During the Cold War, the United States military lost six nuclear weapons and it is unlikely any of those will likely be found. It isn’t something that the Pentagon likes to talk about, or even admit to, but lost ordnance is actually not all that uncommon. While no nukes have been lost in decades, the U.S. military still has a real problem with missing, lost, or just otherwise unaccounted for grenades and small arms and it should be a serious matter of concern.
It was reported months back that a case of 40mm grenades for the MK19 grenade launcher was discovered in a backyard in Atlanta. More accurately nearly a case was discovered and/or recovered because two of the thirty-two grenades are still missing and otherwise unaccounted for. That is especially troubling as each grenade has the potential to do serious harm to anyone in a fifty-foot blast radius.
It isn’t just grenades that have gone missing in recent years. Potentially thousands of weapons, including machine guns, are unaccounted for – yet there has been little reporting on the matter. According to reporting from the Associated Press, the U.S. Army has hidden or simply downplayed the extent to which those small arms have disappeared, while it was also reported that the Army’s pattern of secrecy and suppression to conceal the losses go back nearly a decade.
Moreover, military leaders had tried to suggest that only a couple of hundred firearms “vanished” during the 2010s – a number the news agency disputed.
Even the loss of a few machine guns should have been disconcerting given the potential carnage that a true “weapon of war” could cause in a mass shooting or act of domestic terrorism, it is likely that the number of lost small arms has been far greater than “a few.” According to government records uncovered by the news organization in a multi-year study, thousands of pistols, machine guns, shotguns and automatic assault rifles had disappeared from armories, supply warehouses and other places where they were used, stored, or transported.
It was further noted that the guns, ammunition and ordnance didn’t simply “disappear.” Rather the weapons were stolen and some subsequently used in a crime, sold to street games and even Mexican drug cartels. Just last month, a Texas highway patrol trooper discovered more than a dozen firearms and more than 3,500 rounds of ammunition after pulling over a suspect believed to be headed to Mexico. The firearms included fully automatic rifles, as well as a .50 caliber machine gun, numerous shotguns, and handguns. It is unclear if the handguns, shotguns, or even ammunition had legally been purchased but the .50 caliber machine gun and automatic rifles were almost certainly stolen from the U.S. military.
Another serious concern, reported the Associated Press, was that the Pentagon doesn’t even share information about the “missing weapons” to members of Congress.
The practice of alerting lawmakers stopped in the 1990s – and Department of Defense (DoD) officials have only said that lawmakers would be notified of such theft or loss if it met the definition of being “significant,” yet it remains unclear what would actually constitute a “significant” loss or theft.
No notification has been made since at least 2017 – while upwards of 2,000 military firearms may have been lost during the 2010s.
Questions are now being asked since the first of the Associated Press stories on the matter was published. At least a few lawmakers have been vocal about why they needed to read about the loss of weapons and ordnance in the news instead of being alerted when the thefts occurred.
“This report is absolutely blood-curdling,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the Army’s budget on Tuesday.
“The idea that pistols, assault weapons, grenade launchers are missing from armories of the United States military, because they have been lost or stolen without any apparent accounting, without any reporting to Congress … is just incredibly alarming and astonishing,” Blumenthal added.
The senator further pressed Army Secretary Christine Wormuth and Gen. James McConville, the Army chief of staff, how they plan to investigate the issue of the disappeared firearms.
“My understanding is that the cases of weapons from any branch of the services being unaccounted for and getting into the hands of civilians is likely to be a small number, but particularly given these reports, I commit to you that this is something that we will look into,” Wormuth responded.
Brig. Gen. Duane Miller, the number two law enforcement official in the Army, told the Associated Press he took any loss and/or theft of weapons very seriously.
“When one weapon is lost, I’m concerned,” he said. “When 100 weapons are lost, I’m concerned. When 500 are lost, I’m concerned.”
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.