Are the Belligerents
Running out of Ammunition?
Although running out of missiles has been a concern for a while, that problem came to the fore on Tuesday when Raytheon CEO Hayes spoke about the production of the Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, which Raytheon produces.
Hayes replied to a question by the media that although Raytheon is producing the missile for an international customer, “We have a very limited stock of material for Stinger production.”
“DoD hasn’t bought a Stinger in about 18 years,” the CEO said. “And some of the components are no longer commercially available.”
He didn’t see any replenishment contracts until 2023 or 2024.
Now the question is: have the 1,400 Stinger missiles sent to Ukraine depleted the US war reserves?
Probably not. However, there is every reason to assume that procurement specialists underestimated the need for Stingers in a major conventional war in Europe.
There are also concerns about the stockpiles of Javelin anti-tank missiles. These have been shipped to Ukraine since the Trump presidency and it is estimated that one third of the US Javelin stockpile has gone to Ukraine.
Underestimating the need for munitions in a war is a common threat.
This principle was evident in WWI, when the shortage of artillery ammunition caused the collapse of the British government. France was running out of artillery ammunition within 6 weeks. By November the British and Germans were also running short on artillery shells – thanks in part to the trench warfare that required more and larger artillery shells. In May 1915, just 10 months after the start of the war., the British government fell because of the ammunition shortage.
Are the NATO countries and Russia having the same problem? Germany excused its failure to support Ukraine with arms with the claim that it had no more to spare. NATO pressure changed the German government’s position and ammunition, and heavy equipment is now moving from Germany to Ukraine.
Although they aren’t talking about it, the Russians are probably running short on missiles as the number of cities being hit by missiles every day has declined. Now, much of their firepower is based on traditional bombs and artillery bombardment.
But, what about the high-tech munitions of the West? Are they running out of the missiles that stalemated Russian aircraft and tanks?
Stockpile numbers of ammunition are secret. We do know that the US government is activating some small arms ammunition factories that are kept in mothballs for a military emergency. They aren’t producing missiles, but they are producing some of the small-arms ammunition that Ukraine is running short of.
But, what about the high-tech missiles? Is NATO running out? Are they not needed as much as they were in the opening days of the war?
The Stinger and Javelin missiles were designed in the Cold War when NATO was expecting a massed tank attack through Germany. They were designed to give small units being overwhelmed by the Russians a potent way to fight back. Given how well they worked in Ukraine, it appears that they were well designed for the mission.
Although the Russian attack on Ukraine was large, it wasn’t as massive as what would have been unleashed on NATO in a conventional WWIII scenario. That means that there should be sufficient supplies left – a concern since this war is slowly sliding into a major world conflict.
A review of other sources indicates that there are more missiles in US and NATO reserves.
A 2020 press release by defense contractor Aerojet Rocketdyne may give us a clue about how many Stinger missiles have been produced. In celebrating the production of its 5,000th Stinger rocket motor at its Camden Arkansas plant, they noted that they had delivered 60,000 rocket engines for the Stinger program. Current production is to increase the missile’s shelf life by 10 years, so some of those rocket engines are likely replacements for earlier models.
Even if every Stinger has been updated with a new rocket engine that means there were about 30,000 Stingers produced. Although some were used in the Afghan war against the Soviets, the 1,400 Stingers given to the Ukrainians is not enough to endanger the US or NATO.
There is also the question if Stingers and Javelins are the best weapon for the current Russian offensive against Ukraine in the east. Remember that they were designed for the envisioned mobile battlefield of central Europe.
The current battle is slowly heading into a stalemate. The Ukrainians are generally controlling their airspace with their air defense and fighter aircraft. It also appears that they currently have more tanks in the theater than the Russians.
Although the Russians are making slow advances, they seem unable to take urban areas or well defended Ukraine defensive positions. They are also sticking to roads, which means that there are large areas still controlled by the Ukrainian Army. Since they have made a dent into their missile arsenal, the Russians are relying more on artillery bombardment in this offensive.
This change in tactics wasn’t unexpected. The push to resupply the Ukrainians has not been for portable missiles, but heavy equipment. Soviet era anti-aircraft missile systems have been exported by NATO nations to Ukraine. Soviet tanks and armored vehicles have been shipped to Ukraine in return for promises by the US that they will “backfill” those NATO nations with newer American armor and air defense systems.
There also remains talk about sending Russian made fighter aircraft from nations formerly part of the Warsaw Pact.
The US has also changed its resupply of Ukraine. It is sending millions of dollars of small arms ammunition. It is also focusing more on artillery. Howitzers are being sent, along with thousands of rounds of ammunition. They are also sending counter battery radar, which allows the Ukrainians to determine where incoming artillery is coming from so they can immediately return fire to destroy the Russian artillery batteries.
Obviously, the US sees the current battle as more of a trench war of the WWI style than the Blitzkrieg of WWII.
Meanwhile, in the US, politicians and Defense Department procurement officials are trying to speed up weapons production. In a bipartisan move, the House Armed Services committee wrote to the Defense Department, “We believe this is a matter of the highest urgency.”
They continued, “Events in Europe have demonstrated the importance of such a capability and the need for the Army and Marine Corps to develop a plan to invigorate the industrial base.”
It appears that any future legislation to give Ukraine more arms and supplies has a readymade majority in both the House and Senate.
The fact is that the US industrial base can react quickly if needed. Weapons that would usually take years to field can take months or weeks when needed. The Switchblade Drone sent to Ukraine is an example as it took months to produce instead of the usual years. Another example was the armored vehicle that was designed to survive roadside bombs in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Defense Production Act helped to field these in about one year.
With Putin showing little desire to back down in Ukraine, we can expect to see the Defense Production Act to be used frequently soon. No doubt other NATO nations will do the same.
We can also expect to see more nations go into their war reserves to activate older equipment to send to Ukraine. There are reports that the UK will send its older Chieftain tanks to Ukraine. And the chances that the Ukraine will receive more fighter aircraft are only growing.
Don’t expect this demand for more munitions to cease. On Thursday, Biden asked for $33 billion for more aid to Ukraine. This was on top of the $13.6 billion aid package passed last month for Ukraine and Western allies. Although this package was to last the Ukraine for five months, half of the approved money for weapons and equipment for the Ukraine military has been drawn down already.
Of course, as it becomes obvious that more nations are willing to go further to support Ukraine, the question remains at what time this evolves from the Russo-Ukrainian War to World War Three?