Pentagon and industry officials acknowledged they are still figuring out how to arm Ukraine in their first public comments on the issue.
According to Pentagon budget chief Mike McCord, high-end conflicts consume a lot of munitions and weaponry. However, they have yet to determine where the supply chains are limited.
The United States has “not been in a position where we’ve gotten only a few days of some critical ammunition left,” McCord said, “but we are now supporting a partner who is.”
Senior Pentagon and business officials insist that efforts are finally picking up to supplant the weapons that the United States and its allies have sent to Ukraine, depleting stockpiles that are deemed crucial to intimidating China or other possible adversaries for years to come.
“As we work with industry to accelerate production on both replenishment systems and direct procurements under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative or USAI, we’re using a number of tools to get the funding moving, and the contracting happening quickly,” Bill LaPlante, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, said during a briefing today at the Pentagon.
The Ukrainians are using up almost all of the 155mm artillery rounds that have been recently delivered. By the spring, Pentagon notes, we will be able to deliver 20,000 rounds per month.
However, it will take time to produce enough of them, adding that the US will reach a rate of 40,000 rounds per month by the spring of 2025.
Rebuilding plants that produced artillery, rockets, missiles, and air defense systems for peacetime efficiency rather than wartime production is proving to be a challenging endeavor.
Gregory Hayes, the CEO of Raytheon Technologies, noted during a panel discussion that we invest a lot in some very sophisticated large systems, yet we do not invest enough in the munitions required to sustain them. He lamented that we have yet to focus on meeting the war reserves needed to maintain a long-term struggle.
According to the Army’s top buyer, major weapons purchases will take time.
According to Doug Bush, people have forgotten that industrial mobilization is never instantaneous because they last saw one a while ago.
“People haven’t seen one in a while,” Doug Bush said in an interview, “so I think we’ve forgotten that with true industrial mobilization, there’s always a time aspect to it and it’s never instantaneous.”
“I think we’re closer to a wartime mode, which has been something I’ve been working on to build,” he added.
Officials are trying to overcome the Pentagon’s limitations as they prepare next year’s budget request.
There are discussions with congressional defense committees on how to buy munitions using multiyear contracts—a method that DoD uses to save money and ensure continuous production for aircraft and ships—for example.
The Pentagon may establish a fund to purchase weapons that can be quickly transferred or sold to partners—such as Taiwan—if a conflict arises.
According to McCord, the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have demonstrated that ‘having precisely what you require, when you need it might not be the right approach.
McCord said that lawmakers are reluctant to provide the Pentagon with a blank check. However, he is hopeful they can work out an agreement. At the forum, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle agreed that funding must continue in the next Congress, even as some conservatives balked at the cost.
The industrial base capability has to be matched with any new pot of money dedicated to munitions production.
“What is doable in the next 12 months with the industrial base workforce and supply chain as it exists today?” he asked.
He cited the Biden administration’s $38 billion emergency funding request for Ukraine as a positive sign.
“The supplemental that we have pending now has some explicit funding in it for industrial base capacity expansion.”
Others, on the other hand, claim that the contracting process needs to be faster and more robust to get the industry firing at the level it needs to be.
Ellen Lord, a former Pentagon weapons chief and CEO of Textron Systems, said that to produce all of these munitions, we have to get production contracts out there.
She ridiculed lumpy contracts in favor of longer-term ones to compel companies to make the investments required to boost production.
Lord also said that the US should make it easier for allied nations to build American weapons by sharing engineering specs.
Barriers to data packages need to be broken down to allow Australia, Canada, and the UK to begin manufacturing, she said. Because we are not manufacturing, we do not have the goods.
It will take a lot more time and money to complete it.
Dan Jablonsky, the CEO of Maxar, the commercial satellite imagery corporation that has given the world a view of the Ukraine conflict, is concerned about the loss of armaments. He believes that the industrial base in the United States, which has been playing a role in supplying a view of the conflict, cannot manufacture massive amounts of World War II-style weapons or even enough supplies to fight a local conflict.
The ever-ballooning price tag has given Americans an increased appetite for legislation.
Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), a former DoD and CIA official, said we should all support the Ukrainians as much as possible. She knocked on 80,000 doors and found that people were sympathetic to the Ukrainian cause but also questioned whether the US should continue to give billions of dollars in aid.
“So I think elected officials have to be able to articulate what the plan is here,” she added in an interview. “And there’s certainly a contingent on both the right and the left who are ready to be done with Ukraine in Congress.”
Some veterans of Reagan’s administration who attended the forum found all the chatter about having to outlast the Russians rather surreal.
“Nobody thought this would happen again,” said Dov Zakheim, who served as a senior defense policy official for Reagan and as the top budget official under President George W. Bush. “We almost brought Russia into NATO.”