Even as supplies of ammunition have returned to store shelves, shooters are facing prices far higher than pre-pandemic levels. One challenge has been the ongoing global supply chain bottlenecks, which have made it difficult for ammunition manufacturers to run production at full capacity. Between a shortage of truck drivers, backlogs at our nation’s ports, and increased demand for raw materials — notably copper — ammunition makers continue to be pressed by supply chain woes.
The increase in the number of new gun owners has further exacerbated the problem, while early winter storms have also helped. More shooters resulted in greater demand for ammunition, and 2020-2021 vastly outpaced the previous year’s sales.
Yet, there is another factor to consider. Only two companies produce the primers, a key component in modern ammunition: Winchester, which is owned by the Olin Corporation, and Vista Outdoors, which is the owner of Federal, Remington Ammunition, and CCI. Each has done everything in its respective power to keep the production flowing, but it is easy to see how having just two players in such a volatile market was really a recipe for disaster.
Brass can be reused and powder has remained reasonably plentiful, yet primers have been the weak line in the supply chain, creating a serious bottleneck for the industry — which in turn has been impacted further by the larger supply chain bottlenecks. Millions upon millions are produced, but all by those four entities owned by two corporate giants in the United States.
Internationally, primers are manufactured by several firms in different parts of the world, including Armscor in the Philippines, Fiocchi in Italy, and Sellier & Bellot in the Czech Republic. In normal times, those international primers could be used to help meet the demand in the U.S. Of course we’re not living in normal times, and the pandemic slowed how goods moved around the world in 2020, while supply bottlenecks ground supply chains to a halt in 2021.
Three is NOT a Crowd
Fortunately, a third player is set to enter the American primer market. Expansion Industries, the parent company of Expansion Ammunition, announced earlier this month that it will open a new facility outside of Texarkana, Texas. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, don’t feel bad.
The company, which is headquartered in Carrollton, Texas, outside of Dallas-Fort Worth, was only launched during the last great ammunition shortage in the “middle 2010s” as an effort to ensure that every American could maintain the right to keep and bear arms. Now as the country continues to experience the worst supply chain bottleneck in decades, which has impacted the availability of firearms ammunition, the Texas-based firm is living up to its name as it begins a major “expansion.”
Expansion Industries has invested $100 million and has recently begun preparation work on the East Campus of TexAmericas Center, which included the purchase of the main G Line of the former Lone Star Army Ammunition plant. That facility, which once produced ordnance for the U.S. military, is being prepared to resume operations later this year.
It will specialize in the production of primers
“We have invested $100 million into the site so far,” Richard A. Smissen, owner of Expansion Industries, told the Texarkana Gazette newspaper. “This is all about supply and demand. There is serious demand in the industry for this product and right now, for various reasons, the supply chain is falling woefully short. So we are getting ready to do our part to help out with that issue.”
Despite being a smaller player in the industry, Smissen has said the new facility will be state-of-the-art, featuring a high level of automation. The former Lone Star Army Ammunition plant was reported to be uniquely situated for Expansion Ammunition’s future endeavors.
“The manufacturing facilities at Lone Star were set up for ammunition manufacturing,” added Smissen. “Not only the way the facilities are laid out on the former base, but the facilities themselves are hardened to protect against possible accidents working with this material. What is here was ready for someone like us to come and set up shop. So we’ve had our people in there getting it ready for a modern manufacturing facility. We aim to be up and running in the first few months of this year.”
Expansion Industries has also begun a recruiting drive that will include an on-site job fair later this month, and it has set a goal to have more than 400 workers employed at the plant by 2023.
Former Military Ammunition Plant
The Lone Star Army Ammunition Plant, which is located 12 miles west of Texarkana, should be seen as an ideal location for the manufacture of primers. The 15,546-acre facility was originally established in 1942 as a government-owned, contractor-operated (GOCO) plant to meet the demands of the war effort. The Lone Star Defense
Corporation, a subsidiary of the B. F. Goodrich Rubber Corporation, had won the government contract to operate the site in July 1941, and during the Second World War, it produced artillery shells, bombs, fuses, boosters, and other auxiliary munitions at the site.
The plant was one of 84 Army ammunition plants constructed during World War II, and at the height of its employment, the plant had more than 12,000 contractors, military, and government personnel. It continued to produce ordnance through the Korean War and Vietnam War and was only officially deactivated on September 30, 2009.
While Expansion Ammunition will be utilizing the G Line of the facility, it would seem there is certainly room for expansion within the facility. In addition, it would seem that the plant already has many safety and environmental measures in place as it has only been shuttered for the past decade.
The plant that was built to supply the G.I.s in World War II and beyond could soon be helping address the great ammunition shortage. Having a fifth company, and one that isn’t owned by the two corporate giants, producing primers should also make sure that even if gun sales spike, the supply of ammo should be able to keep pace.
Keeping Americans shooting has been the goal of Expansion Ammunition.
“Every box of our ammunition, we make it clear it is about freedom,” Smissen continued. “The first 10 Amendments of our Constitution lay it all out, our liberties. And the 2nd Amendment is about the freedom of an American to be armed, to defend against any who would seek to take away that freedom. And should our 2nd Amendment fall, there is nothing to prevent the rest of it from being taken. We are a faith-based company and we make that clear. We are doing what we can to take a stand for American freedoms, support shooting sports and with this facility, we will be taking it all to the next level.”