Soldiers forced to shout 'bang' as the Army runs out of ammunition
London Telegraph | July 18, 2005
By Sean Rayment
Soldiers are facing the undignified prospect of being forced to shout "bang, bang" on military training exercises after an admission by the Army that it is running out of blank ammunition.
The shortage is also likely to result in a large number of important training exercises being cancelled or severely restricted.
Armed forces officer with rifle
The Army faces a shortage of ammo for the SA80 rifle
The crisis has emerged at a time when the Army is operating at full-stretch with up to 9,000 troops deployed in Iraq and 4,000 training for a possible deployment to Afghanistan next spring.
The astonishing admission that soldiers do not have enough blank ammunition comes after disclosures of other crucial equipment shortages earlier this year - including insufficient training rounds for grenade launchers and cleaning kits for machine-guns.
Details of the fiasco emerged after a letter from the Headquarters Land Command, the organisation responsible for training the Army in Britain, was leaked to The Sunday Telegraph.
The letter, dated June 24 2005, is headed "Shortage of 5.56mm Blank Ammunition for Cadet Force's Summer Camp" and reveals that the problem has been caused by the Defence Logistics Organisation's failure to anticipate how much blank ammunition would be needed over the summer.
The letter from Headquarters Land Command states that the Army has informed the Cadet Branch "that there is expected to be a significant shortage of 5.56mm blank ammunition this summer".
The 5.56mm ammunition is the standard round used with the SA80 semi-automatic assault rifle. Blank rounds fit into standard-issue magazines and emit a loud noise, meant to simulate rifle fire.
The letter continues: "This is an Army-wide issue and has been brought about as supply has not been anticipated to meet demand. The Defence Logistics Organisation are looking to find a solution, but the likelihood of this being found before the end of August is slim."
The letter says that the shortage will "undoubtedly have an adverse affect on field craft training" and that Headquarters Land Command has "not offered an alternative". It adds: "Units should therefore be. . . ready to amend their training programme to reflect the situation."
The Defence Logistics Organisation, which is commanded by Gen Sir Kevin O'Donoghue and is staffed by 28,000 civilian and military personnel around the world, is responsible for equipping all parts of the Army with weapons, ammunition and military clothing and supplying food, water and accommodation during operations.
The organisation came in for sustained criticism during and immediately after the Iraq war for failing to get the right equipment to the right soldiers in time for the start of the conflict.
A senior Army officer said that the ammunition crisis was "shambolic" and came at the worst possible time for the Army.
He said: "There is nothing more dispiriting than soldiers having to go on exercise and shout 'bang, bang' because there is not enough blank ammunition. Any benefit from the exercise will be lost because soldiers just won't take it seriously. Why should soldiers who are being sent to Iraq, where their lives will be endangered, be forced to shout 'bang' in training because someone in the Ministry of Defence can't do basic arithmetic? It's a disgrace."
Gerald Howarth, the shadow defence minister and MP for Aldershot, said that the shortage was a betrayal of the Armed Forces.
"This is another grotesque example of the short-changing of the Armed Forces which is now becoming habitual," he said.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said: "There is a shortage of blank ammunition in the Army but there is no question that it will have any impact on operational training. Cadet training will suffer the most from this shortage."