Pentagon, industry wrestle with how to boost weapons production for Ukraine

Pentagon, industry wrestle with how to boost weapons production for Ukraine

As Pentagon officials gauge the defense industry’s ability to ramp up arms production in response to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, firms are still grappling with pandemic-related supply chain and workforce woes.

Top defense executives are likely to face questions starting this week during quarterly earnings calls about how they’ll be able to overcome those issues. Experts say the answers are unclear.

According to Bill Greenwalt, who served as deputy undersecretary of defense for industrial policy during the George W. Bush administration, it has historically taken the U.S. defense industrial base 18 months to 3 years to get ready for conflicts.

“Our budget, appropriations, requirements, and acquisition systems are stuck in a peacetime mode where time doesn’t matter, and it will be difficult to pivot out of those processes quickly,” Greenwalt, now with the American Enterprise Institute, said in an email.

“The U.S. will face start-up production line issues, labor issues, supply chain issues, parts and machine tool obsolescence issues, time constraints certifying new suppliers and technical approaches, plus time waiting for budgets and contracts to be issued,” he added.

Last week, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks convened a meeting with representatives of eight major defense firms to discuss industry proposals to accelerate production of existing systems. The meeting was focused on satisfying the needs of the U.S., Ukraine and other allies, according to an official readout.

Andrew Hunter, who was performing the duties of undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, led a roundtable during the meeting to discuss ways of boosting production capacity for “weapons and equipment that can be exported rapidly, deployed with minimal training, and prove effective in the battlefield,” the readout said.

Boeing, L3 Harris Technologies, Raytheon Technologies, BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, HII, General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman all attended, according to DoD.

The gathering marked the second time in three months DoD leaders have convened a group of industry executives at the Pentagon. Hicks, with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, in early February met with hypersonics industry executives, who urged investment in testing infrastructure.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began Feb. 24, the U.S. has provided $2.6 billion in security assistance to Ukrainian forces, most from U.S. military stockpiles. An $800 million package announced last week was the seventh such drawdown package.

DoD says that as of April 14, it’s provided more than 1,400 Stinger anti-aircraft systems; 5,500 Javelin anti-armor systems; 700 Switchblade tactical unmanned aerial systems; 7,000 small arms; 50 million rounds of ammunition; and 18 155mm Howitzers with 40,000 155mm artillery rounds; 16 Mi-17 helicopters; hundreds of armored Humvees and 200 M113 Armored Personnel Carriers.

Last month, Congress finalized the fiscal year 2022 $1.5 trillion spending bill, which provides $13.6 billion in new aid for the Ukraine crisis. The money was in large part to restore military stocks of equipment already transferred to Ukrainian military units through the president’s drawdown authority.

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby assured reporters last week none of the military’s stocks for the systems are so low that the military’s readiness would be imminently affected. He described the discussion with CEOs as a precaution.

“As these packages go on, and as the need continues inside Ukraine, we want to … be ahead of the bow wave on that and not get into a point where it becomes a readiness issue,” he said.

One analysis by Mark Cancian, a Center for Strategic and International Studies senior adviser, estimated that, based on DoD’s own reporting, the U.S. military has probably given about one-third of its Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine and has between 20,000 to 25,000 left.

To ramp up from the U.S. military’s current buy of 1,000 per year to maximum capacity of about 6,480 Javelins a year would take a year, Cancian found. Replenishing U.S. stocks would require 32 months, unless the president invokes the Defense Production Act to prioritize deliveries of components to the manufacturer, a joint Lockheed-Raytheon venture.

“To get from 1,000 to 6,000 more quickly, you need some help,” Cancian said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.