The intense fighting over Ukraine has caused the Pentagon to reconsider its weapons stockpile. If another major war broke out today, would the United States have enough ammunition to fight?
That’s the question facing Pentagon planners as they not only look to equip Ukraine for what could be years of war with Russia, but also look to 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 up to 7,000 rounds per day, with 155 mm howitzer rounds, Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and now NASAMS anti-aircraft munitions and thousands of small arms fire.
Much of Ukraine’s firepower is provided by US government-sponsored weapons that are sent to the front lines almost weekly. On Wednesday, the Biden administration announced an additional round of aid that will provide Kiev with 20 million more small arms ammunition.
Pentagon chief Michael McCord told reporters this month that “we are not in a situation where we have several days of critical ammunition left.” “But we support the partner we have now.”
US defense production lines are not scaled to sustain a major land war, and some, such as the Stinger, have previously been shut down.
This is putting pressure on US stockpiles, and officials are questioning whether US weapons stockpiles are large enough. Would the US be prepared to respond to a major conflict today, for example if China invaded Taiwan?
“What if something explodes in Indo-Pacom? Not five years from now, not 10 years from now, if it happens next week?” Bill LaPlante, the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer, said this with reference to the military’s Indo-Pacific Command. He spoke this month at a defense procurement conference at George Mason University in Virginia.
“What do we have at any rate? Will it really be effective? These are the questions we are asking at this moment,” he said.
The Army is using the same munitions that have proven most critical in Ukraine, including Highly Mobile Artillery Missile Systems, known as HIMARS, Stinger missiles and 155mm howitzer rounds, and is currently reviewing stockpile requirements, Assistant Secretary of the Army Doug Bush told reporters Monday for the purchase. .
“They see what Ukraine is using, what we can produce and how fast we can grow, those are all factors that you’re going to work with: ‘Okay, what should your pre-war stockpile be?'” Bush said. should be.”
US military aid packages either draw inventory from stocks or contract with industry to increase production. At least $19 billion in military aid has been allocated to date, including 924,000 artillery rounds for 155 mm howitzers, more than 8,500 Javelin anti-tank systems, 1,600 Stinger anti-aircraft systems, and hundreds of vehicles and drones. It is also equipped with advanced air defense systems and 38 HIMARS, although the Pentagon did not say how many rounds it shipped with the missile systems.
The infusion of weapons raises questions on Capitol Hill.
This month, the administration asked Congress to approve another $37 billion in military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine in the post-election legislative session before Republicans take control of the House in January. California Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, who is running for Speaker of the House of Representatives, warned that Republicans will not support writing a “blank check” for Ukraine.
Even with fresh money, stocks cannot be replenished quickly. Production lines of several of the most vital systems in Ukraine were shut down years ago. Keeping the production line open is expensive, and the Army had other spending priorities.
The Pentagon awarded Raytheon a $624 million contract in May for 1,300 new Stinger missiles, but the company said it could not ramp up production until next year because of parts shortages.
“The Stinger line was discontinued in 2008,” LaPlante said. “Really, who did this? We’ve all done it. You did it. We did it,” he said, referring to Congress and the Pentagon’s decision not to fund continued production of the Army’s anti-aircraft munitions, which can be launched by a soldier or mounted on a platform or truck.
Based on an analysis of past military budget documents, Mark Cancian, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, estimates that the 1,600 Stinger systems the US has given to Ukraine constitute about a quarter of its total arsenal.
LaPlante said that the HIMARS system, which Ukraine has used very effectively in counterattack operations, faces the same problems.
“Now, what saved Ukraine and what everyone around the world wants, we stopped its production,” he said.
Production of HIMARS was shut down by the Army from about 2014 to 2018, LaPlante said. Bush said the military is now trying to increase production to eight per month, or 96 per year.
The effectiveness of HIMARS in Ukraine has sparked interest elsewhere. Poland, Lithuania and Taiwan ordered even as the US tried to rush Ukraine further. If the conflict drags on and more HIMARS munitions are preferred for Ukraine, this could potentially limit US troops’ access to rounds for live-fire training.
The Pentagon this month announced a $14.4 million contract to ramp up production of new HIMARS to boost its stockpiles.
“This conflict has shown that munitions production in the United States and with our allies is insufficient for major land wars,” said Ryan Brobst, an analyst at the Center for Military and Political Power at the Foundation for 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, a shorter-range option against Iranian drones used by Russian forces. But Avenger systems also rely on Stinger missiles.
Sabrina Singh, the Pentagon’s deputy press secretary, said concerns about stockpiles have been taken into account.
“If we couldn’t provide these Stinger missiles, we wouldn’t provide them,” Singh said at a recent Pentagon briefing.