No easy answer to boost Stinger production, says Pentagon #2

United States Marine Corps Pfc. Scout Mohrman fires a Stinger missile during training at Led Mountain, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif., Jan. 14, 2019. (US Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Rachel K. Young)

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Obsolete parts and labor issues pose a problem for the United States as it plans to increase production of the shoulder-mounted Stinger anti-aircraft system to bolster weapons for Ukraine and replenish US stockpiles, the Pentagon’s No. 2 official said. Tuesday.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, US and NATO-supplied munitions, such as the Raytheon-made Stinger, have been an integral part of Ukrainian forces as they attempt to retain control of their airspace against the larger and better equipped Russian army.

However, lawmakers’ concerns about dwindling US military stockpiles have raised questions about how best to replenish ammunition – questions that Deputy Secretary Kathleen Hicks said the Pentagon is still working to resolve. , especially when it comes to Stinger.

“There are very specific issues with Stinger and some obsolescence issues that we have to overcome,” Hicks told traveling press, including Breaking Defense, on Tuesday. “It’s because we in the United States are focused on new capabilities. So now we want to make sure we can produce, or see what it takes to produce, what we need for this crisis.

Another problem, Hicks added, is that the US defense industry has focused on building the most advanced munitions the US military has purchased in recent years, while production of older weapons like the 1970s Stinger requires different skills.

“Transitioning this manpower to the appropriate ammunition for the fight against Ukraine, that requires a shift in focus and training,” she said.

“We had a lot of opportunities between the [Pentagon’s acquisition and sustainment] community… and the political community to start thinking about how we work with other armaments directors in Europe and elsewhere to understand what they have, to start understanding the supply chain interrelationships and see if we can speed up some of that.

RELATED: Stinger, Javelin Production Can Be Boosted With Congressional Support: Army Official

During a House Armed Services Committee hearing earlier Tuesday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told lawmakers the Pentagon was working with industry to determine how to expedite the planned timeline to replenish ammunition stockpiles that decreased due to Ukraine.

“I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to truncate, you know, the projected timelines that we got early on,” he said. “We work very hard. The industry has been responsive. And if we need any further assistance or congressional authorities, we won’t hesitate to ask.

Hicks and Austin’s comments came just hours before the Biden administration announced an additional $100 million for Javelin anti-tank weapons for Ukraine, which Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement. a statement of urgent need. So far, the United States has provided $1.7 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the invasion began on Feb. 24, and more than $2.4 billion since the start. of the Biden administration in 2021.

Stinger production line: can it even be restarted?

While Javelin – which is made by a Lockheed Martin-Raytheon joint venture – remains in production for the US military, the US Army and Marine Corps haven’t purchased Stinger systems in decades. Today, the Stinger production line serves only one international customer, who sourced and supplied many obsolete parts needed to build their own Stingers.

Since the Stinger is made with a number of components that are no longer in production, there are a finite number of Stingers that could be made with the existing parts available on the market.

There are also concerns that due to the labor considerations Hicks alluded to, Ukraine may need Stingers faster than the United States could replenish its own stock, resulting in a shortfall. In the months following the start of the conflict, the United States supplied Ukraine with around 2,000 Stingers, but it currently takes 18 to 24 months to produce a single production batch of Stinger missiles, CNN reported on 28 March.

A source told Breaking Defense that the production process involves very little automation, with artisans making the Stingers together by hand.

In March, HASC Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., and ranking member Mike Rogers, R-Ala., implored Pentagon leaders to begin work on a modern short-range air defense system that would could replace Stinger. They called the issue “a matter of the utmost urgency” and stipulated that the new system should be inexpensive, exportable and ready in 36 months.

The fiscal year 2022 budget, which was signed into law last month, provided $3.5 billion for the Pentagon to replenish munitions donated to Ukraine. That money should be used to find new parts and production methods that could bridge the gap between Stinger and a modern system, a senior congressional official told Breaking Defense last week.

“If we wait for FY23 [National Defense Authorization Act] to solve this problem, we waited too long and wasted months,” the assistant said. “If we spend six months procrastinating, it’s too late and we’ve lost six months. We don’t have that leeway.

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