Cost of Throwing Weapons Away to Ukraine Becomes Clear: US National Defense Stockpiles Depleted
It’s impossible to watch the images of the carnage and destruction in Ukraine and not feel that America should be supplying more weapons to the embattled nation. But the truth is, contrary to popular opinion, U.S. supplies of the most essential missile systems such as anti-tank Javelins and anti-aircraft Stingers are rapidly shrinking.
In a recent article, Mark F. Cancian, a senior adviser with the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., asks a critical question: “Will the United States run out of Javelins before Russia runs out of tanks?”
The Pentagon doesn’t publish specific information about U.S. inventory levels of these missiles, but Cancian provided some informed estimates.
The U.S. has given the Ukrainians 7,000 Javelins so far which, according to Cancian, is nearly one-third of our pre-Russian invasion stock. He writes: “Total production has been 37,739 since production began in 1994. Every year, U.S. forces use some missiles for training and testing. Thus, there may be 20,000 to 25,000 remaining in the stockpiles. These 7,000 systems represent about one-third of the U.S. total inventory.”
While Cancian’s estimates of U.S. supply levels of Javelins may sound slightly low, based on information from other sources, they are actually reasonable. For example, last month Forbes reported that “45,000 missiles [have been] produced or [are] on order.” This would support Cancian’s claim that nearly 38,000 Javelins have been produced. It’s highly likely that an additional 7,000 are on order.
Moreover, a recent article in Army-Technology.com, says that “more than 50,000 Javelin missiles and 12,000 CLUs [controlled launch units that are required to fire the missiles] are currently in service with the US armed forces and 19 allied nations.”
At any rate, replenishing our inventory is easier said than done, because the delivery time for a Javelin runs around 32 months. The U.S. military purchases approximately 1,000 Javelins every year, Cancian notes, and the “maximum production rate is 6,480 a year, though it would likely take a year or more to reach that level. …. This means that it will take about three or four years to replace the missiles that have been delivered so far. If the United States delivers more missiles to Ukraine, this time to replace extends.”
The supply and replenishment story for Stinger anti-aircraft missiles is similar. The U.S. has given Ukraine 2,000 Stingers so far. Cancian writes: “The United States has not purchased any since 2003. At that time, the total production was stated as 11,600 missiles (from the FY 2000 budget documents). With testing and training losses of 1 percent a year, the remaining inventory would be about 8,000. So, the United States has sent about a quarter of its inventory to Ukraine.”
Cancian estimates delivery time for Stingers to be about 24 months. “The problem,” he explains, “is that the production line is apparently kept alive only by a small number of foreign sales, so it may take longer than 24 months to ramp up.”
The effectiveness of the Javelins has allowed Ukraine to stand up to a much more powerful enemy. The importance of these missiles in their fight against the Russians cannot be overstated.
However, the Russians have an enormous supply of armored vehicles. Which returns us to Cancian’s initial question: “Will the U.S. run out of Javelins before Russia runs out of tanks?”
And the answer is, it’s very possible.
In Ukraine’s favor are the high number of casualties they’ve managed to inflict on the invaders. Three weeks ago, The Wall Street Journal published NATO’s estimate of Russian casualties (this includes troops killed, wounded, captured and missing) of 40,000. This number is, no doubt, far higher today.
Cancian notes that casualties in Russia’s special forces units have been “especially high,” so the skill level of the reinforcement troops is unlikely to match that of the soldiers they’re replacing. And the morale of the Russian fighters, which was “never high,” is falling.
“So, it is a race,” he says.
It’s all good to extend the arsenal of democracy out to countries that we believe are deserving of help, but not at the expense of our own national security. What happens if we need to square off against an opponent with a modern tank corps, and a third – or more – of our Javelins are gone?
We must either ramp up production of Javelins and Stingers and push other nations to contribute more of their own to help Ukraine, or we must reduce the number we give to Ukraine. Or both.
The reality is that the U.S. must be mindful of its own defense needs.
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