Turns out the US Army wants to produce much more ammo, fast.
In order to meet a soaring demand for artillery shells from allies fighting Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine, the United States Army wants to nearly triple production in the coming years.
According to Doug Bush, the Army’s assistant secretary for acquisition, technology, and logistics, congress has already approved $600 million in industrial investments for Ukraine, in addition to the more than $600 million in emergency spending. The annual defense policy bill is still under discussion and includes multiyear contracts.
Contracts are reportedly already in place to triple 155mm production. Meanwhile, Bush said that additional funding on the Hill, if provided, would increase output twice as much. However, that would take years to accomplish.
“We want to be able to build our stocks not just where we started the war, but higher. We’re posturing for a pretty ― over a period of three years ― a dramatic increase in conventional artillery ammunition production.”
Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said that by the spring, the US will produce 14,000 155mm shells per month, and by 2025, 40,000 shells per month.
General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems, American Ordnance, and IMT Defense have recently been awarded contracts to produce and deliver 155mm artillery.
Pentagon officials see the war in Ukraine continuing indefinitely, draining US and allied stocks further, as the US has supplied Ukraine with more than 1 million artillery rounds. However, it’s unclear what the Ukrainian military’s mid- and long-term needs will be, and the US Army wants to be ready.
“We are in a position to support Ukraine, but it’s more the mid and long term,” Bush said. “By creating this capacity … if this war goes three or four years, we’ll be in a position to just vastly outproduce the Russians all by ourselves ― and if you combine that with our allies, then we’re just dwarfing their capability. They won’t be able to keep up.”
Bush said he is pushing to double production for the most in-demand precision munitions for the Ukrainian artillery: the Lockheed Martin-produced High Mobility Artillery Rocket System’s guided Multiple Launch Rocket System rounds and Javelins, a portable anti-tank weapon made by Lockheed and Raytheon.
“Whether you want to call it wartime contracting or emergency contracting, we can’t play around anymore. We can’t pussyfoot around with minimum-sustaining-rate buys of these munitions. It’s hard to think of something as high on everybody’s list as buying a ton of munitions for the next few years for our operational plans against China and continuing to supply Ukraine,” said a senior congressional aide who spoke to Defense News on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to communicate with the press.
The 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, passed by the Senate, seeks to provide Ukraine with the munitions it needs to combat Russia while replenishing US stockpiles; the legislation would also speed up the acquisition process. However, a compromise version of the bill was still being negotiated between the House and Senate last week.
Bush said that the Army could start planning for multiyear munitions purchases through the NDAA if next year’s appropriations legislation approves the effort.
Historically, the military has made “lumpy” ammunition purchases, resulting in a lack of robust production capacity in the defense industry, Ellen Lord, a former Pentagon acquisitions chief, told reporters. However, she believes that ammunition purchases should be ongoing because defense firms have yet to make capital investments without steady demand over time.
The industry should be ready to develop capacity over multiple years in response to the demand signal, Lord said.
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“So we have to be clear about the demand signal and the volumes over multiple years, and then industry will develop that capacity,” said Lord, who now works in the private defense sector. “But industry [executives] can’t go to their board of directors and say: ‘Hey, I think there’s going to be a lot of orders out there, so let’s spend $50 million to build a plant and hope.'”
At the conference, Raytheon’s CEO, Greg Hayes, said that the war’s consumption rates have far exceeded industrial capacity. For example, since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, he said that donation efforts have consumed Javelin production for five years and portable anti-aircraft Stinger system production for 13 years.
“So the question is: How are we going to resupply, restock the inventories?” Hayes said.
Production boost contracts have already begun, according to Wormuth. She mentioned the $1.2 billion contract awarded to Raytheon for six National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System batteries in Ukraine and the $431 million contract awarded to Lockheed to replenish donated HIMARS launchers as examples.
Wormuth said thanks to congress, we’ve pushed $6 billion to industry to assist with replenishment, enabling us to continue supplying Ukraine and replenishing our own stocks.
She noted that the Army works closely with industry to increase speed and capacity and address supply “chokepoints.”
Meanwhile, the Army is compressing training for Ukrainians to use donated weapons in order to increase the number of fighters. Military and Pentagon officials also shortened the contracting and delivery processes, from months to days, for NASAMS—once President Joe Biden decided to send them.
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