The intense firefight over Ukraine is forcing 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 aim to supply Ukraine for a war with Russia that could last years longer, but also as they anticipate a potential conflict. with China.
Russia fires up to 20,000 rounds 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 howitzers, Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and now NASAMS air defense munitions, and thousands of small arms fire.
Much of Ukraine’s firepower is provided by US government-funded weapons that are pushed to the front lines almost weekly. On Wednesday, the Biden administration announced additional aid that will provide an additional 20 million small arms ammunition to Kyiv.
“We haven’t been in a position where we only have a few days of critical munitions left,” Pentagon Comptroller Michael McCord told reporters this month. “But we are now supporting a partner who is.”
US defense production lines are not sized to supply a major ground war, and some, like the Stinger, have already been shut down.
This puts pressure on US reserves and officials question whether US arms stockpiles are large enough. Would the United States be prepared to respond to a major conflict today, for example if China invaded Taiwan?
“What would happen if something exploded at Indo-Pacom? Not in five years, not in 10 years, what if it happened next week? Bill LaPlante, the Pentagon’s main arms buyer, said, referring to the army’s Indo-Pacific Command. He spoke at a defense procurement conference this month at George Mason University in Virginia.
“What do we have in any quantity? Will it really be effective? These are the questions we are asking right now,” he said.
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 howitzers, and is currently reviewing its storage needs, Doug Bush, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, told reporters Monday.
“They see what Ukraine is using, what we can produce and how fast we can ramp up, all of which are factors that you’ll be working on, ‘OK, how (big) your pre-war reserve does it have to be? have ?” says Bush. “The slower you accelerate, the bigger the stack should be at the start.”
The military aid programs that the United States sends pull stockpiles from stockpiles or finance contracts with industry to increase production. At least $19 billion in military assistance has been committed to date, including 924,000 155mm howitzer artillery rounds, more than 8,500 Javelin anti-tank systems, 1,600 Stinger anti-aircraft systems and hundreds of vehicles and drones. It also provided advanced air defense systems and 38 HIMARS, although the Pentagon does not disclose how many rounds of ammunition it sends with the rocket systems.
Weapons infusion raises questions on Capitol Hill.
This month, the administration asked Congress to provide an additional $37 billion in military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine in the post-election legislative session, and to approve it before Republicans take over. House scrutiny in January. Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, who is seeking to become president, warned that Republicans would not support writing a “blank cheque” for Ukraine.
Even with fresh money, stocks cannot be replenished quickly. Several of the most vital systems in Ukraine saw 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 would not be able to ramp up production until next year due to shortages of weapons. rooms.
“The Stinger line was shut down in 2008,” LaPlante said. “Really, who did this? We have all done it. You did it. We did it,” he said, referring to the decision by Congress and the Pentagon not to fund continued production of the Army’s anti-aircraft munition, which can be launched by a soldier or mounted on a platform or truck.
Based on an analysis of past Army budget documents, Center for Strategic and International Studies senior adviser Mark Cancian estimates that the 1,600 Stinger systems the United States has supplied to Ukraine represent about a quarter of his total arsenal.
The HIMARS system, which Ukraine has used so effectively in its counteroffensive, faces some of the same challenges, LaPlante said.
“The thing now that saves Ukraine, and that everyone in the world wants, we stopped production of it,” he said.
Production of HIMARS was halted by the military from around 2014 to 2018, LaPlante said. The military is now trying to ramp up production to eight a month, or 96 a year, Bush said.
The effectiveness of HIMARS in Ukraine has also increased interest elsewhere. Poland, Lithuania and Taiwan have placed orders, even as the United States tries to rush more to Ukraine. If the conflict drags on and more HIMARS ammunition is prioritized for Ukraine, it could potentially limit US troops’ access to cartridges for live-fire training.
The Pentagon this month announced a $14.4 million contract to ramp up production of new HIMARS to replenish inventory.
“This conflict has revealed that munitions production in the United States and with our allies is likely insufficient for major land wars,” said Ryan Brobst, analyst at the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. .
The United States also recently announced that it will supply Ukraine with four Avenger air defense systems, portable launchers that can be mounted on tracked or wheeled vehicles, to provide another shorter-range option against Iranian drones used by Russian forces. But Avenger systems also rely on Stinger missiles.
Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh said stockpile concerns had been addressed.
“We wouldn’t have provided these Stinger missiles if we didn’t think we could,” Singh said during a recent Pentagon briefing.
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