President Joe Biden say what United Statess will continue to supply Ukraine with the weapons it needs to fight Russia for “as long as it takes”. Delivering on that promise is forcing the Pentagon and its NATO counterparts to change the way they do business.
The Department of Defense, desperate to meet Ukrainian demands for everything from artillery shells to the Patriot missile defense systemwhich the United States is willing to supply, is tackling a problem that has plagued weapons production for decades: finding ways to speed up assembly lines and lure in arms manufacturers with longer-term contracts to show that the The US military will not abandon a system once its immediate needs are met.
It has also raised larger questions about how the United States supplies itself and its allies for war. As Ukraine continues to push for more, and more advanced weapons, the United States must face the risk that its own stockpiles of some ground-based weapons will be depleted if it is suddenly forced to defend itself, to help Taiwan defend itself against China or to counter a North Korean military action.
The problem is especially acute because Russia is forcing Ukraine into a kind of war that some Pentagon planners believed was a thing of the past. While the US has focused money and production on stealth fighters, AI-augmented goggles and hypersonic weapons, Ukraine wants artillery shells, tanks and shoulder-fired missiles to repel Russian ground assaults..
“This is a very serious challenge, both for the NATO allies, who are seriously engaging, providing significant military aid, lethal aid to the Ukrainian military, and for the Ukrainian military itself, which is facing shortcomings,” Julianne Smith, US ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, declared on December 13.
The figures are staggering. As of December 9, the United States had delivered to Ukraine more than one million 155mm artillery shells, 180,000 105mm artillery shells, more than 8,500 Javelin anti-tank missiles, 4,200 precision-guided 155mm Excalibur artillery shells and 1,600 shoulder-mounted Stinger missiles.
Just as the Coronavirus pandemic exposed global supply failures for everything from microchips to kitchen cabinets, Ukraine’s war and its military needs have highlighted how vulnerable the Pentagon has become to supply shortages.
“My God, what would happen if something blew up” in the Indo-Pacific region, he said William LaPlante, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, at a conference last month. “Not in five years, not in ten. What if it happened next week?
“We all accepted the fact that just-in-time economics was the way to go,” he said.
But “just in time” means something different to the Department of Defense than it does to companies looking to fill orders in days or weeks.
Case in point: the national advanced surface-to-air missile systems that Ukraine covets to protect its skies. In November, the Pentagon expedited the delivery of the first two NASAMS to Ukraine by coordinating with partners and allies to use components from existing inventory, as well as using a contracting instrument that authorizes contractors to start work before a final agreement is reached. about the terms of the contract. This enabled the award of $182 million on August 26 for these first two systems.
A $1.2 billion contract awarded on November 30 was also accelerated, allowing Raytheon Technologies Corp.. start work on the production of another six systems for Ukraine in the coming years.
Another example is the HIMARS, the mobile rocket system that the Pentagon has been buying in limited numbers in recent years. The US has committed 38 of the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems to Ukraine, a small fraction of the 460 launchers in the Army and Marine Corps inventory. Lockheed Martin Corp. has produced at least 540 in all.
According to Jim Taiclet, CEO of Lockheed, the company has decided to increase production before the Pentagon formally requests it., with the aim of manufacturing 96 systems per year. That means doubling the pace of early 2022.
Adapting the defense procurement bureaucracy’s process and mindset to a “surge” mentality “requires sustained focus from senior management, and I think that’s what’s happening now,” he said. Eric Fanning, President of the Aerospace Industries AssociationIn an interview.
Regardless of what happens with Ukraine or Taiwan, some officials believe that US stockpiles of crucial munitions were too low anyway. “We would all like to have larger reserves than in recent years,” said Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth. “I think we are going to increase.”
Although the precise levels of certain munitions tend to be classified, there is an emerging consensus that stockpiles need to grow significantly. “If prior to Ukraine inventory levels were 1x, I think Ukraine has shown that those inventories probably need to be 1.5x or 2x,” Roman Schweizer of Cowen Washington Research Group said in an interview.
Ukraine’s insatiable need for more is exposing gaps. The increase in weapons production, spurred by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, slowed as the fighting subsided. Raytheon shut down its Stinger missile production in 2020.
Now the United States is trying to revive production, encouraging companies like Raytheon and Lockheed to get production lines back on track. It is also using the lessons learned from Operation Warp Speed, the whole-of-government effort to speed up the development of vaccines, tests and therapies to deal with Covid-19.
Until now, the Army is doing a good job of identifying systems to replace and planning for increased production capacity of 155mm shells and GPS-guided rockets for HIMARS, but the slowest part of the process “has been the hiring,” said Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Inhofe and committee chairman Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, crafted a provision in the annual defense policy bill that offers temporary authorizations to rebuild munitions stocks through the use of multi-year contracts that require congressional approval. .
Issuing multi-year procurement dollars will also “alleviate some of what we see happening in the supply chain,” Sheila Kahyaoglu, a defense analyst at Jefferies, said in an interview. The Pentagon has yet to issue any multi-year contracts to resupply Ukraine.
Behind all this is a cumbersome and painfully slow procurement process, thanks in part to legislative and regulatory safeguards in place to prevent unfair pricing.
“The problem is a tension in the system,” said Mark Cancian, a former White House defense budget examiner who now works at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Military planners want to replenish depleted inventories as soon as possible to mitigate risk. On the other hand, contracting officers must adhere to safeguards designed to prevent errors and abuses.”
The Pentagon is trying to reassure the public that the United States is not, in fact, running out of ammunition. In statements to the press on December 3, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the United States makes sure it has the inventory it needs to protect itself every time you receive requests from Ukraine.
“That hasn’t changed and it won’t change,” he said. “We have drawn capacity from our excess stock – what we have that was above and beyond what was necessary to defend ourselves.”
(c) 2022, Bloomberg – By Tony Capaccio and Courtney McBride