This article is a year and half old but still valid in my opinion.
The war in Ukraine has proven that the age of industrial warfare is still here. The massive consumption of equipment, vehicles and ammunition requires a large-scale industrial base for resupply – quantity still has a quality of its own.
For Ukraine, compounding this task are Russian deep fires capabilities, which target Ukrainian military industry and transportation networks throughout the depth of the country. The Russian army has also suffered from Ukrainian cross-border attacks and acts of sabotage, but at a smaller scale. The rate of ammunition and equipment consumption in Ukraine can only be sustained by a large-scale industrial base.
This reality should be a concrete warning to Western countries, who have scaled down military industrial capacity and sacrificed scale and effectiveness for efficiency. This strategy relies on flawed assumptions about the future of war, and has been influenced by both the bureaucratic culture in Western governments and the legacy of low-intensity conflicts. Currently, the West may not have the industrial capacity to fight a large-scale war. If the US government is planning to once again become the arsenal of democracy, then the existing capabilities of the US military-industrial base and the core assumptions that have driven its development need to be re-examined.
Presently, the US is decreasing its artillery ammunition stockpiles. In 2020, artillery ammunition purchases decreased by 36% to $425 million. In 2022, the plan is to reduce expenditure on 155mm artillery rounds to $174 million. This is equivalent to 75,357 M795 basic ‘dumb’ rounds for regular artillery, 1,400 XM1113 rounds for the M777, and 1,046 XM1113 rounds for Extended Round Artillery Cannons. Finally, there are $75 million dedicated for Excalibur precision-guided munitions that costs $176K per round, thus totaling 426 rounds. In short, US annual artillery production would at best only last for 10 days to two weeks of combat in Ukraine. If the initial estimate of Russian shells fired is over by 50%, it would only extend the artillery supplied for three weeks.
Unfortunately, this is not only the case with artillery. Anti-tank Javelins and air-defence Stingers are in the same boat. The US shipped 7,000 Javelin missiles to Ukraine – roughly one-third of its stockpile – with more shipments to come.
NPR report on javelin production a year and half ago.
The production problem for Javelins is that we’ve sent a lot of them, and we are producing them at a very high rate. We’ve been producing them at about 800 a year, more or less.
Each element of the missile has challenges in its supply chain. The warheads, for example, come from one plant that makes all of the U.S. warheads.
These, by and large, are very old facilities. Many of them were originally built for World War II and have had limited investment since.
The above also applies to the US artillery round production.
Congress dithered for a year to pass funding for increased munitions and weapon production. The US defense industry won’t expand production without such funding. So munition/weapon production has been delayed and our nation is still paying catchup. And now with our nation providing munitions to Israel. Ukraine goes begging.
The expenditure of cruise missiles and theatre ballistic missiles is just as massive.
The US defense production of munitions is based upon assumptions.
The first key assumption about future of combat is that precision-guided weapons will reduce overall ammunition consumption by requiring only one round to destroy the target. The war in Ukraine is challenging this assumption. Many ‘dumb’ indirect fire systems are achieving a great deal of precision without precision guidance, and still the overall ammunition consumption is massive.
The second crucial assumption is that industry can be turned on and off at will. This mode of thinking was imported from the business sector and has spread through US government culture. In the civilian sector, customers can increase or decrease their orders. The producer may be hurt by a drop in orders but rarely is that drop catastrophic because usually there are multiple consumers and losses can be spread among consumers. Unfortunately, this does not work for military purchases. There is only one customer in the US for artillery shells – the military. Once the orders drop off, the manufacturer must close production lines to cut costs to stay in business. Small businesses may close entirely. Generating new capacity is very challenging, especially as there is so little manufacturing capacity left to draw skilled workers from. This is especially challenging because many older armament production systems are labour intensive to the point where they are practically built by hand, and it takes a long time to train a new workforce.
Finally, there is an assumption about overall ammunition consumption rates. The US government has always lowballed this number.
And besides the above, one should look at the US way of war. Artillery and infantry anti-tank weaponry play a diminished part in our way of war. The US establishes air supremacy and then destroys tank and infantry from the air. This is the way it has been done since the Gulf War.
If the US is to be the arsenal of democracy we need to enlarge & modernize plants and create large depots in isolated areas to store the massive amounts munitions.
Of course, all that costs more money.
In any case, the cupboard seems to be empty.
European weapons makers are overwhelmed and struggling to meet Ukraine’s consumption of more than 6,000 artillery rounds each day during peak counteroffensive fighting. Ukraine’s ability to stave off defeat and defend itself against the Russian invasion largely depends on an uninterrupted supply of these rounds.
Last year, to help meet the demand for Ukrainian munitions, the Pentagon tapped into a stockpile of American 155mm rounds in Israel, sending hundreds of thousands to Ukraine.