Russia fires as many as 20,000 rounds a day, from ammunition for automatic rifles to truck-sized cruise missiles. Ukraine responded with as many as 7,000 rounds a day, firing 155 mm howitzer rounds, Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and now NASAMS air defense munitionsand thousands of rounds of small arms fire.
Much of Ukraine’s firepower is supplied by US government-funded weapons that are pushed almost weekly to the front lines. On Wednesday, the Biden administration announced a additional round of assistance which will provide 20 million additional rounds of small arms ammunition to Kyiv.
“We’re not in a position where we only have a few days of some critical munitions left,” Pentagon comptroller Michael McCord told reporters this month. “But we are now supporting a partner that is.”
US defense production lines are not scaled to deliver a major ground war, and some, such as the Stingerwas closed before.
This has put pressure on US reserves and has officials questioning whether US arms stockpiles are sufficient. Is the US prepared to respond to a major conflict today, for example if China invades Taiwan?
“What if something blows up at Indo-Pacom? Not five years from now, not 10 years from now, what if it happens 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? That will be effective? Those are the questions we are 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 155 mm howitzer rounds, and now reviewing them stockpile requirementsDoug Bush, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, told reporters Monday.
“They see what Ukraine is using, what we can do and how fast we can do it, all the reasons you do, ‘OK, what (size) should your stockpile be before the war ?” Bush said. “The slower you ramp, the bigger the pile you need to start.”
Military aid packages sent to the US to take inventory from stockpiles or finance industrial contracts to boost production. At least $19 billion in military aid has been committed so far, 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. It also provided advanced air defense systems and 38 HIMARS, although the Pentagon did not disclose how many munitions it sent along with the rocket systems.
The infusion of weapons has raised 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 approved it before Republicans took 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 a “blank check” for Ukraine.
Even with the new currency, stockpiles cannot be replenished quickly. Many systems that proved most important in Ukraine had their production lines shut down years ago. Keeping a production line open is expensive, and the Army has other spending priorities.
The Pentagon was awarded Raytheon a $624 million contract for 1,300 new Stinger missiles in May, but the company says it won’t ramp up production until next year because of a parts shortage.
“The Stinger line was shut down in 2008,” LaPlante said. “Really, who did that? We all do. You made it. We did it,” he said, referring to the decision by Congress and the Pentagon not to fund the 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 Army budget documents, Center for Strategic and International Studies senior adviser Mark Cancian estimates that the 1,600 Stinger systems provided by the US to Ukraine represent about a quarter of the total arsenal this.
The HIMARS system, which Ukraine has used so effectively in its counteroffensive, faces some of the same challenges, LaPlante said.
“The thing that saved Ukraine today, and everyone around the world wants, we stopped doing 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.
The effectiveness of HIMARS in Ukraine has increased interest elsewhere, too. Poland, Lithuania and Taiwan have put in place orders, even as the US works to rush into Ukraine. If the conflict continues and more HIMARS munitions are prioritized for Ukraine, it could limit access to US troops on patrol for live-fire training.
The Pentagon this month announced a $14.4 million contract to accelerate the production of new HIMARS to replenish its stocks.
“This conflict has revealed that the production of munitions in the United States and with our allies may not be sufficient for major land wars,” said Ryan Brobst, an analyst at the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
The US also recently announced that it will give Ukraine four Avenger air defense systemportable launchers that can be mounted on tracked or wheeled vehicles, to provide another shorter option against Iranian drones used by Russian forces. But the Avenger’s systems also rely on Stinger missiles.
Pentagon Deputy Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said stockpile concerns are being considered.
“We wouldn’t have given these Stinger missiles if we didn’t feel we could,” Singh said at a recent Pentagon briefing.