US aid to Ukraine is putting pressure on the Pentagon's weapons stockpile

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

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

Russia fires up to 20,000 rounds a day, ranging from automatic rifle bullets to cruise missiles the size of a truck. Ukraine responds with up to 7,000 rounds per day, firing 155mm howitzers, Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and now NASAMS Air Defense Munitionsand thousands of small arms shots.

Much of Ukraine’s firepower is delivered through weapons funded by the US government, which are sent almost weekly to the front lines. On Wednesday, the Biden administration announced an additional round of assistance which will provide another 20 million small arms rounds to Kyiv.

“We have not been in a position where we have just a few days of critical munitions left,” Pentagon Comptroller Michael McCord told reporters this month. “But now we’re supporting a partner who is.”

US defense production lines are not scaled to deliver major land warfare, but some, such as for the stingthey were previously closed.

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

“What if something goes off at Indo-Pacom? Not in five years, not in 10 years, what if it happens next week?” Bill La Plante, the Pentagon’s top arms buyer, said, referring to the military’s Indo-Pacific Command. He spoke at a defense acquisition conference this month at George Mason University in Virginia.

“What do we have in any quantity? Will this really be effective? Those are the questions we’re asking right now,” he said.

Read more: Biden’s modest strategy to stop Russia from using nuclear weapons

The military uses many of the same munitions that proved most critical in Ukraine, including highly mobile artillery rocket systems known as HIMARSStinger missiles and 155mm howitzers and is now revising its own inventory requirementsDoug Bush, the Army’s assistant secretary for acquisition, told reporters Monday.

“They see what Ukraine is using, what we can produce and how quickly we can ramp up, those are all factors that you would work on, ‘Okay, how (big) should your pre-war stockpile be?'” Bush said. “The slower you evolve, the bigger the stack needs to be at the beginning.”

The military aid packages the U.S. sends either draw supplies from stockpiles or finance contracts with industry to increase production. At least $19 billion in military aid has been provided to date, 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. Advanced air defense systems and 38 HIMARS are also provided, although the Pentagon did not disclose how many rounds it is sending with the missile systems.

The influx of weapons is raising questions on Capitol Hill.

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

Even with fresh money, stocks cannot be quickly replenished. The production lines of several of the systems that proved most important in Ukraine were 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 parts shortages.

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

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

Read more: Exclusive: Inside Ukraine’s Secret Effort to Get US Jets

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

“The thing that is now saving Ukraine and that everyone in the world wants, we stopped its production,” he said.

Production of HIMARS was halted by the Army from about 2014 to 2018, LaPlante said. The Army is now trying to increase production to eight a month, or 96 a year, Bush said.

The effectiveness of HIMARS in Ukraine has raised interest elsewhere. Poland, Lithuania and Taiwan have entered orders, although the US is working to push more into Ukraine. If the conflict drags on and more HIMARS munitions are a priority for Ukraine, this could potentially limit US troops’ access to live-fire training rounds.

This month, the Pentagon announced a $14.4 million contract to accelerate production of new HIMARS for replenishment.

“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, 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 Systemsportable launchers that can be mounted on tracked or wheeled vehicles to provide another shorter-range option against Iranian drones used by Russian forces. But the Avenger systems also rely on Stinger missiles.

Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh said concerns about the stockpile have been taken into account.

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

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