by Micaela Burrow, The Daily Caller
- The U.S. has sent billions in military aid to Ukraine, depleting its own stocks of some weapons and munitions that some fear could weaken the American military should conflict erupt in other parts of the globe.
- While it’s not too late for the U.S. to adapt to increased demand for weapons, doing so will require increased investment in production to maintain U.S. military preparedness, experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
- “If we get this right, we would not only accelerate the end of the war in Ukraine, but meaningfully change Beijing’s willingness to engage in aggression in the future,” Oklahoma Republican Senator Jim Inhofe told the DCNF.
The U.S. needs to seriously invest more in weapons and ammunition if it wants to continue supporting Ukraine and brace for conflict with other great powers, experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Global efforts to support Ukraine’s resistance to the Russian invasion have triggered billions in spending to bolster Ukraine’s military, depleting U.S. stocks and raising concerns that the West may cripple its military opposite the rising threat from China. The U.S. will have to dramatically ramp up production, or otherwise risk further weakening the U.S. arsenal and adversely affecting America’s ability to react to dangers from China and other potential foes, experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
“For U.S. policy makers, the critical question regarding our policy towards Ukraine is quickly becoming more a what we can do for Ukraine, not necessarily what we should do,” Dan Caldwell, a senior advisor to Concerned Veterans for America and vice president for foreign policy at Stand Together, told the DCNF. “U.S. stockpiles of munitions are becoming dangerously depleted and it will take years for U.S. production capacity to catch up.” (RELATED: NATO Can’t Keep Up With Ukraine’s Latest Weapons Demand After Putin Once Again Escalates Attacks: REPORT)
As of Oct. 14, the U.S. has committed $17.6 billion in security assistance since the Russian invasion; since August, the Pentagon has withdrawn $10.5 in weapons and equipment directly from U.S. stocks via the president’s executive drawdown privilege.
That includes over 1,400 Stingers, over 8,500 Javelins, 38 coveted High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and eight National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS), according to a fact sheet dated Oct. 4. It also includes thousands of electronic communications and surveillance systems as well as “funding for training, maintenance, and sustainment.”
All of that aid has put the largest strain on the defense-industrial base since the Korean War, experts told the DCNF.
The U.S. has “pretty much run out of 155 millimeter Howitzers and 155 millimeter ammunition” after sending roughly 900,000 of the highly effective rounds to Ukraine, Mark Cancian, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who formerly worked on defense budget and acquisition issues for the Department of Defense (DOD), told the DCNF.
“The problem isn’t that there isn’t money,” Cancian said to the DCNF. “The problem is that the [DOD] is a bit slow putting that money on contract, and then of course the equipment will have to be produced.”
Accelerated production for systems like Javelins should have begun in May, not in September, when the Pentagon finally put in a funding request to Congress, said Cancian. “They were just late, slow to react to events,” he added.
The Pentagon’s latent preparation for long-term conflict in Ukraine won’t immediately impact the progress of the war itself, as the U.S. can continue with substitutions while the defense industry catches up on production of the latest, most advanced systems, Cancian said. However, it does increase the amount of risk the U.S. takes on by sustaining lower inventories in the meantime.
“We are making real tradeoffs against other national security priorities,” Caldwell also told the DCNF.
Unusual aggression from China and North Korea has brought home the concern that the U.S. might find itself engaged in great power conflict, which would put very different strains on the U.S. economy and defense industry than those the U.S. has grown familiar with during the 20 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, experts explained.
A land-based conflict with North Korea, for example, would require the same types of equipment the U.S. has sent to Ukraine, Cancian told the DCNF. “The risk would be a Korean War kind of situation,” he said, because “ground forces participate heavily.”
Upgrading production capacity is “crucial for our ability to deter China, sell more munitions to allies and partners and maintain our unique industrial workforce in this area,” Oklahoma Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe, Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said to the DCNF.
To make up for a shortage in some munitions, the U.S. has substituted alternatives, such as 105 mm artillery rounds for the 155 mm, which is not likely to have much effect on the battlefield, Cancian explained to the DCNF. The U.S. could also purchase more weapons off the international market, as well as continue pressuring allies to uphold their verbal commitments.
The latter option may be exemplified in the latest Ukrainian aid package, announced Friday, which includes $725 million mostly for ammunition rather than the long-range weapons platforms Ukraine has requested, according to Reuters. Other allies, such as Germany and Spain, have supplied the additional air defense platforms in high demand following Russia’s renewed missile campaign against Ukraine.
Congress should also authorize a supplemental warfighting budget of around $20 billion for 2023, keeping pace with the current rate of spending on Ukraine, Center for American Progress senior fellow and former Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence Korb explained to the DCNF.
The U.S. could also more aggressively employ the Defense Production Act, implemented during the Korean War, which experts said was the last time the U.S. defense industry experienced the level of heightened demand felt today. That could further exacerbate supply chain issues and increase the burden on taxpayers, however, Caldwell explained.
“In the overall scheme of things, it’s not that expensive,” Korb said, especially given that the Senate’s version of the defense budget for 2023, currently under debate, clocked in at $847 billion. “This is a horrible war, but compared to Iraq and Afghanistan or Vietnam, it’s not, in terms of expenditures.”
Congress authorized $147 billion in procurement spending in the defense budget for 2022; spending on defense articles in 2023 could be even larger, with the Senate seeking $157 billion for procurement.
Rebuilding the U.S. military’s arsenal is critical to its ability to meet future challenges, according to Inhofe. “If we get this right, we would not only accelerate the end of the war in Ukraine, but meaningfully change Beijing’s willingness to engage in aggression in the future,” he said.
The Pentagon did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.