A 210-year-old factory is making guns for Ukraine

210 years after its founding, Watervliet is churning out gun barrels to support Ukraine's defense against Russia's invasion.
Miguel Ortiz Avatar
guns for ukraine
A 16-inch cannon at Watervliet circa 1895 (U.S.Army)

Founded on July 14, 1813, the Watervliet Arsenal was established to support the War of 1812. Located on the Hudson River near Albany, New York, the arsenal’s manufacturing capability helped repel the British invasion of the United States. Now, 210 years after its founding, Watervliet is churning out gun barrels to support Ukraine’s defense against Russia’s invasion.

watervliet guns for ukraine factory
Watervliet is the oldest continuously operating arsenal in America (U.S. Army)

The Watervliet Arsenal is the oldest continuously active arsenal in the country. On the 142-acre property, the arsenal’s facilities produce many of the U.S. Army’s artillery pieces as well as gun tubes for cannons, mortars and even tanks. The arsenal also hosts Benét Laboratories, the Army’s primary design, development, engineering and production and field support facility for large caliber armament systems.

watervliet artillery gun
A 16-inch coastal artillery gun stamped “WATERVLIET ARSENAL 1921” (Library of Congress)

In 1976, Watervliet’s current forge was installed. Since then, it has produced thousands of barrels for artillery and cannons fielded by the U.S. and its allies. Today, the arsenal produces cannons for the M109 Paladin self-propelled howitzer, M1 Abrams tank, M77 lightweight howitzer and AC-130 gunship for the U.S. Air Force. With howitzers and tanks being sent to Ukraine, Watervliet initiated a 15-year modernization effort.

watervliet cannon tube
A cannon tube is processed through the arsenal’s rotary forge (U.S. Army)

In 2023, Watervliet leadership announced plans to replace the arsenal’s rotary forge and paint booth. “These two modernization projects really capture what we are doing at Watervliet Arsenal. This is the front end and back end of cannon production,” Watervliet Arsenal commander Col. Alain Fisher said in an Army release. “We are using new technology in our facilities from the moment raw material enters until the final product is loaded and transported to its ultimate destination, America’s Soldiers, Marines, and Airmen.”

watervliet factory
The current paint booth requires guns to be painted by hand (U.S. Army)

In 2019, the Army’s renewed interest in precision long-range artillery prompted increased production at Watervliet. In order to meet this mission, the arsenal needs a new rotary forge and the associated supporting equipment like power, HVAC and structural upgrades. The new automated paint booth would allow the arsenal to paint larger and longer cannons and paint more of them at the same time.

defense manufacturing
Watervliet is a critical choke point in America’s defense manufacturing capability (U.S. Army)

As the U.S. sends more and more military hardware to Ukraine, its own stocks are being depleted. In order to maintain the force’s readiness, Watervliet will have to ramp up production and modernize its facilities. Since October 2019, the arsenal saw an increase of approximately 71% in cannon production. In fiscal year 2023, Watervliet expects to spend more than $200 million.