WASHINGTON — U.S. Army officials facing supply chain snags as they seek to restock Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and Javelin anti-tank weapons sent to Ukraine may get a reprieve.
The Army’s chief weapons buyer, Doug Bush, and Senate Airland Subcommittee ranking member Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said Tuesday they’re interested in adding “advanced procurement” funding to the Army’s budget for certain components of the weapons — which Ukrainian forces have used to keep Russian forces from dominating their skies — to allow faster manufacturing.
“That is something we could possibly use in this case to shorten those timelines,” Bush said at a hearing Tuesday. “So we could buy long-lead items this year to support deliveries that would be put on contract next year.”
Cotton agreed, criticizing the current production schedules of 18 to 30 months. Raytheon Technologies makes the Stinger, and — as part of a joint venture with Lockheed Martin — the Javelin. The chief executives of both firms have voiced supply chain struggles.
“We need to find solutions that produce these weapons at a much faster rate than I’ve seen assessed in classified settings,” Cotton said. “I suspect most people on the committee would want to work with the [Defense] Department on that.”
Bush proposed the advanced procurement funding as an adjustment to the Army’s fiscal 2023 budget, which is not likely to be approved by Congress for months. Defense watchers may associate advanced procurement funding with large weapons platforms, and Bush said it was not a tool the Army uses often.
The U.S. House on Tuesday passed a $40 billion spending package for Ukraine that authorizes the Biden administration to send another $11 billion in U.S. military equipment to Ukraine and includes $8.7 billion to backfill stocks already sent.
As the administration works with industry to boost production capacity, some lawmakers worry U.S. stockpiles are being strained. Lawmakers have said the roughly 5,000 Javelins the Biden administration has sent to Ukraine amount to one-third of the U.S. stockpiles, and the 1,400 Stingers sent to Ukraine represent a quarter of U.S. stockpiles.
Asked at a Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on May 3 whether those stocks could be replaced within a year, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said yes, with the help of the Ukraine spending package.
“It’s not only possible, but we will do that,” he said. “We will never go below our minimum requirement for our stockpiles.”
There have been several less optimistic assessments.
On Sunday, Lockheed CEO Jim Taiclet said the company hopes to double production to 4,000 Javelins per year, but it would take “a number of months, maybe even a couple of years” and that Congress could help by reshoring microprocessor manufacturing.
Raytheon CEO Greg Hayes has said his company may not be able to make more Stingers until at least 2023 and, because some components are no longer commercially available, the company will have to redesign electronics in the missile’s seeker head.
At a separate congressional hearing Tuesday, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth acknowledged Raytheon’s efforts.
“Raytheon is trying to really accelerate. Whether they can come inside of a one-year period, I’m not sure. I think it may take a little more time,” she said. “But we are trying to work aggressively with industry and are committed to replacing stockpiles, at least to the level that they were. There may be some congressional discussion about moving higher than the past level.”
While Raytheon hasn’t offered specifics about the Stinger’s obsolete part, former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Industrial Policy Bill Greenwalt told Defense News it’s likely a piece of electronics that’s gone out of production. The Pentagon in many other cases has tried to stockpile these chips when they’re about to be unavailable, but “that is not always successful,” he said in an email.
“Something along those lines is likely to have happened so the part will likely need to be redesigned, prototyped, tested, and only when proven that it works can be produced in quantity,” Greenwalt said. “That can’t begin until after the [Pentagon’s] notoriously slow decision, budgeting, and contracting processes have been completed.”
The Army has been working to upgrade some of its stockpile of Stinger missiles with a proximity fuze, which enables them to more effectively defeat unmanned aircraft systems.
The service uses the missile in its new Stryker combat vehicle-based Short Range Air Defense systems and is planning to field four battalions with the new SHORAD capability. One of those battalions has already deployed to Europe.
But the service hasn’t built any new Stingers since 2005 and is already turning its attention to designing and fielding a replacement missile, recently issuing a request for information to industry. The Army wants to conduct a prototyping program through fiscal 2028.
Bush noted that if Congress provided more research and development dollars, the Army would be able to potentially accelerate that replacement program — listed as one of the Army’s FY23 unfunded requirements.
Acting Army Futures Command commander Lt. Gen. James Richardson said during a May 10 hearing he had also recently signed a requirements document for an upgraded Stinger.
Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.