May 21, 2024

The Pentagon Isn’t Buying Enough Ammo

U.S. Defense Department officials profess to have learned one of the starkest lessons from the war in Ukraine: that high-intensity conflicts consume a huge number of munitions and that weapons production cannot rapidly expand. William LaPlante, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, coined the phrase “production is deterrence” in late 2023, and this mantra has been repeated by other senior leaders, including Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks.

Unfortunately, the Defense Department’s budget request for fiscal year 2025, which asks for $1.2 billion less than last year for key conventional precision-guided munitions, belies these claims. The Pentagon cannot continue to kick the can down the road and promise to buy more munitions next year. Supplemental appropriations are needed to replenish inventories of weapons given to partners and expended during operations in the Middle East, but on their own, they are a Band-Aid that will not fix the fundamental problem of production levels that do not match the intensity of modern warfare. The Pentagon needs to consistently buy more of the right weapons to support allies and partners, deal with the threats it faces today, and deter future challenges.

Even in today’s constrained budget environment, the U.S. Defense Department needs to do more to prioritize munitions buys and prove it has learned the lessons of Ukraine.

Understandably, U.S. military weapons stockpiles shrunk and the defense industrial base consolidated at the end of the Cold War as the threat of superpower war receded. Over the next few decades, the Pentagon sought to become leaner and more efficient, deciding that it was wasteful to buy and store large caches of weapons that might never be used.

Instead, the department purchased small stockpiles, typically numbering no more than several thousand of the more sophisticated, longer-range missiles—such as the PAC-3, SM-6, Tomahawk, or Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missiles that could be supplemented by just-in-time production. This procurement strategy was sufficient for U.S. forces that were focused on lower-intensity counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations because the demand for weapons was expected to be low.

But even small contingencies, such as the 1999 air war in Kosovo and the 2014 operation against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, nearly exhausted U.S. stores of key precision weapons.

Read the full article from Foreign Policy.

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