WASHINGTON (AP) – Planes take off almost daily from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware – huge C-17s loaded with javelins, stingers, howitzers and other equipment are flown to Eastern Europe Is to supply the Ukrainian army in its fight against Russia.
The game-changing impact of these weapons is exactly what President Joe Biden hopes to highlight when he visits a Lockheed Martin plant in Alabama on Tuesday that makes the Javelin man-portable anti-tank weapons that have played a crucial role in Ukraine.
But Biden’s visit also draws attention to a growing concern as the war drags on: Can the United States keep up the pace of shipping large quantities of weapons to Ukraine while maintaining the stockpile? health they might need if a new conflict breaks out with North Korea, Iran or elsewhere?
The United States has already supplied about 7,000 javelins, some of which were delivered during the Trump administration, about a third of its stockpile, to Ukraine, according to an analysis by Mark Cancian, senior adviser at the Center for Studies. strategic and international international security program. The Biden administration says it has pledged to send about 5,500 people to Ukraine since the Russian invasion more than two months ago.
Analysts also estimate that the United States has sent about a quarter of its stockpile of shoulder-fired Stinger missiles to Ukraine. Raytheon Technologies CEO Greg Hayes told investors last week on a quarterly call that his company, which makes the weapons system, would not be able to ramp up production until next year by due to parts shortages.
“Could that be a problem? The short answer is, ‘Probably, yes,'” said Cancian, a retired Navy colonel and former government specialist on Pentagon budget strategy, war finance and procurement. .
He said the Stingers and Javelins were where “we’re seeing the biggest inventory issues”, and that production of both weapon systems has been limited in recent years.
The Russian invasion presents the American and European defense industry with a great opportunity to increase profits as lawmakers from Washington to Warsaw are poised to increase defense spending in response to Russian aggression. Defense contractors, however, face the same supply chain and labor shortage issues faced by other manufacturers, as well as others that are unique to the industry. industry.
Military spending in the United States and around the world was increasing even before the February 24 Russian invasion. Biden’s proposed budget for 2023 targeted $773 billion for the Pentagon, an annual increase of about 4%.
Globally, total military spending rose 0.7% to more than $2 trillion for the first time in 2021, according to an April report by the International Peace Research Institute of Stockholm. Russia ranked fifth, as its arms spending increased ahead of its invasion of Ukraine.
The war will mean increased sales for some defense contractors, including Raytheon, which makes the Stinger missiles that Ukrainian troops have used to knock out Russian planes. The company is also part of a joint venture with Lockheed Martin which manufactures the Javelins.
Biden will visit Lockheed Martin’s factory in Troy, Alabama, which has the capacity to manufacture about 2,100 Javelins a year. The trip comes as he urges Congress to quickly approve his request for an additional $33 billion in security and economic aid for kyiv, Western allies, and the resupply of weapons that the United States has sent to those countries.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., said Monday he hopes a quick bipartisan agreement on the security package can be reached so the Senate can begin considering it “as soon as next week”.
The president is expected to use his remarks to stress the importance of javelins and other American weapons in helping Ukraine’s military fight a vigorous fight as he pleads for continued security and economic aid.
A White House official, who was not authorized to comment publicly and requested anonymity, said the Pentagon was working with defense contractors “to assess the health of the systems’ production lines. weapons and examine the bottlenecks in each component and step of the manufacturing process”. The administration is also considering a range of options, if necessary, to increase production of Javelins and Stingers, the official said.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Monday that US military readiness does not depend on a single system, such as the Javelin. He said whenever the Pentagon develops a set of weapons to send to Ukraine, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the department assess the broader impact.
“It’s not about counting, say, javelins and being able to say that when you hit a certain level, all your readiness is gone,” Kirby said. “The Javelin is an anti-armor capability, so we judge all of that as a conglomeration of our ability to respond to this particular set of missions, realizing that a Javelin isn’t the only capability you have against armour. “
Cancian, the former government defense budget strategist, said the fact that the Stingers and Javelins were not included in the latest tranche of weapons the Biden administration announced it was sending to Ukraine could be a sign that Pentagon officials are aware of the inventory as they conduct contingency planning for other possible conflicts.
“There’s no question that whatever war plan they come up with, there’s a risk associated with the Stingers and Javelins running out, and I’m sure they’re having that discussion at the Pentagon,” he said. he declared.
The US military effort to move weapons to Eastern Europe for the Ukraine fight has been Herculean. From Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, American airmen flew nearly 70 missions to deliver some 7 million pounds of javelins, stingers, 155mm howitzers, helmets and other essentials to the Eastern Europe since February. Colonel Matt Husemann, commander of the 436th Airlift Wing, described the mission as a “whole-of-government approach that gives hope”.
“It’s awesome,” Husemann said, after providing AP with a recent tour of the airlift operation.
The light but deadly Javelin helped the Ukrainians inflict significant damage on the larger and better equipped Russian army. As a result, the weapon acquired an almost mythical regard, celebrated with a javelin song and images of Mary Magdalene wielding a javelin becoming a meme in Ukraine.
Lockheed Martin CEO James Taiclet said in a recent CNBC interview that the demand for Javelin and other weapon systems will greatly increase over time due to the Russian invasion. He said the company was working “to speed up our supply chain.”
“We have the capacity to meet current production demands, are investing in increased capacity and exploring ways to further increase production as needed,” Lockheed Martin said in a statement.
Pentagon officials recently met with some of the major defense contractors including Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing, General Dynamics, BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman to discuss efforts to ramp up production.
Large defense contractors face serious challenges.
Raytheon, for example, cannot simply launch Stingers to replace the 1,400 the United States has sent to Ukraine. Hayes, the CEO of Raytheon, said in a recent conference call with analysts that the company has only a limited supply of components to manufacture the missile. Only one undisclosed country has bought them in recent years, and the Pentagon hasn’t bought new ones in nearly 20 years.
Sanctions further complicate the picture. Companies need to find new sources of important raw materials such as titanium, a crucial component in aerospace manufacturing that is produced in Russia.
Concerns about the Stinger stock were raised by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., and the committee’s top Republican, Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama. In March, the pair wrote to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, describing the stockpile problem as an “emergency” one.
Rogers said he remained concerned that the matter had not been properly addressed.
“I’ve been asking the DoD for almost two months for a plan to replenish our Stinger stockpile as well as our Javelin launch units,” Rogers said. “I fear that without a readily available replacement or fully active production lines, we could leave Ukraine and our NATO allies in a vulnerable position.”
Reeves reported from Birmingham, Ala., and Huff from Dover Air Force Base, Delaware. Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor and Alan Fram in Washington contributed to this report.