WASHINGTON ― The U.S. Army’s 2024 budget will request authority to buy more munitions in bulk over multiple years as the U.S. and its allies work to refill their inventories and help Ukraine’s forces defend themselves.
Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology Doug Bush on Friday said the Army is harnessing authorities Congress granted last year to begin multiyear munitions buys and to secure new sources for chemicals used to produce munitions.
“In these ramp-ups, the reason we’re taking a really maximalist foot on the floor all the way down approach is that we don’t know how long the conflict will last, we don’t know how low our stocks will be, we don’t know the full amount we will have to help replenish,” Bush said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Bush noted the Pentagon is expected to raise peacetime munitions stockpile targets.
“I believe our requirements for stockpiles will be higher after these conflicts, after we’ve done the analysis; I think there will be work to do,” Bush said.
The Pentagon doesn’t publicize the levels of its munitions stockpiles, but the U.S. is running low on some high-end weapons systems and ammunition, according to multiple reports. Defense officials say U.S. donations to Ukraine from its own inventories have not compromised readiness.
The volume of deliveries to Ukraine, which is burning through ammunition faster than the U.S. and NATO can produce it, has upended assumptions about how much ammunition gets used to fight wars.
European Union leaders are considering whether, as a bloc, to buy 155mm artillery shells, and Reuters reported last month NATO is expected to increase its targets for munitions stockpiles.
The U.S. Army meanwhile has sped up modernization plans for government-sponsored factories that make conventional munitions and is is investing in private-sector facilities to accelerate production.
“The long-term challenge is how much of that capacity can we sustain over time, post-conflict,” Bush said.
Pentagon officials are mulling the pre-war requirements cognizant that larger stockpiles mitigate production lead times, but stockpiles are expensive to build, maintain and track. The appropriate size of stockpiles for precursor chemicals and other raw materials that go into the munitions is also under discussion.
“All this costs money, but I think how big are our war reserves is a really good policy question that’s being asked and being worked. I know it’s also of interest on [Capitol] Hill,” Bush said.
Still another question is how to strike a balance between industry’s efficiency and affordability ― and its ability to surge in a crisis.
“We of course, expect our defense companies to be efficient and provide their goods at good prices,” Bush said. “If we want them to have excess capacity, we will have to partner with them and work with them to pay for part of that excess capacity that’s not being used.”
Washington must also strike a balance between surging flexible funds and overseeing of taxpayer dollars. Amid a stepped up Congressional oversight push, Bush offered assurances that while Congress has accommodated the Army’s efforts, he and lawmakers take their oversight role seriously.
“It’s a lot of money; there does need to be boundaries on it,” Bush said.
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.