US arms resupply a matter of ’emergency’ amid huge shipments to Ukraine

The United States is expected to boost its military assistance to Ukraine in the coming days, with the Senate expected to pass a bill granting kyiv billions in additional weapons and military assistance. But the sheer scale of US arms donations has sharply reduced its own supplies – and analysts warn it will take time to replace much of that equipment.

Washington has sent more than $3.5 billion worth of weapons since the invasion of Russia – including Javelin anti-tank missiles, shoulder-mounted Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, M777 howitzer artillery pieces and the new Switchblade and Phoenix Ghost kamikaze-type drone systems. Now, the $40 billion bill the House passed on Tuesday will take all that military assistance to another level after its scheduled passage through the Senate.

The new package includes $6 billion for defense assistance, including weapons and training; $8.7 billion to replenish stocks of US military equipment that Ukraine has already received; and an additional $11 billion in the Presidential Drawdown Authority, which allows the White House to send emergency supplies without congressional approval. Much of the remaining money will go to non-military purposes like humanitarian aid to refugees and economic aid to Ukraine.

Concerns on Capitol Hill

The scale of these arms transfers to Ukraine has raised questions about whether the United States is depleting its stockpiles – particularly given the need for contingency plans in case tensions with South Korea North, Iran or even China would spiral out of control.

Two senior members of the House Armed Services Committee have expressed concern about the dwindling US Stinger inventory. The Pentagon has not bought any for nearly two decades, while manufacturer Raytheon has warned it has limited stocks of the needed parts.

The committee’s chairman, Washington Democrat Adam Smith, and his highest-ranking Republican, Mike Rogers of Alabama, wrote to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley in March, saying there was an “urgency” to the Stinger inventory issue.

“I asked the DoD [Department of Defence] for almost two months for a plan to replenish our Stinger inventory as well as our Javelin launch units,” Rogers told The Associated Press in early May. “I fear that without a readily available replacement or fully active production lines, we could leave Ukraine and our NATO allies in a vulnerable position.”

“We can double production every year”

“The United States sent about a third of its inventory of Javelins and Stingers; I did my own calculations and the DoD backed them up,” said Mark Cancian, a former US Marine colonel and government expert on Pentagon budget strategy, now a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC. .

The United States has sent a large portion of its stockpiles of the two new Switchblade and Phoenix Ghost drone systems, Cancian continued, saying this is not unusual as they are relatively untested and Washington would like to have a clearer idea of how they work: “They’re new systems – they’re almost experimental – so it’s no surprise that we sent in just about all of our inventory.

“We have not sent a large number of towed guns of the M777 artillery system, but we do not have many spare parts; the 90s we donated are pretty much all the inventory we have, so if we send more, it looks like we’ll have to take them from reserve units – and that’s very sensitive,” Cancian continued.

Of all these weapons, the javelin has acquired the greatest symbolic importance. Indeed, Biden visited Lockheed Martin’s Javelin plant in Alabama earlier this month as he advocated for the new military assistance program – praising the anti-tank missiles for ‘making a gigantic difference’ for the military. Ukrainian.

Cancian warned that it will take some time for the United States to replenish those supplies: “We build about 800 Javelins a year – with maybe another 200 overseas through foreign sales – and we sent about 5,500 to Ukraine. I guess we can probably double production every year. But there is a lag of about 24 months when ramping up production – so it might be another four or five years before we can replenish our stocks.

Historically, defense companies and their personnel have tended to make necessary adjustments when an absolutely urgent need arises, noted Trevor Taylor, senior research professor of defense management at the Royal United Services Institute in London: companies themselves do it; staff can make extra efforts to increase their output, for example by switching to weekend work. People who work in this industry tend to recognize that they contribute to national security, so they react when national security imposes certain pressures. You could see this in Britain during the Falklands War, when the Union Jack was mounted in defense factories.

“We will have to adapt”

The United States has a rich history of increasing the production of its defense industry when circumstances demand it – most memorable when it entered World War II and threw its manufacturing power into the creation of a military machine.

However, analysts say it is much more difficult to boost defense production in the current economic environment. Angered by skills shortages, supply chain crises and signs of overheating, the current situation is a far cry from the aftermath of the Great Depression – which left the US economy with huge spare capacity for production. military.

The challenge is much greater today than it was then, said Michael O’Hanlon, Senior Fellow and Director of Foreign Policy Research at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC: “It’s not just that defense contractors are struggling to get people to work. for Starbucks to work for them is that the people who work at Starbucks don’t have the necessary skills; the United States has a deficit of about 6 million people who have the skills necessary for the economy as a whole.

“In theory, the defense industry can solve this problem by paying people more, thereby attracting well-trained workers,” O’Hanlon continued. But that would still leave the problem that the US defense industry “can’t generate the contractor base that it should have at home, which in many cases has moved overseas, so we’re come to realize that we are too dependent on foreign supplies”.

For its part, the Pentagon is trying to address supply chain issues, holding weekly meetings with defense contractors to help them resolve issues — finding new suppliers for elusive parts, for example.

And the US military has many different weapons that offer the same capabilities, Undersecretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks told The Economist: “People walk down the street talking about Javelins, but the reality is that we provide our anti-tank systems,” she put it.

This factor gives the United States the flexibility it needs to continue supplying arms to Ukraine, Cancian said: “We must always give arms to Ukraine and not endanger our security. We will have to adapt what we give them. We can give them TOW anti-tank missiles instead of Javelins, we can give them older howitzers instead of new ones, and our European allies can do the same.

“You would hate to see us take that option away”

At the same time, in an increasingly volatile and unpredictable world — where the war in Ukraine is the most pressing of the many defense and security challenges facing the United States — O’Hanlan said his military must ensure that she maintains her varied arsenal: “We” have other means of shooting down planes than Stingers. But you’d hate to see us take that option away.

Smith and Rogers of the House Armed Services Committee were “correct” to be concerned about the U.S.’s inventory cuts, O’Hanlon said. When people say that even if their stock is reduced, the United States could develop a new version of its four-decade-old Stinger system, for example, “it should not be a source of comfort to hear this argument”, he argued.

“It is a question of a certain urgency; a question of what we can do in the next 12 to 14 months,” concluded O’Hanlon. “No one should feel like it’s an adequate answer to say we’re producing new weapon systems, because – even though we already have skilled workers, even though it’s a matter of capacity as well as technical know-how – it already takes about two years to do this.”

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