U.S. stockpiles of weapons systems critical to national defense dwindle to levels described as “uncomfortably low,” “insufficient,” “precarious,” and “dangerous” due to the large quantities of these weapons given to Ukraine
To date, the U.S. military has provided a “staggering” amount of military hardware and munitions to Ukraine in its defense against Russia’s invasion, amounting to more than $27 billion. This U.S. support has included over 1 million rounds of 155 mm howitzer ammunition. It has also included 8,500 Javelin anti-tank missiles, 32,000 anti-tank missiles of other types, 5,200 Excalibur precision 155 mm howitzer rounds, and 1,600 Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, among many other weapons systems and munitions.
An in-depth study conducted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) euphemistically described the U.S. military’s own remaining stockpiles of the 155 mm howitzer rounds, Javelin anti-tank missiles, and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles as a result of providing so many, so quickly to Ukraine as “limited.” Weapons system stockpiles now described as “limited” also include the M-777 155 mm howitzer used to launch the over 1 million 155 mm projectiles provided to Ukraine, and the Army’s High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, seen below, both of which have been provided free of charge to Ukraine, in large numbers:
The CSIS study explains that “limited” means that “there would be risks” in the form of degradations to military “unit training,” which might become “more difficult” due to insufficient munitions inventories. There would also be other, more strategic risks in the form of degraded “support” for “war plans,” which might include a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, a war with North Korea, or even another war of some kind in Europe. The study optimistically concludes that these low weapons inventories should “spark some debate in the national security establishment” about weapons levels and their impacts.
Others put it more bluntly; the Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense concludes that “[t]he fact that only a few months of fighting in Ukraine consumed such a large percentage of U.S. Stingers and Javelins suggests that the DOD’s plans, and the stockpiles that result from them, are insufficient.” Even the Washington Post has conceded the seriousness of the situation, noting that “[s]tocks of many key weapons and munitions are near exhaustion,” and citing a second CSIS report that concludes that “the U.S. defense industrial base is in pretty poor shape right now [and] we don’t make it past four or five days in a war game before we run out of precision missiles.” The National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) describes the state of U.S. weapons stockpiles as “precarious.”
The U.S. Naval Institute describes them as “dangerous” due to their low inventory levels. Even a U.S. Department of Defense official quoted by the Wall Street Journal admitted that munitions stockpiles are “uncomfortably low” in that they are “not at the level we would like to go into combat.” This official explained that the only reason the issue isn’t “critical” is because “the U.S. isn’t engaged in any major military conflict” at the moment.
Army General Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who unnamed defense officials claim “monitor[s] levels of US stockpiles closely,” has nevertheless stated that “we will continue to support [Ukraine] all the way” and “[w]e will be there for as long as it takes to keep Ukraine free,” despite the impact of such support on U.S. weapons’ stockpile levels.
Making matters worse, the defense industrial base, as noted, is in “pretty poor shape” and cannot quickly ramp up to meet the ravenous Ukrainian demand, which is so high that it can consume the entire U.S. monthly production of 155 mm howitzer shells in “two days [of] heavy fighting.” In fact, the aforementioned 155 mm howitzer artillery shells, over 1 million of which have been provided to Ukraine, “won’t be restored to 2021 levels until 2027 or 2028.”
The “poor” state of the defense industrial base can be attributed to supply chain problems also seen in other industries, but also to several defense-specific issues, such as “the unique peculiarities of [military] contracting systems, requiring long lead times and prepayment; the tendency of defense budgeters during peacetime to save money by cutting back on more prosaic items such as precision munitions in favor of ships, planes and other big-ticket items that please lawmakers; and the immediate and unanticipated demands of the Ukraine war.”
In any event, the risk from the U.S. military’s dwindling munitions supplies is something that needs to be thoughtfully considered before another arms package for Ukraine is considered. The risk seems especially noteworthy as regards a potential Chinese invasion of Taiwan. An NDIA article points out that “[t]he Biden administration has signaled support for turning Taiwan into a ‘porcupine‘ that would be costly to invade, thus deterring the People’s Republic of China from attacking,” meaning that Taiwan would use an “asymmetric warfare” strategy that “plac[es] an emphasis on the use of systems such as Stingers and Javelins as opposed to tanks and helicopters.” But Stingers and Javelins are two of the systems provided to Ukraine in large numbers, as explained above, and which are now in short supply, which has resulted in CSIS describing their current U.S. stockpile inventory as “limited.”
In short, President Biden’s Taiwanese “porcupine” might be short quite a few quills. The effect of exhausted munitions stockpiles on national defense writ large may be equally dire.DONATE
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