U.S. production of bullets, shells, and missiles sidelined by explosion at 1 Louisiana gunpowder mill

Bullet factory in Utah
(Image credit: George Frey/Getty Images)

When a gunpowder mill in Minden, Louisiana, caught spark and blew up in June 2021, the Pentagon lost its sole domestic producer of black powder, the original gunpowder developed in China in the 9th century and a crucial ingredient for more than 300 types of munitions, The Wall Street Journal reports. "The product, for which there is no substitute, is used in small quantities in munitions to ignite more powerful explosives," from M16 bullets and 155mm howitzer shells to Tomahawk and other cruise missiles. The factory is still closed.

The closure of the black powder mill in Minden, 30 miles from Shreveport, highlights the many "single source" producers in the Pentagon's supply chains, the Journal reports. Only one company makes the rocket motors for Javelin anti-tank missiles, or example, and one foundry forges all the titanium casings used in howitzers. These potential bottlenecks to U.S. industrial munitions production are tied to industry consolidation after the Cold War — the dozens of major Pentagon arms suppliers in the 1990s has shrunk to just five, while the overall defense industrial base has declined to 55,000 vendors, from 69,000 in 2016, the Journal reports.

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Peter Weber, The Week US

Peter has worked as a news and culture writer and editor at The Week since the site's launch in 2008. He covers politics, world affairs, religion and cultural currents. His journalism career began as a copy editor at a financial newswire and has included editorial positions at The New York Times Magazine, Facts on File, and Oregon State University.