US, NATO Weapons Stockpiles at ‘Dangerously Low’ Levels: Top Air Force General

US, NATO Weapons Stockpiles at ‘Dangerously Low’ Levels: Top Air Force General
155-mm artillery shells sit in the production shop at the Scranton Army Ammunition Plant in Scranton, Pa., on April 12, 2023. (Hannah Beier/Getty Images)
Mimi Nguyen Ly

The weapons stockpiles of the United States and its NATO allies are becoming “dangerously low,” with no “short-term” solutions, according to a top U.S. Air Force commander.

Gen. James Hecker, commander of U.S. Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa, made the remarks at the Chief of the Air Staff’s Global Air & Space Chiefs’ Conference in London, Breaking Defense reported.

The air force general urged NATO allies to think seriously about their stockpiles.

“I think it’s very important that we kind of take stock of where we are in our weapons state across the 32 nations of NATO, and we’re getting way down compared to where we were,” Gen. Hecker said, while speaking on a panel with the air chiefs of the UK and Sweden at the conference, the outlet reported.

“And it’s probably not going to get better—well, it’s not in the short term—but we’ve got to make sure in the long term we have the industrial base that can increase what we have,” he said at the July 12–13 event, urging all NATO nations to start making deeper investments.

The United States is at “roughly half the number of fighter squadrons” it had compared to when it engaged in Operation Desert Storm, a U.S.-led operation that started in January 1991 as part of a response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, according to the general. He noted that there has been a similar decrease in fighter squadrons for the UK.

“So we don’t have nearly what we had at the heart of the Cold War,” he said.

“Now you add that we’re giving a lot of munitions away to the Ukrainians, which I think is exactly what we need to do, but now we’re getting dangerously low and sometimes, in some cases. even too low, that we don’t have enough,” Gen. Hecker said. “And we need to get industry on board to help us out so we can get this going.”

The United States has provided Ukraine with more than $41.3 billion in security assistance as of July 7, since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, according to the U.S. State Department. That total encompasses more than $15 billion in weapons and equipment delivered to Ukraine from U.S. military stocks since the Russian invasion.
Included in that weapons total are cluster munitions that the Biden administration this month announced it would be sending and have now arrived in Ukraine.

Cluster munitions, which can be delivered by planes, artillery, or missiles, open in midair after launch and release bomblets over a wide area to strike several targets simultaneously. More than 100 countries, including two-thirds of NATO allies, have banned such weapons because they can lead to many civilian casualties.

Cluster munitions can be fired using artillery that the United States has been providing to Ukraine, and the Pentagon has a large stockpile that was facing decommissioning.

A man standing next to the remains of a missile that dropped cluster bombs in a residential housing complex in Sloviansk, Ukraine, on June 27, 2022. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
A man standing next to the remains of a missile that dropped cluster bombs in a residential housing complex in Sloviansk, Ukraine, on June 27, 2022. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The Biden administration said the cluster munitions will enable the Ukrainians to continue their war effort with the ordnance they need, while the United States and others who supply Ukraine ramp up their production of artillery shells to further assist Ukraine’s defense.

“We don’t see this as a permanent solution but rather a bridge,” Colin Kahl, undersecretary of defense for policy, said at a July 7 press briefing.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan said at a separate briefing, “We are reaching a point in this conflict, because of the dramatically high expenditure rates of artillery by Ukraine and by Russia, where we need to build a bridge from where we are today to when we have enough monthly production of unitary rounds that unitary rounds alone will suffice to give Ukraine what it needs.

“So as a result, this is the moment to begin the construction of that bridge so that there isn’t any period over this summer or heading into this fall when Ukraine is short on artillery and, being short on artillery, it is vulnerable to Russian counterattacks that could subjugate more Ukrainian civilians.”

Mr. Sullivan stopped short of saying there was a shortage of artillery shells.

Heidi Grant, Boeing’s director of business development who was a former top official for the Pentagon’s weapons sales, told the panel in London that in order to start production lines, industry needs a “written, on-paper request” of what’s required, Breaking Defense reported.

“It’s hard for us to make the investment unless we know that [the demand is] really there,” Ms. Grant said.

Michael Clements and The Associated Press contributed to this report.