US aid to Ukrainian troops rethinks Pentagon arms stockpile

WASHINGTON — The intense firefight over Ukraine has caused the Pentagon to rethink its weapons stockpiles. If another major war broke out today, would the United States have enough ammunition to fight?

It’s a question facing Pentagon planners not only as they seek to supply Ukraine for a war with Russia that could go on for years, but also as they look ahead to a potential conflict with China.

Russia fires as many as 20,000 bullets a day, ranging from bullets for automatic rifles to truck-sized cruise missiles. Ukraine responds with as many as 7,000 rounds a day, firing 155mm howitzer rounds, Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and now NASAMS air defense munitions, and thousands of small arms rounds.

Much of Ukraine’s firepower is provided by US government-funded weapons pushed to the front lines on an almost weekly basis. On Wednesday, the Biden administration announced an additional round of aid that will supply an additional $20 million in small arms ammunition to Kiev.

“We haven’t been in a position where we have critical munitions for days left,” Pentagon comptroller Michael McCord told reporters this month. “But we’re now supporting a partner that is.”

U.S. defense production lines are not scaled to supply a major land war, and some, such as for the Stinger, were shut down earlier.

That puts pressure on US reserves and officials are questioning whether US arms stockpiles are large enough. Would the US be ready today to respond to a major conflict, such as if China invaded Taiwan?

“What would happen if something exploded in Indo-Pacom? Not in five years, not in 10 years, what if it happened next week?” So said Bill LaPlante, the Pentagon’s chief arms buyer, referring to the Army’s Indo-Pacific Command. He spoke at a conference on defense procurement at George Mason University in Virginia this month.

“What do we have in any measure of quantity? That will be really effective? Those are the questions we’re asking ourselves right now,” he said.

Read more: Biden’s low-key strategy to prevent Russia from using nuclear weapons

The military uses many of the same munitions that have proven most critical in Ukraine, including High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, known as HIMARS, Stinger missiles and 155mm howitzer shells, and is now reviewing its supply requirements, Doug Bush, the assistant secretary of the military for acquisition, told reporters Monday.

“They see what Ukraine is using, what we can produce and how quickly we can ramp up, all factors that you would work on, ‘Okay, how (big) should your pre-war stock be?’ said Bush. “The slower you go up, the bigger the pile should be at the beginning.”

The military aid packages the US sends draw inventory from stockpiles or finance contracts with industry to ramp up production. At least $19 billion in military aid has been pledged so far, including 924,000 artillery rounds for 155mm howitzers, more than 8,500 Javelin anti-tank systems, 1,600 Stinger anti-aircraft systems and hundreds of vehicles and drones. It has also delivered advanced air defense systems and 38 HIMARS, although the Pentagon does not disclose how much munitions it sends with the missile systems.

The infusion of guns raises questions on Capitol Hill.

This month, the administration asked Congress to provide $37 billion more in military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine in the post-election legislative session, and to approve it before Republicans take control of the House in January. House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy of California, who is seeking to become speaker, has warned that Republicans would not support writing a “blank check” for Ukraine.

Stocks cannot be replenished quickly even with fresh money. Several of the most vital systems in Ukraine had their production lines shut down years ago. Keeping a production line open is expensive, and the military had other spending priorities.

The Pentagon awarded Raytheon a $624 million contract for 1,300 new Stinger missiles in May, but the company said it cannot increase production until next year due to parts shortages.

“The Stinger line closed in 2008,” LaPlante said. “Really, who did that? We’ve done it all. You did it. We did it,” he said, referring to Congress and the Pentagon’s decision not to stop production of the Army’s anti-aircraft munitions, which can be soldier-launched or mounted on a platform or truck. to fund.

Based on an analysis of previous military budget documents, Mark Cancian, senior adviser to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, estimates that the 1,600 Stinger systems the US supplied to Ukraine represent about a quarter of the total arsenal.

Read more: Exclusive: Ukraine’s Secret Attempt to Acquire U.S. Aircraft

The HIMARS system, which Ukraine has used so effectively in its counteroffensive, faces some of the same challenges, LaPlante said.

“Now what saves Ukraine, and that everyone around the world wants, is that we have stopped its production,” he said.

Production of HIMARS was shut down by the military from about 2014 to 2018, LaPlante said. The military is now trying to increase production to eight per month, or 96 per year, Bush said.

The effectiveness of HIMARS in Ukraine has increased interest elsewhere as well. Poland, Lithuania and Taiwan have placed orders, even as the US is working to rush more to Ukraine. If the conflict continues and more HIMARS munitions are prioritized for Ukraine, that could potentially limit US troop access to live-fire training rounds.

The Pentagon this month announced a $14.4 million contract to accelerate production of new HIMARS to replenish its supplies.

“This conflict has revealed that ammunition production in the United States and with our allies is likely to be insufficient for major land wars,” said Ryan Brobst, an analyst with the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

The US also recently announced it would supply Ukraine with four Avenger air defense systems, portable launchers that can be mounted on tracked or wheeled vehicles, to provide another closer-range option against the Iranian drones used by the Russian armed forces. used. But the Avenger systems also rely on Stinger missiles.

Sabrina Singh, the Pentagon’s deputy press secretary, said concerns about supplies were being taken into account.

“We wouldn’t have delivered these Stinger missiles if we didn’t feel we could,” Singh said at a recent Pentagon briefing.

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