The U.S. and Europe are running out of weapons to send to Ukraine, Dave Des Roches, associate professor and senior military scientist at the U.S. National Defense University, said.
“I’m greatly concerned. Unless we have new production, which takes months to ramp up, we’re not going to have the ability to supply the Ukrainians,” Des Roches told CNBC.
“The military stocks of most [European NATO] member states have been, I wouldn’t say exhausted, but depleted in a high proportion, because we have been providing a lot of capacity to the Ukrainians,” Josep Borrell, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, said earlier this month.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg held a special meeting of the alliance's arms directors on Tuesday to discuss ways to replenish member states' weapons stocks.
Military analysts point to a root problem: Western countries have produced weapons in much smaller quantities in peacetime, and governments have preferred to cut back on very expensive production and produce weapons only as needed. Some weapons that are running out of stock are no longer being produced, and they require highly skilled labor and expertise, things that have been lacking in the U.S. manufacturing sector for years.
Stoltenberg told the U.N. General Assembly last week that NATO members need to reinvest in their industrial bases in the weapons sector.
But building up defense production is not a quick and easy task.
The U.S. has been the largest supplier of military aid to Ukraine, providing $15.2 billion in arms packages to date.
The U.S. has almost run out of 155mm howitzers to give to Ukraine; to send more, the country would have to use its own stockpiles. But this is unacceptable to the Pentagon, military analysts say, which means supplies reserved for U.S. operations are unlikely to suffer.
“There are a number of systems where I think the Department of Defense has reached the levels where it’s not willing to provide more of that particular system to Ukraine,” said Mark Cancian, a former U.S. Marine Corps Colonel and a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
That’s because “the United States needs to maintain stockpiles to support war plans,” Cancian said. “For some munitions, the driving war plan would be a conflict with China over Taiwan or in the South China Sea; for others, particularly ground systems, the driving war plan would be North Korea or Europe.”
For Ukrainian forces, this means that some of their most important combat equipment, such as the 155-mm howitzer, must be replaced with older and less-optimal weapons, such as the 105-mm howitzer, which has a lower payload and a shorter range.
Other weapons Ukraine relies on that are now classified as limited in the U.S. arsenal include HIMARS launchers, Javelin missiles, Stinger missiles, the M777 howitzer and 155mm ammunition.
Production of the Javelin, in the U.S. is low, about 800 a year, and according to CSIS, Washington has already shipped about 8,500 to Ukraine, a production volume of more than a decade.
The Pentagon has ordered hundreds of millions of dollars worth of new Javelins, but it takes time to ramp them up. According to Kancian, it could take one to four years for the U.S. to significantly increase overall weapons production.