Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley on Thursday downplayed an Associated Press report that at least 1,900 military firearms had been lost or stolen over a decade, with some resurfacing as weapons used in violent crimes.
But Milley could not say exactly how many weapons were missing, and pledged to track down those numbers for lawmakers.
The AP on Wednesday reported that pistols, shotguns, machine guns and automatic assault rifles had vanished from armories or other locations where they were to be used or stored, across the services and around the world between 2010 and 2019.
In a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on the Defense Department's budget, Milley said the military takes weapons security "extraordinarily seriously."
He said he was "frankly shocked" by the numbers that were reported in the media, and asked the services to report to him how many weapons they have lost.
But, Milley said, the numbers the services reported to him as of Thursday morning "are significantly less" than what has been publicly reported.
And it's uncertain exactly how many weapons are lost or stolen right now, he said.
"That's not to say it's zero, but it's much less," Milley said. "So I need to square the balance here. I owe you a firm answer."
Milley said that once per month, every company grade officer who is in charge of an organization is required to inventory 10% of their units' arms rooms, and account for all weapons, including explosives. If anything is missing or in any way unaccounted for, Milley said, a full criminal investigation, and an investigation by the unit's chain of command, is required.
"There are weapons that we can't account for," Milley said. "But I can assure you that we take it extraordinarily seriously, and I owe you the exact numbers that we're getting, and I'll get you those very, very quickly."