Monday, August 29, 2022

Ukraine War Is Depleting U.S. Ammunition Stockpiles, Sparking Pentagon Concern

At WSJ, "The level of one type of combat rounds in storage is ‘uncomfortably low,’ says a defense official":

WASHINGTON—The war in Ukraine has depleted American stocks of some types of ammunition and the Pentagon has been slow to replenish its arsenal, sparking concerns among U.S. officials that American military readiness could be jeopardized by the shortage.

The U.S. has during the past six months supplied Ukraine with 16 U.S. rocket launchers, known as Himars, thousands of guns, drones, missiles and other equipment. Much of that, including ammunition, has come directly from U.S. inventory, depleting stockpiles intended for unexpected threats, defense officials say.

One of the most lethal weapons the Pentagon has sent are howitzers that fire high-explosive 155mm ammunition weighing about 100 pounds each and able to accurately hit targets dozens of miles away. As of Aug. 24, the U.S. military said it had provided Ukraine with up to 806,000 rounds of 155mm ammunition. The U.S. military has declined to say how many rounds it had at the start of the year.

In recent weeks, the level of 155mm combat rounds in U.S. military storage have become “uncomfortably low,” one defense official said. The levels aren’t yet critical because the U.S. isn’t engaged in any major military conflict, the official added. “It is not at the level we would like to go into combat,” the defense official said.

The U.S. military used a howitzer as recently as last week to strike at Iranian-backed groups in Syria, and the depletion of 155mm ammunition is increasingly concerning for a military that seeks to plan for any scenario.

The Army said the military is now conducting “an ammunitions industrial base deep dive” to determine how to support Ukraine while protecting “our own supply needs.” The Army said it also asked Capitol Hill for $500 million a year in upgrade efforts for the Army’s ammunition plants. Meanwhile, the service is relying on existing contracts to increase production of ammunition, but it hasn’t signed new contracts to account for the higher amounts it will need to replenish its stocks, according to Army officials.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley has been conducting monthly reviews of the U.S. arsenal to determine whether the readiness levels are still appropriate given the needs for the ammunition in Ukraine, according to U.S. military officials. The U.S. last week provided Ukraine with a different size howitzer ammunition, 105mm, a reflection, in part, of the concern about its stocks of 155mm ammunition, the officials said.

The looming ammunition shortage isn’t for lack of funds, according to those familiar with the issue. The U.S. announced this week that it was setting aside nearly $3 billion for long-term aid intended to help Ukraine, bringing the total spent on weaponry for the country to $14 billion, and the Biden administration’s Pentagon budget request for next year is $773 billion.

“This was knowable. It was foreseeable. It was forewarned, including from industry leaders to the Pentagon. And it was easily fixable,” said Mackenzie Eaglen, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank in Washington.

What is needed, she said, is for the government to spend money to fix the problem.

“There are some problems you can buy your way out of,” she said. “This is one of them.”

The Pentagon’s buying process generally starts with the military determining its requirements, which are then reviewed and then bids solicited from the private sector. But since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, industry officials have complained that the Pentagon hasn’t always communicated those requirements, which often change, creating delays, and leaving defense contractors unable to prepare for more production.

Dormant supply lines often can’t be switched on overnight, and surging production of active lines can take time. Companies are already producing 155mm ammunition, but not at the capacity yet that the Pentagon will need to replenish its stocks...