President Joe Biden says the US will keep supplying Ukraine the weapons it needs to fight Russia for “as long as it takes.” Honoring that pledge is forcing the Pentagon and its NATO counterparts to change the way they do business.
Desperate to meet Ukraine’s demands for everything from artillery shells to the Patriot missile defense system that the US is poised to provide, the Defense Department is tackling a decades-long bugbear that has plagued arms production: finding ways to speed up assembly lines and entice weapons-makers with longer-term contracts to show the US military won’t abandon a system once its immediate needs are met.
It’s also led to bigger questions about how the US supplies itself and allies for war. With Ukraine keeping up the pressure for more — and more advanced — arms, the US must confront the risk that its own stocks of some ground-based weapons will be depleted if it’s suddenly required to defend itself, help Taiwan defend against China or counter military action by North Korea.
The problem is especially acute because Russia is forcing Ukraine to wage a type of war that some Pentagon planners thought was a thing of the past. While the US has focused money and production on stealth fighter jets, AI-augmented goggles and hypersonic weapons, Ukraine wants artillery shells, tanks and shoulder-fired missiles to repel Russian ground assaults.
“This is a very serious challenge, both for NATO allies that are giving serious commitment, significant military assistance, lethal assistance to the Ukrainian military forces, but it is a significant challenge for the Ukrainian military forces themselves that are facing shortfalls,” Julianne Smith, the US ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, said on Dec. 13.
The numbers are staggering. As of Dec. 9, the US has committed to Ukraine more than 1 million 155mm artillery rounds, 180,000 105mm artillery rounds, more than 8,500 Javelin anti-tank missiles, 4,200 precision-guided Excalibur 155mm artillery rounds and 1,600 shoulder-mounted Stinger missiles.