The U.S. military’s mighty reputation is at odds with an uncomfortable truth: its stockpiles of critical munitions, including artillery shells, bombs, and other vital equipment, are alarmingly insufficient. This issue has come to the forefront due to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, which has significantly depleted U.S. munitions stocks, raising concerns about the nation’s military readiness should it have to face a global power like China.

The U.S. started providing military aid to Ukraine in February 2023. By April, stocks of Javelin anti-tank missiles and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles had diminished by a third. The reduction of these critical munitions is alarming, especially considering the potential challenges in facing a major competitor in a prolonged war.

Historically, the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps have conducted sophisticated planning to determine their munitions reserves, taking into account Pentagon’s estimates of possible conflicts. However, budget allocation for munitions has taken a backseat to “big-ticket items” like tanks, fighter jets, and ships. The result? Stockpiles of munitions that may only last a few months in a full-blown conflict.

Addressing this shortfall isn’t as simple as ramping up production. Defense companies face significant hurdles in replenishing these stocks due to a variety of factors such as the requirement for investment in workforce, facilities, and equipment. Supply chain vulnerabilities also come into play, particularly with bottlenecks in the production of specific components. For instance, Raytheon, the prime contractor for Stinger missiles, announced that they could not ramp up production for at least 18 months due to the need to redesign parts of the missile.

The U.S. Army, realizing the criticality of the situation, plans to use the new authority granted by Congress to award multi-year production contracts to replenish the dwindling munitions stockpile. Assistant Secretary of the US Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology, Douglas Bush, revealed that new contracts for munitions, particularly for the Patriot launcher and the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), are in the pipeline.

However, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) identifies further complications, from supply chain security to defense companies’ reluctance to take financial risks without contracts. Single-source production of key components also poses a significant challenge. For example, the Javelin anti-tank missile relies solely on Aerojet Rocketdyne’s advanced solid-propellant rocket motor, leaving the production line vulnerable if any issues arise with the single supplier.

Despite the current measures, a CSIS analysis predicts that, even at emergency production rates, the U.S. will need several years to restock supplies of critical munitions dispatched to Ukraine. A specific area of concern is the production of the 155mm ammunition, with CSIS reporting that at the regular production rate, the industrial base would never replenish 155mm projectiles due to the quantity consumed in standard military training and maintenance operations.

Even the boosted production rate of 240,000 rounds per year would necessitate a five-year period for inventory replenishment. Meanwhile, Army acquisition official Doug Bush has mentioned plans to triple 155mm production over the next few years, with an “Industry Day” held to discuss accelerating production and expanding capacity.

“We’ve been building our support packages based upon old thinking that placed precision over mass fires meaning that we needed less artillery, that’s okay, but as long as you can put precision fires down on the enemy we don’t have a lot of artillery shells. What we’re learning in Ukraine that that’s just a flawed premise. Ukraine is firing between five and seven thousand artillery rounds a day. We currently produce 85,000 rounds a year…so Ukraine will fire what we produce in a year in less than a month. And, so what we’ve been doing to sustain them is stripping our stocks that are used to back up these various contingency plans and what the Pentagon is not going to tell you and what the president’s not going to tell you is that if we go to war today we can’t win a single conflict.” stated Scott Ritter in a recent interview on Redacted (below).

As the U.S. races to refill its munitions stockpiles, it’s clear that military preparedness extends beyond the battlefield. Maintaining robust munitions reserves and a responsive defense industry is vital for national security, requiring the full attention of Congressional and Pentagon leaders.


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