HO CHI MINH CITY –
The intense firefight over Ukraine prompted the Pentagon to rethink its weapons stockpile. If another major war broke out today, would the United States have enough ammunition to fight it?
That’s a question Pentagon planners face, not only as they aim to supply Ukraine with a war with Russia that could drag on for many more years, but also as they look ahead. before a potential conflict with China.
Russia is firing up to 20,000 rounds a day, from ammunition for automatic rifles to truck-sized cruise missiles. Ukraine is responding with 7,000 rounds a day, firing 155 mm grenades, Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and now NASAMS anti-aircraft ammunition, and thousands of small arms rounds.
Much of Ukraine’s firepower is being supplied through US government-funded weapons that are pushed to the front lines almost weekly. On Wednesday, the Biden administration announced an additional round of aid that would provide an additional 20 million rounds of small arms ammunition to Kiev.
Michael McCord, who controls the Pentagon, told reporters this month: “We’re not in a situation where we have only a few days left on certain key weapons.” “But we are currently supporting a partner is.”
U.S. defense production lines were not scaled up to provide for a major land war, and some, as for Stinger, were previously closed.
That put pressure on US stockpiles and led officials to question whether America’s stockpile of weapons is large enough. Would the United States be ready to respond to a major conflict today, such as if China invaded Taiwan?
“What if something explodes in Indo-Pacom? Not 5 years from now, not 10 years from now, what if it happens next week?” Bill LaPlante, the Pentagon’s top arms buyer, said, referring to the military’s Indo-Pacific Command. He was speaking at a defense acquisition conference this month at George Mason University in Virginia.
“What do we have with any degree of quantity? Will that really work? Those are the questions we’re asking right now,” he said.
The military uses many of the same weapons that have proven to be the most important in Ukraine, including the High Mobility Artillery Missile System, known as HIMARS, Stinger missiles and 155 mm grenades, and are currently in service. review its stockpile requirements, Doug Bush, assistant military secretary for acquisitions, told reporters Monday.
“They’re looking at what Ukraine is using, what we can produce and how quickly we can ramp it up, all of these are factors where you would take into account, ‘Okay, inventory. How big is your pre-war reserve?” Bush said. “The slower you accelerate, the larger the pile required at the start.”
Military aid packages sent by the United States can draw inventory from stockpiles or fund industry contracts to boost production. To date, at least $19 billion in military aid has been pledged, including 924,000 rounds for 155mm howitzers, more than 8,500 Javelin anti-tank systems, 1,600 Stinger air defense systems and hundreds of vehicles and machines. unmanned flight. It also supplies advanced air defense systems and 38 HIMARS, although the Pentagon did not disclose the number of ammunition it sent with the missile systems.
The arms transfer is raising questions on Capitol Hill.
This month, the administration asked Congress to provide an additional $37 billion in military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine during the post-election legislative session and through it before Republicans take control of the House of Representatives on Wednesday. January. House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy of California, who is seeking to become a speaker, has warned that Republicans would not support writing a “blank check” for Ukraine.
Even with fresh money, the stockpile cannot be replenished quickly. Some of the systems that proved to be the most important in Ukraine were decommissioned many years ago. Keeping a production line running is expensive, and the Army has other spending priorities.
The Pentagon awarded Raytheon a $624 million contract for 1,300 new Stinger missiles in May, but the company said it won’t be able to increase production until next year due to a lack of components.
“The Stinger line was discontinued in 2008,” LaPlante said. “Really, who did it? We all did it. You did it. We did it,” he said, referring to the decision by Congress and the Pentagon to be incompetent. support the continued production of Army air defense weapons, which can be launched by a soldier or mounted on a platform or truck.
Based on an analysis of previous Army budget documents, senior adviser to the Center for Strategic and International Studies Mark Cancian estimates that the 1,600 Stinger systems that the United States has supplied to Ukraine represent about a quarter of the total. the country’s total arsenal.
Mr. LaPlante said the HIMARS system that Ukraine used so effectively in its counterattack also faced some of the same challenges.
“What is saving Ukraine now and what everyone in the world wants, we have stopped producing it,” he said.
Production of the HIMARS, LaPlante said, was discontinued by the Army between about 2014 and 2018. Bush said the military is now trying to ramp up production to build up to eight units per month, or 96 units per month. .
The effectiveness of HIMARS in Ukraine has also raised interest elsewhere. Poland, Lithuania and Taiwan have placed orders, even as the United States is trying to push harder toward Ukraine. If the conflict drags on and more HIMARS ammunition is preferred for Ukraine, that could potentially limit the US military’s access to ammunition for live-fire training.
The Pentagon this month announced a $14.4 million contract to speed up production of new HIMARS to replenish its reserves.
“This conflict has revealed ammunition production in the United States and with its allies,” said Ryan Brobst, an analyst at the Center for Military and Political Power at Defense of Democracy. we may not have enough for major land wars.”
The United States also recently announced it would supply Ukraine with four Avenger air defense systems, mobile launchers that can be mounted on tracked or wheeled vehicles, to provide another short-range option against aircraft. Iranian drones are being used by Russian forces. But the Avenger systems also rely on the Stinger missile.
Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh said stockpile concerns were taken into account.
“We wouldn’t deliver these Stinger missiles if we didn’t feel we could,” Singh said at a recent Pentagon press conference.