Ukrainian soldiers fire an M777 howitzer, Kharkiv region, northeastern Ukraine. This photo may not be distributed in the Russian Federation.
Vyacheslav Madiyevsky | Edition of the future | Getty Images
In the American arms industry, the normal production level of artillery shells for the 155 millimeter howitzer – a long-range heavy artillery weapon currently in use on Ukrainian battlefields – is approximately 30,000 shells per year in peacetime.
Ukrainian soldiers fighting the invading Russian forces spend this amount in about two weeks.
That’s according to Dave Des Roches, associate professor and senior military researcher at the US National Defense University. And he is worried.
“I’m very worried. Unless we have new production, which takes months to ramp up, we won’t have the capacity to supply the Ukrainians,” Des Roches told CNBC.
Europe is also running out. “The military stocks of most [European NATO] Member States have been, I wouldn’t say exhausted, but exhausted in a high proportion, because we have provided a lot of capabilities to the Ukrainians,” said Josep Borrell, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. month.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg held a special meeting of the alliance’s armaments directors on Tuesday to discuss ways to replenish member nations’ arms stockpiles.
Military analysts point to a fundamental problem: Western nations produced much lower quantities of weapons in peacetime, as governments chose to cut back on very expensive manufacturing and produce only the weapons needed. Some of the weapons that are running out are no longer produced, and highly skilled labor and experience are required for their production – things that have been lacking in American manufacturing for years.
A US M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) firing salvos during a military exercise on June 30, 2022. The US Department of Defense announced that the United States would send Ukraine an additional $270 million in security aid, a set that will include mobility artillery rocket systems and a significant number of tactical drones.
Fadel Séné | AFP | Getty Images
Indeed, Stoltenberg told the UN General Assembly last week that NATO members needed to reinvest in their industrial bases in the arms sector.
“We are now working with industry to increase production of arms and ammunition,” Stoltenberg told The New York Times, adding that countries should encourage arms manufacturers to expand longer-term capacity by spending more weapons orders.
But increasing defense production is not an easy or quick task.
Is America’s ability to defend itself in danger?
The short answer: no.
The United States has been by far the largest supplier of military aid to Ukraine in its war with Russia, providing $15.2 billion in arms packages so far since Moscow invaded its late neighbor. february. Several of the US-made weapons have been game changers for Ukrainians; especially 155mm howitzers and long-range heavy artillery like the HIMARS made by Lockheed Martin. And the Biden administration has said it will support its ally Ukraine “as long as it takes” to defeat Russia.
This means a lot more weapons.
The United States has practically no more 155 mm howitzers to give to Ukraine; to send more, it would have to draw on its own stocks reserved for American military units which use them for training and preparation. But that’s a no-no for the Pentagon, military analysts say, meaning supplies earmarked for US operations are highly unlikely to be affected.
“There are a number of systems where I think the Ministry of Defense has reached levels where they are not willing to provide more of this particular system to Ukraine,” said Mark Cancian, former colonel of the U.S. Marine Corps and Senior Advisor to the Center. for strategic and international studies.
This is because “the United States must maintain stocks to support its war plans,” Cancian said. “For some ordnance, the engine war plan would be a conflict with China over Taiwan or the South China Sea; for others, especially land systems, the engine war plan would be North Korea or the South China Sea. ‘Europe.”
Javelins, HIMAR and howitzers
This means for the Ukrainian forces that some of their most crucial battlefield equipment – like the 155mm howitzer – must be replaced by older, less optimal weapons like the 105mm howitzer, which has a load useful smaller and shorter range.
“And that’s a problem for the Ukrainians,” Des Roches says, because “range is key in this war. It’s an artillery war.”
A boy walks past graffiti on a wall depicting a Ukrainian serviceman firing a US-made Javelin man-portable anti-tank missile system, in Kyiv on July 29, 2022.
Sergei Supinsky | AFP | Getty Images
Other weapons Ukraine relies on that are now classified as “limited” in the US inventory include HIMARS launchers, Javelin missiles, Stinger missiles, the M777 howitzer and 155mm ammunition.
The Javelin, produced by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, has acquired an iconic role in Ukraine – the shoulder-mounted precision-guided anti-tank missile has been indispensable in the fight against Russian tanks. But production in the United States is low at a rate of about 800 a year, and Washington has now sent some 8,500 to Ukraine, according to CSIS, more than a decade of production.
Ukrainian soldiers take photos of a mural titled ‘Saint Javelin’ dedicated to Britain’s man-portable surface-to-air missile which was unveiled on the side of an apartment building in Kyiv on May 25, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine. Illustrator and artist Chris Shaw’s artwork references the Javelin missile given to Ukrainian troops to fight the Russian invasion.
Christopher Furlong | Getty Images
President Joe Biden visited a Javelin plant in Alabama in May, saying he would “ensure that the United States and our allies can replenish our own stockpiles of weapons to replace what we sent to Ukraine.” But, he added, “this fight won’t come cheap.”
The Pentagon has ordered hundreds of millions of dollars worth of new Javelins, but ramping up takes time – the many vendors that supply the chemicals and computer chips for each missile can’t all be accelerated enough. And hiring, vetting and training people to develop the technology also takes time. It could take between one and four years for the United States to significantly increase overall weapons production, Cancian said.
“We need to put our defense industrial base on a war footing,” Des Roches said. “And I don’t see any indication that we have.”
A Lockheed Martin spokesperson, contacted for comment, referred to an April interview in which Lockheed CEO Jim Taiclet told CNBC: “We need to step up our supply chain, we need to have some capacity, which we’re already investing in. And then the deliveries happen, say, six, 12, 18 months later.
Raytheon and the US Department of Defense did not respond to CNBC’s requests for comment.
What are Ukraine’s options?
In the meantime, Ukraine can look elsewhere for suppliers – for example South Korea, which has a formidable arms sector and in August signed a $5.7 billion sale to Poland of tanks and howitzers. Ukrainian forces will also have to work with replacements often less than optimal weapons.
A Ukrainian serviceman takes a position in a trench on the front line near Avdiivka, in the Donetsk region, on June 18, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Anatolii Stepanov | AFP | Getty Images
Jack Watling, a land warfare expert at the Royal United Services Institute in London, believes Ukraine still has ample opportunity to provide itself with most of the weapons it needs.
“There is enough time to resolve this issue before it becomes critical in terms of ramping up manufacturing,” Watling said, noting that Kyiv can source some ammunition from countries that don’t have it. not immediately needed or whose stocks are about to expire.
“So we can continue to supply Ukraine,” Watling said, “but there is a point where, especially with certain critical natures, the Ukrainians will have to be careful about their pace of spending and where they will prioritize that ammunition, for there is not an infinite supply.”