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Why Does the US Military Keep Losing Its Weapons?

US Military Lost Weapons
U.S. Army National Guard Spc. Travis McLeod fires an M4A1 during the Alabama National Guard Best Warrior Competition at Pelham Range, Ala. Nov. 14, 2018. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Staff Sgt. William Frye).

During the Cold War, there were 32 nuclear weapons accidents – known as Broken Arrows. Moreover, since 1950 six nuclear weapons have been lost and never recovered. The longest missing nuclear weapon hasn’t been seen in 71 years, and there is little reason that it will be found anytime soon.

It may not be on the scale of a weapon of mass destruction, but the U.S. military has reportedly lost track of somewhere between hundreds and possibly thousands of U.S. military explosives over the past decade. According to an ongoing report from the Associated Press into the military’s failure to secure weapons found that some personnel even tried to cover up the lost or stolen ordnance.

In one case, a Marine Corps demolition specialist was reported to be worried about the future of the United States and potential civil war, so “block by block, he stole 13 pounds (6 kilograms) of C4 plastic explosives from training ranges of Camp Lejeune,” the AP reported.

It wasn’t just the C4 that was stolen, and it certainly wasn’t an isolated case. A variety of explosive devices, such as plastic explosives, land mines, hand grenades and even rockets have been stolen from or lost by the U.S. armed forces. Some of the lost armaments have turned up in deadly accidents – and that included an artillery shell that was set off at a Mississippi recycling yard in August, killing an employee.

The U.S. military has taken action against these thefts. While officials also have said that the number of such thefts has been low, they still want to ensure that no weapon falls into the wrong hands.

“We want to get the number to zero, so there is no loss, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t take seriously losses that happened,” Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Uriah Orland told the Associated Press.

The recent findings follow another report from the news agency earlier this year, in which the AP found that more than 2,000 U.S. military firearms had been lost or stolen since 2010. Some of those weapons had been sold to civilians and subsequently were used in violent crimes.

Beyond outright theft, the report warned that poor record-keeping and little oversight have been major factors in the growing number of missing explosives and firearms from the U.S. military.

The Associated Press had received data from each service branch regarding thefts of explosive devices from 2010 to 2020. It reported that the U.S. Army had recorded nearly 1,900 missing explosives, mainly TNT. More than half of the missing explosives were eventually being recovered. However, the data from the United States Marine Corps was reportedly too unclear to accurately measure how much ordnance may have been missing, but AP’s analysis found that thousands of armor-piercing grenades and hundreds of pounds of plastic explosives may have gone missing.

The U.S. Air Force reported that around 50 pounds of C4 and more than 800 feet of detonating cord and dozens of 40 mm armor-piercing grenades went missing without recovery over the 10-year period. The U.S. Navy had reported the lowest amount of explosives lost during that time, with only 20 hand grenades stolen, 18 of which were eventually recovered. No one seemed to try to steal a Tomahawk missile from a warship – that sort of thing only happens in the movies.

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 The author is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes Magazine. 

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Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.