POLITICS

American aid to Ukraine puts pressure on the Pentagon’s weapons stockpile – KGET 17

WASHINGTON (AP) – The intense fighting over Ukraine has prompted the Pentagon to review its weapons stockpile. If another major war broke out today, would the United States have enough ammunition to fight it?

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

Russia fires as many as 20,000 rounds a day, from automatic rifle rounds to truck-sized cruise missiles. Ukraine responds with as many as 7,000 rounds per day, firing 155 mm howitzers, Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, and now NASAMS air defense ammunition, and thousands of small arms rounds.

Most of Ukraine’s firepower is supplied by US government-funded weapons, which are pushed onto the front lines almost every week. On Wednesday, the Biden administration announced an additional round of aid that will provide Kyiv with another 20 million rounds of small arms ammunition.

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

US defense production lines are ill-equipped for a major land war, and some, like the Stinger, have been shut down before.

That’s putting a strain on US reserves, and officials are questioning whether America’s weapons stockpile is large enough. Would the US be prepared to respond to a major conflict today, for example if China invaded Taiwan?

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

“What do we have in any quantity? Will it really be effective? Those are the questions we are asking at the moment,” he said.

The military uses many of the same munitions that have proven most critical in Ukraine, including high-mobility missile systems known as HIMARS, Stinger missiles and 155mm howitzer rounds, and is now reassessing its stockpile needs, Doug Bush, the Army’s assistant secretary for acquisition, said. told reporters on Monday.

“They see what Ukraine is using, what we can produce and how quickly we can scale up, and those are all factors that you would address, ‘OK, how (big) should your pre-war stockpile be? Bush said. “The slower you progress, the bigger the crowd at the beginning.”

Military aid packages that the US sends either pull supplies from stockpiles or finance contracts with industry to increase production. To date, at least $19 billion in military aid has been allocated, including 924,000 155mm howitzer artillery rounds, more than 8,500 Javelin anti-armor systems, 1,600 Stinger anti-aircraft systems, and hundreds of vehicles and drones. It has also provided advanced air defense systems and 38 HIMARS, although the Pentagon does not disclose how many rounds of ammunition it is sending with the missile systems.

The gun infusion is raising questions on Capitol Hill.

This month, the administration asked Congress to provide $37 billion in additional 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, warned that Republicans will not support writing a “blank check” to Ukraine.

Even with fresh money, stocks cannot be replenished quickly. Several systems that proved to be the most important in Ukraine were shut down production lines a few years ago. Keeping a production line open is expensive, and the military 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 would not be able to ramp up production until next year because of parts shortages.

“The Stinger line was shut down in 2008,” LaPlante said. “Really, who did that? We’ve all done it. You did it. We did it,” he said, referring to the decision by Congress and the Pentagon 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 previous 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 delivered to Ukraine represent roughly one-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.

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

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

The effectiveness of HIMARS in Ukraine has increased interest elsewhere. Poland, Lithuania and Taiwan have issued orders, even as the US works to rush more into Ukraine. If the conflict drags on and more HIMARS munitions become a priority for Ukraine, this could potentially limit US troops’ access to live fire training rounds.

The Pentagon announced this month a $14.4 million contract to accelerate production of the new HIMARS to replenish the stockpile.

“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 systems, man-portable 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.

The Pentagon’s deputy press secretary, Sabrina Singh, said concerns about supplies have been taken into account.

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

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Follow AP coverage of the war in Ukraine at: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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