US Army Surging Munitions Production Amid Shortage Concerns

US Army Surging Munitions Production Amid Shortage Concerns
Servicemen of Ukrainian Military Forces move U.S.-made FIM-92 Stinger missiles and the other military assistance shipped from Lithuania to Boryspil Airport in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Feb. 13, 2022. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images)
Andrew Thornebrooke

The United States is working to overhaul its acquisition of certain high-end munitions that experts are concerned might be depleted in the event of a war with China.

U.S. Army officials are in the process of ramping up production to overcome challenges associated with replenishing domestic stockpiles of munitions that were either sold to Ukraine or would be needed for a potential fight in the Indo-Pacific, according to Assistant Secretary of the Army Douglas Bush.

“Starting early last summer ... we went through a deliberate effort to start planning for the production ramp-ups that are now underway,” he said during a March 3 talk at the security-focused think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

“We are creating this production capacity, trying to create options for future decisions in terms of how much we’ll need. But if we don’t do the production ramp-ups we won’t have those choices to make in the first place.”

The Army is “now in execution mode,” ramping up production to refill quickly draining stockpiles, although production timelines for many munitions have been complicated by complex supply chains and security requirements, according to Bush.

He also said that it’s impossible to tell just what the United States’ needs would be in the future because of the open-ended nature of the war in Ukraine, although requirements would likely be higher due to increased international tensions.

“The long-term challenge will be how much of that capacity can we sustain over time, post-conflict,” Bush said. “We don’t know how long the conflict will last. We don’t know how low our stocks will be.”

The United States is working closely with allies in Europe and elsewhere to create redundancies and increase production capacity, he said

“We have to have more than one source for these things and an allied source, that they sustain but we can draw on, that’s just a total win-win,” Bush said.

“That’s all the democracies in the world working together to be a giant arsenal and not just us doing it.”

Still, he said, there are problems that can’t be overcome by simply expanding government production facilities. For example, the Army’s supply of precision munitions, also known as smart munitions, are wholly produced by private companies that maintain their own supply chains.

“Our precision munitions production is all in the private sector,” he said.

Bush said the Army is working with the Biden administration to subsidize increases to private production that would otherwise be financed by the companies responsible for production.

US Could Run Out of Missiles in War With China

Scaling up the military’s production of munitions has become something of a hot-button issue over the past year, as the United States continues to sell vast quantities of its own stockpiles to Ukraine as it attempts to deter aggression from communist China in the East and South China seas and Taiwan Strait.
A CSIS report released in January found that the United States would quickly run out of critical munitions during a war with China over the future of Taiwan, as “the U.S. defense industrial base lacks adequate surge capacity for a major war.”

While the United States has ample amounts of small arms ammunition, relatively low stockpiles and incredibly slow acquisition and manufacturing processes could lead the nation to run out of critical long-range anti-ship missiles (LRASMs) in less than one week of war, the report found.

“The U.S. defense industrial base is not adequately prepared for the competitive security environment that now exists,” the report reads.

“In a major regional conflict—such as a war with China in the Taiwan Strait—the U.S. use of munitions would likely exceed the current stockpiles of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), leading to a problem of ‘empty bins.’”

Bush acknowledged the difficulty of creating an appropriate inventory of munitions while also positioning and also using those munitions over the vast territory of the Pacific.

“The Pacific in particular is one of the most difficult logistical challenges in the world ... for sustaining large-scale combat operations,” he said.

“The broader joint view is, of course, that a fight with China will be very much a precision munitions fight.”

Still, Bush expressed optimism that efforts to increase military production capacity and to develop the private industry responsible for building smart munitions would prove up to the task of preparing the United States for a conflict in the Indo-Pacific.

“It is definitely a daunting challenge, but ... I think there’s a lot of good work going in that direction.”

Andrew Thornebrooke is a national security correspondent for The Epoch Times covering China-related issues with a focus on defense, military affairs, and national security. He holds a master's in military history from Norwich University.
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