US defense industry strained by Ukraine weapons deliveries

As the U.S. gives away billions of dollars in weapons to Ukraine, it is putting stress on defense contractors as the Pentagon looks to backfill the military’s supply of weapons.  

President Biden’s trip to a Lockheed Martin facility in Troy, Ala., on Tuesday highlighted a bipartisan sentiment that making sure the U.S. can maintain its own supplies is as important as ensuring Ukraine can defend itself against Russia’s war.  

But replenishing Washington’s stockpile of weapons will be an uphill battle, as experts warn the defense industry is not primed for a wartime surge in production.  

The U.S. has sent $4.6 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden administration. Of this, the administration has used presidential drawdown authority to provide $3.4 billion in weapons from the Pentagon’s stockpile since September 2021.  

Replenishing the U.S.’s stockpile was one of the main issues that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was asked about when he testified on Tuesday before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense about his agency’s fiscal 2023 budget request.  

Responding to a question from Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.), the Pentagon chief said it was “very critical” to ensure that Washington won’t dip below minimum stockage levels for critical munitions. He added that the Pentagon has been encouraging manufacturers to open supply lines to increase production.  

“Industry has been very supportive. And so, we’ll continue to work with them. We’ll continue to identify things that we need from you if that need arises,” he said. “I think we’re in pretty good shape, and industry is responding.”  

Lockheed Martin CEO James Taiclet said in an event hosted by The Atlantic Council last Friday that his company is working to expand productions of weapons that it manufactures.  

In addition to the 5,500 Javelin anti-tank missiles that the U.S. has sent to Ukraine, the company also manufactures the Patriot missile defense system, and parts of the Stinger missile mainly created by Raytheon.  

Taiclet said countries are not only depleting their stockpiles by sending weapons to Ukraine, but also watching how well the weapons are working and gauging future interest in acquiring them. 

“We’re going to start investing now because these are products that are going to help Ukraine and other places,” he said.  “And more importantly, create a deterrent effect where maybe this doesn’t happen again.”  

The defense industry has been faced with some of the same challenges that other industries have amid global supply disruptions. 

During his trip to Troy, Biden highlighted the fact that the industry has been impacted by the ongoing shortage of semiconductor chips. He noted that each Javelin missile includes about 200 semiconductors. 

But the bigger issue, according to experts, is that the defense industrial base is geared toward producing what the U.S. needs in peacetime.  

Retired Maj. Gen. John Ferrari, a nonresident senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), explained that industry tends to wait for the Pentagon to award contracts to build systems.  

Compounding the problem is that the government has been more interested in divesting from procurement and investing in research and development, which sends a signal to industry not to spend big on legacy systems.  

“Other than the very largest of the largest primes, everybody else is unwilling to commit money in advance of an order that they don’t know is going to be there,” Ferrari said. “And nobody’s going to expand capacity. So, nobody’s going to make an investment to expand the production line.”  

Mark Cancian, a former Pentagon official who is a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, noted that every weapons system that needs to be backfilled is different. 

Some weapons can be ramped up quickly, but other weapons, like the Stinger surface-to-air missiles —  the U.S. has sent over 1,400 to Ukraine — are not in production as the Army had been moving to retire the weapon.  

Greg Hayes, the CEO of Raytheon Technologies, which makes the missiles, said last Tuesday that the company won’t be able to ramp up production of the missiles until 2023 due to a redesign and lack of parts.  

“If you look at the Stinger, for example now, it’s not in production,” Cancian said. “They can tell some of them apparently from parts that they have around, but you know, their ability to produce more stingers is extremely limited.”  

All of this comes as the White House and Congress work together to get as many weapons to Ukraine as they can.  

Congress last Thursday passed bipartisan legislation that would make it easier to lend and lease weapons to Ukraine. The same day, Biden has asked Congress for an additional $33 billion in Ukraine assistance, of which $20.5 billion will be for additional security and military assistance.  

Speaking in Troy, Biden urged Congress to pass the supplemental bill so that the U.S. and allies can replenish their stocks of weapons.  

“This fight is not going to be cheap, but caving to aggression would even be more costly,” Biden said. “Either back the Ukrainian people to defend their country or we stand by as Russia continues its atrocities and aggression.”  

Tags defense industry Joe Biden Joe Biden John Boozman Lloyd Austin Lokheed Martin Raytheon Russia-Ukraine war

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