our industry partners through industry days spanning our entire portfolio and engagements of more targeted scope (National Defense Industrial Association conferences, market surveys, project industry days, etc.) to get each organization to spend its limited RDT&E funds on the technical solutions that can meet these gaps. We motivate them to invest by showing them the Army’s path forward—specifically, the capability gaps we are trying to address for the warfighter.

This targeted development helps refine and advise the requirement as it’s being developed and staffed, ensuring that the solution is feasible. It also can accelerate the acquisition development phase, shortening the time from concept to fielding.

Our primary vehicle to share and partner in the development of new solutions is the cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA). Under a CRADA, government and industry can share ideas and test theories that minimize program risk for each party and ensure the best solution. This approach was initiated several years ago, and we believe it will deliver timely solutions to meet urgent warfighter needs.

The product manager for large-caliber ammunition (Product Manager LC) continuously works with industry to maintain critical capabilities and opportunities for competition. Firing projectiles from cannons at high speed is a unique function. As such, there is little to no demand in the commercial marketplace for certain components and materials used in large-caliber ammunition. Product Manager LC works with suppliers to ensure that budgets and requirements stay at levels appropriate both for Army requirements and industry sustainability. While maintaining this balance, Product Manager LC also has worked to sustain two qualified system-integrating contractors. This facilitates competition, which drives more innovation in developmental programs and lowers costs in production.


The family of large-caliber ammunition for tanks faces two challenges: First, there’s almost no commercial market for it, so suppliers are wholly dependent on DOD sales. Second, large-caliber armor-piercing ammunition is one of the last uses for depleted uranium, so suppliers need special licenses and again depend heavily on DOD sales. PM MAS helped one supplier reorganize its manufacturing space to cut overhead and operating costs so the supplier is less vulnerable to decreased demand. (U.S. Army photo)

Armor-piercing tank cartridges are one of the last military uses for depleted uranium. No other material has demonstrated the same lethality against hard targets, which makes it a critical component for Product Manager LC. However, working with depleted uranium requires special licensing and handling procedures. While some commercial applications exist, the commercial workload alone will not sustain a full-time depleted uranium supplier. Realizing this, Product Manager LC began working with Aerojet Ordnance Tennessee Inc. in 2012 to reduce its manufacturing footprint by approximately 46,000 square feet, while maintaining sufficient capacity to meet government requirements. The effort led to a $1.5 million reduction in annual operating costs and decontaminated unneeded facilities for return to other uses. Product Manager LC is continuing to work with Aerojet and Orbital ATK to ensure that production continues with minimal gaps to maintain the capabilities essential to national defense.

Combustible cartridge cases are also a unique application for ammunition. The cases are important since they reduce volume of expended material after firing, and space is at a high premium inside a tank. A case that burns completely in under the tenth of a second it takes to fire a tank round is similar to cardboard, yet it must support projectiles weighing over 40 pounds, in some cases.


LCAAP, with this newly automated 7.62 mm and .50-caliber ammunition can printer, has benefited from a public-private cooperative agreement whereby the government owns the plant and Orbital ATK Inc. operates it and uses the plant to make ammunition for the commercial market. (Photo by Orbital ATK Inc.)

Balancing these requirements is a niche skill that Esterline Defense Technologies has performed well for several decades. However, the Army currently requires a fraction of the tank rounds it did 10 or 20 years ago. That has put a strain on Esterline to maintain this needed capability at economical rates. To help sustainment, Product Manager LC worked with Esterline and product offices under the project manager for combat ammunition systems, which rely on related products, to ensure that sufficient business exists. Product Manager LC also works with HQDA G-4 and G-8 to plan future year procurement to avoid large swings in quantities from year to year, which would make it difficult for Esterline to continue efficient operation.

Despite the drastically reduced quantities in tank ammunition requirements, Product Manager LC continues to work with two prime system contractors: Orbital ATK and General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems. While either contractor likely has the capacity to produce all of the Army’s requirements in the current environment, maintaining multiple sources offers several benefits. It provides ample surge capacity to the national industrial base, which reduces risk for future contingencies. It also develops secondary sources of supply at component levels, which reduces the overall risks to the product office as a whole. Perhaps most importantly, it sustains competition for development of new ammunition. Maintaining two prime contractors has facilitated competitive prototyping into the engineering and manufacturing development phase for the last two large-caliber programs of record.

This approach, while marginally increasing administrative requirements for the government, greatly reduces cost and performance risk for development programs. It allows for more innovation going into development, increases the chances of identifying a feasible solution and puts competitive pressure on the contractor’s pricing.

Preserving the competitive edge for tactical direct fire capability requires multiple, unique relationships with our industrial partners. These partnerships require the unified visions of industry and the government based on give-and-take. Although profit is a significant consideration, it is the joint long-term visions that are unique in function, with industry partners offering capabilities that demand sustainment.

We have taken on the challenge of sustaining those capabilities while increasing performance for the Soldier. Doing so requires routine engagement with industry to adjust to changing environments that meet the government’s requirements while respecting industry’s economic viability.

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A tank crew from the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division (1/1 CD) fires the 120 mm main gun of an M1A2 Abrams main battle tank at a target in December 2015 at the Sugar Loaf Multi-Use Range at Fort Hood, Texas, during training before deploying to the Republic of Korea. The industrial base for tank ammunition requires particularly close cooperation with the Army. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Christopher Dennis, 1/1 CD Public Affairs)

COL. MOISES M. GUTIERREZ is the PM MAS for PEO Ammunition, Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey. He holds an M.S. in systems acquisition management from Webster University, an M.S. in national resource strategy from the Dwight D. Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy and a B.A. in pre-law from the University of New Mexico. He is also a graduate of the Armor Officer Basic and Advanced Courses, the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and the Defense Systems Management College of Defense Acquisition University. He is Level III certified in program management.

LT. COL. JOHN TODD MASTERNAK is PEO Ammunition’s product manager for small-caliber ammunition. He holds an M.S. in systems engineering from the Stevens Institute of Technology and a B.S. in industrial and systems engineering from Ohio State University. He has served in the Army as an Ordnance Corps and Acquisition Corps officer for more than 20 years. He is Level III certified in program management, and is a member of the Army Acquisition Corps (AAC).

MR. CHRISTOPHER R. SEACORD is PEO Ammunition’s PD MC. He holds an M.S. in information management from Marymount University in Virginia and a B.S. in computer and information systems engineering from the University of Florida. He has served in the Army as an engineer officer and Acquisition Corps officer for 23 years, and after retirement from active service continues to serve in the Acquisition Corps as a DA civilian. He is Level III certified in program management and science and technology management and Level I in information technology. He is a member of the AAC.

LT. COL. KYLE A. McFARLAND is the Product Manager LC for PEO Ammunition. He holds an M.S.E. in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin and a B.S. in mechanical engineering from the United States Military Academy at West Point. He has served in the Army as a field artillery and Acquisition Corps officer for more than 17 years. He is Level III certified in program management and Level I certified in contracting, and is a member of the AAC.

This article was originally published in the July – September 2016 issue of Army AL&T magazine.

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