The war in Ukraine is approaching its second year, with continued Western support for Kiev. But it revealed widespread problems in the US arms industry, which, according to a study published by the Wall Street Journal, could impede the US military’s ability to fight a long-term war against an adversary like China.
Since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24 last year, Washington has committed itself to sending military equipment and supplies to Kyiv, in order to help Ukrainian forces weaken Russian attacks.
The army ran out of ammunition
The protracted war has revealed the strategic danger facing the United States, as weapons stockpiles are declining to low levels, and defense companies are not equipped to replenish those stocks quickly, according to a study prepared by Seth Jones, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, which is a Washington-based think tank.
In an interview with the American newspaper, Jones explained that “the defense industrial base, in my opinion, is not ready for the security environment that exists now,” adding that the industry is now operating in a way that is “more appropriate for a peacetime environment.”
He added that the study, which reflected the opinions of senior military, defense, Congress, industry, and other government officials, showed how quickly the US military was running out of ammunition in a potential conflict with China, in the Indian and Pacific region.
He continued: “How can you effectively deter if you do not have sufficient stocks of the types of munitions that you will need for a (conflict outbreak) scenario in the Taiwan Strait?”
For more than 20 years, the United States has fought wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, but the Ukraine conflict is largely a conventional war, relying more on heavy weapons.
The explosion of any conflict with China in the Indo-Pacific would be very different from the ground war raging in Ukraine, but it would nonetheless need to tap deeply into U.S. weapons stockpiles.
Problems with the industrial base, due in part to slow military contracting and bureaucratic procedures, are affecting the ability to provide a reliable deterrent in the Indo-Pacific region, or to confront China in a military conflict, according to the study’s findings.
Delayed supply of weapons
“This shortfall will make it difficult for the United States to sustain a long-term conflict. It also highlights that the US defense industrial base lacks sufficient capacity to increase forces for a major war,” the study stated.
The rapid rate of arms consumption by the Ukrainians shows the challenges the US industrial base could face in a protracted conflict over Taiwan.
The study said that the number of “Javelin” shoulder-fired missiles sent to Ukraine since last August, for example, is equal to the production of about 7 years, based on production rates in fiscal year 2022.
And the number of Stinger anti-aircraft systems that have arrived in Kyiv is almost the same as the number of systems exported abroad over the past 20 years.
Meanwhile, more than a million rounds of 155mm ammunition that Washington sent to Ukraine have reduced US military supplies, which the study says is now considered low. Stockpiles of the Javelin system, artillery howitzers and anti-artillery radars are also running low.
Platforms such as the Harpoon coastal defense system, which is seen as an important part of Taiwan’s defense strategy, are considered medium, although current stocks may not be sufficient for wartime.
“The history of industrial mobilization indicates that it will take years for the defense industrial base to be able to produce and deliver sufficient quantities of vital weapon systems and munitions and to replace depleted stocks,” she added.--
Military leaders have expressed growing frustration about the industrial base in recent months. Admiral Darrell Caudel, commander of the US Naval Forces Command, criticized the defense industry for being late in supplying weapons.-
“I don’t tolerate the fact that they’re not delivering the munitions that we need,” he said when asked about balancing US military readiness amid billions of dollars in US aid shipments to Ukraine.
While the United States and its allies have managed to send billions of dollars in weapons to Ukrainian forces since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, Pentagon planners predict that Taiwan cannot be easily resupplied after the conflict begins, as Chinese forces will likely blockade the island.
There is already a backlog of more than $19 billion in US arms to Taiwan, based on approved sales since 2019.
The Wall Street Journal also indicated that the center’s study focused in particular on the US government, which “has not succeeded in adapting” when it comes to the industrial base.
The study also considered that government regulations governing military sales are outdated, noting that the current process can take anywhere from 18 to 24 months.
“In an effort to prevent military technology from falling into the hands of adversaries, the United States has put in place a very slow regulatory system for working with critical frontline countries,” she added.
“While the type of weaponry that American officials believe Taiwan needs to fight is different in many cases from what has been sent to Ukraine, the conflict in Europe has exposed fissures within the industrial base and the government to deal with the problem,” Jones said.
Meanwhile, the government has not yet adapted to what Jones and others believe is a wartime mentality that requires government agility and efficiency to enable the defense industry to produce more weapons.
On the other hand, the Chinese government has invested heavily in recent years in military modernization.
A series of war scenarios conducted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in recent months showed that the United States might run out of some weapons in the event of a conflict with China, including long-range and precision-guided munitions, in less than one week.
Jones recommends that the United States re-evaluate its total ammunition needs, and urge Congress to hold hearings on the matter.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, said in November that such an effort was already underway.
The study also proposes a reassessment of US requirements to replenish its stockpiles, establish a strategic reserve of ammunition, and define a sustainable plan for purchasing ammunition to meet current and future requirements.