How many bullets are we shooting daily at somebody in Iraq? Whatever it is, the Pentagon isn't eager for civilians to know. I've been looking on Google for a few hours now, with some frustration.
The military's annual need increased from 733 million small arms rounds (.50 caliber or less) in 2000 to 1,790 million rounds in 2005, but training requirements were greatly increased, so it's hard to figure out how much of the 1,057,000,000 bullets increase in annual demand goes to combat operations.
It's not clear the military even knows. A 2005 master's degree thesis at the Army War College by Lt. Colonel Dean Mengel entitled "AMMUNITION SHORTAGES EXPERIENCED IN OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM – CAUSES AND SOLUTIONS" reported:
On the surface, the problem of how much ammunition is needed for current operations in Iraq seems to be fairly easy to determine. If the theater reported the weekly or monthly expenditure through the established reporting system to HQDA, these could be used to determine a monthly requirement. ... Unfortunately, all the reports and records that would allow HQDA to track use and anticipate shortages have not been used or maintained accurately with any level of confidence. This has been the case since preparation for OIF [Operation Iraqi Freedom] commenced and continues today. ... The fact that a conference is being held in Kuwait to address the problem of ammunition reporting, after nearly two years in theater, is a sad testament to how this issue has been handled.
Only in one document have I found a breakout of small caliber ammo usage between training and combat, and that's a little too informal for complete confidence. In testimony before the House of Representatives on June 24, 2004, references were made to "less than 10 million rounds per month being expended in hostilities" and an annual expenditure of "a hundred million for the war" outside of training. The first 12-15 months of the war was said to account for 72 million rounds, or 5.5 million per month. But after the invasion there was a lull in fighting, so usage probably increased as the insurgency cranked up. Those numbers may exclude branches besides the Army, but might include the smaller war in Afghanistan, which means they might roughly balance out. (I don't think this includes training exercises inside Iraq, but I could be wrong.)
So let's call it 100,000,000 bullets per year or 8.3 million fired per month in Iraq in mid-2004.
So, that's about 275,000 bullets fired in anger per day by U.S. forces (assuming all the ammo consumed was fired -- some may have been stolen). Larger, more deadly explosive rounds of 20 to 40 mm are in addition to this (total demand for medium caliber ammo runs around 20 million rounds per year, including training.) And then there's the big shells from tanks and artillery plus aerial bombs.
That's a big number. Of course, the vast majority of bullets fired never hit anybody, but you can imagine the psychological impact on Iraqis of having 275,000 American bullets per day flying around their county trying to kill somebody. The .50 caliber rounds from the old M-2 machine gun are particularly alarming -- they can fly for several miles and at close range can punch through several walls. It's kind of hard to win the hearts and minds of Iraqis when you are firing a quarter of a million bullets per day in their homeland, some of them winding up in random living rooms.