WASHINGTON (AP) – The intense firefight against Ukraine has the Pentagon reconsidered its weapons stockpiles. If another major war broke out today, would the United States have enough ammunition to fight?
It’s a question Pentagon planners face not only as they aim to supply Ukraine for a war with Russia that could span years, but also as they look ahead to a potential conflict with China.
Russia fires as many as 20,000 rounds a day, ranging from bullets to automatic rifles to truck-sized cruise missiles. Ukraine responds with as many as 7,000 rounds a 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 supplied through US government-funded weapons that are pushed almost weekly to the front lines. On Wednesday, the Biden administration announced an additional round of aid it will provide 20 million more rounds of small arms ammunition to Kiev.
“We have not been in a position where we only have a few days of critical munitions left,” Pentagon Comptroller Michael McCord told reporters this month. “But we are now supporting a partner who is.”
US defense production lines are not scaled to deliver a major land war, and some, as for the Stingerwas previously closed down.
That puts pressure on U.S. reserves and prompts officials to question whether U.S. weapons stockpiles are large enough. Would the US be ready to respond to a major conflict today, for example if China invaded Taiwan?
“What would happen if something blew up in Indo-Pacom? Not five years from now, not 10 years from now, what if it happened next week?” Bill LaPlante, 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 degree of quantity? Will it actually be effective? Those are the questions we’re asking right now,” he said.
The Army uses many of the same munitions that have proven most critical in Ukraine, including High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, known as HIMARSStinger missiles and 155mm howitzer rounds, and is now reviewing its 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 fast we can ramp up, all factors you would work into, ‘OK, how (big) should your pre-war inventory be?’ Bush said. “The slower you ramp up, the bigger the stack needs to be at the start.”
The military aid packages that the US sends either draw inventory from inventories or finance contracts with industry to increase production. At least $19 billion in military aid has been committed 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 has also delivered advanced air defense systems and 38 HIMARS, although the Pentagon does not disclose how many rounds of munitions it sends with the missile systems.
The infusion of weapons is raising questions on Capitol Hill.
This month, the administration asked Congress to provide $37 billion more in military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine in the post-election legislative session and to approve it before Republicans take control of the House in January. House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy of California, who is seeking to become speaker, has warned that Republicans would not support writing a “blank check” for Ukraine.
Even with fresh money, stocks cannot be quickly replenished. Several of the systems that proved most vital in Ukraine had their production lines shut down years ago. Keeping a production line open is expensive, and the Army 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 will not be able to ramp up production until next year because of a parts shortage.
“The Stinger line was shut down in 2008,” LaPlante said. “Really, who did it? We all did 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 soldier-launched or mounted anti-aircraft munitions on a platform or truck.
Based on an analysis of past Army budget documents, Center for Strategic and International Studies senior adviser Mark Cancian estimates that the 1,600 Stinger systems the US has provided to Ukraine represent about a quarter of its total arsenal.
The HIMARS system, which Ukraine has used so effectively in its counteroffensive, faces some of the same challenges, LaPlante said.
“That which now saves Ukraine, and which everyone around the world wants, we stopped the production of it,” he said.
HIMARS production was shut down by the Army from about 2014 to 2018, LaPlante said. The Army is now trying to ramp up production to build up to eight a month, or 96 a year, Bush said.
HIMARS effectiveness in Ukraine has also increased interest elsewhere. Poland, Lithuania and Taiwan have placed orders, although the US is working to rush more to Ukraine. If the conflict drags on and more HIMARS munitions are prioritized for Ukraine, it could potentially limit US troops’ access to the live-fire training rounds.
The Pentagon announced this month a $14.4 million contract to speed up production of new HIMARS to replenish their stockpiles.
“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 that it would supply Ukraine with four Avenger air defense systemsportable launchers that can be mounted on tracked or wheeled vehicles to provide an even shorter range against the Iranian drones used by Russia’s forces. But the Avenger systems also rely on Stinger missiles.
Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh said concerns about stockpiles were being taken into account.
“We wouldn’t have delivered these Stinger missiles if we didn’t feel we could,” Singh said at a recent Pentagon briefing.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine