HASC Moves To Replenish Munitions—But More Remains To Be Done

COMMENTARY Defense

HASC Moves To Replenish Munitions—But More Remains To Be Done

Jul 19th, 2022 3 min read

Commentary By

Maiya Clark

Senior Research Associate, Center for National Defense

Grace Hermanson

Summer 2022 Member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation

U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Camron Edwards engages targets during a live-fire range in the Atlantic Ocean, July 15, 2022. Sgt. Armando / U.S. Marine Corps

Key Takeaways

U.S. military aid to Ukraine has depleted our own stockpiles, leaving us dangerously low of some key types of munitions.

Our misguided assumption that modern warfare would not be as reliant on manufacturing capacity has left us unprepared for a great power conflict.

Congressional leaders should continue to push for visibility into munitions stockages and purchases, and the services should start prioritizing munitions.

U.S. military aid to Ukraine has depleted our own stockpiles, leaving us dangerously low of some key types of munitions. Moreover, there is growing concern that the defense industry is unable to replenish them in a timely manner

Seeking to address these problems, the current House version of the FY2023 National Defense Authorization Act increases funding to rebuild our supply of essential munitions.  The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) proposal also directs the Defense Department to implement a “new initiative to develop and invest in technologies to reduce the cost, increase reliability, enhance lethality, and diversify the supply chain for key munitions.”

The focus on munitions is a positive sign, especially because they have often been neglected in the past. The military services prefer to buy platforms—tanks, ships, and planes—rather than the missiles and munitions that these systems launch. The assumption seems to be that, if the U.S. ever does go to war, we can quickly ramp up production of munitions to meet the military’s needs.

That assumption has now proved false. In just 135 days of conflict, we have sent about a third of our stocks of Stinger and Javelin missiles to a single country, Ukraine. And there is little hope of replenishing those stocks anytime soon.

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Raytheon, the prime contractor for Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, had ceased production of Stinger before the Russian invasion. Raytheon CEO Greg Hayes says the company cannot ramp up production until at least 2023 because the company must “redesign some of the electronics in the missile and the seeker head.” The inability to replenish these munitions stocks anytime soon leaves us and our allies are more vulnerable in the interim.

Years of failing to take this issue seriously have set the U.S. military back at least a year and forced them to ramp up acquisitions at the least cost-efficient time.

Meanwhile, other tools that could address this very issue are currently being misused for other purposes. The Defense Production Act (DPA), for example, allows the president to expedite and expand the supply of materials and services for the U.S. military. Instead, he is using the DPA to advance his clean energy goals.

While Washington is coming to the realization that our stocks of Stingers and Javelins were and are woefully insufficient, it is only because the Ukraine conflict dragged the problem into the spotlight. It’s safe to assume that other stocks of missiles and munitions are similarly insufficient to meet the needs of modern war. The conflict in Ukraine is a canary in the coal mine, warning us that our misguided assumption that modern warfare would not be as reliant on manufacturing capacity has left us unprepared for a great power conflict.

William LaPlante, the Undersecretary of Defense for acquisition and sustainment, hinted at the flawed assumption in May when he said, “I think the last few weeks have really highlighted the intensity of conventional conflicts now in the 21st century. And the demand for munitions and weapons platforms, it really outpaces anything we’ve seen in recent memory.” 

This is why the HASC’s emphasis on munitions is so important: now, in peacetime, is the time to ensure that our munitions stocks are sufficient, and that manufacturing capacity can meet the needs of the warfighter.

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These initiatives alone won’t fix the problem, however. The bill’s language includes mention of “talent exchanges with the private sector,” pilot programs to track the health and security of sub-tier suppliers, and a Federally Funded Research and Development Center to assess the department’s ability to replenish key types of munitions. These are all good moves, but what is really needed is more focus—and more spending— on munitions by the Pentagon and, ultimately, Congress.

Ukraine has shown us that a strong industrial base is still critical in warfare. The HASC has made a strong step in the right direction, but much more will be required beyond a recovery effort that aims simply to restore munitions stockpiles to inadequate pre-aid levels.

Congressional leaders should continue to push for visibility into munitions stockages and purchases, and the services should start prioritizing munitions in their annual budgets. U.S. military preparedness depends on it.

This piece originally appeared in RealClear Defense