Since the army has other stockpiled ammunition, "by no means, under any circumstances should a round (from Israel) be utilised", said Representative Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii on Thursday - the top Democrat on a House of Representatives Armed Services subcommittee with jurisdiction over land forces.

The US Army contracted with Israel Military Industries Ltd. in December for $70 million in small-calibre ammunition.

It is unclear whether Abercrombie was addressing the possibility of Israeli bullets having US been used in current Iraq and Afghanistan combat operations or simply suggesting future engagement rules.

Two possible suppliers

The Israeli firm was one of only two worldwide that could meet US technical specifications and delivery needs, said Brigadier General Paul Izzo, the army's programme executive officer for  ammunition.

The other was East Alton, Illinois-based Winchester Ammunition, which also received a $70 million contract.

"There's a sensitivity that I think all of us recognise," Representative Curt Weldon told the army witnesses, including Major General Buford Blount, who led US troops that captured Baghdad in April 2003.

"There's a sensitivity that I think all of us recognise"

Curt Weldon,
US House Representative

Blount, now the army's assistant deputy chief of staff, said they had sufficient small calibre ammunition - 5.56mm, 7.62mm and .50 calibre - to conduct current operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Inventory strained

But taken together with training needs, the US had strained its production facilities, he testified.

"To fight a major combat operation in another theatre will require the army to impose restrictions on training expenditures and to focus current inventory and new production on combat operations," Blount said.

He also said that the army's needs will grow to about 1.5 billion to 1.7 billion rounds a year in coming years.

"In the near-term, balancing training requirements with current operational needs is a manageable risk-mitigation strategy," Blount said.

The Army does not want to repeat its history of building capacity during wartime "only to dismantle it in peacetime", Blount added.