Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania — One blazing artillery round at a time, the future armament of Ukraine’s war effort is being fashioned within a vast plant off the President Biden Freeway in downtown Scranton, Pennsylvania.
When the Scranton Army Ammunition Factory is operating at full capacity, as it did on a recent January morning, it produces about 11,000 artillery shells each month. Although that may seem like a lot, the Ukrainian military frequently shoots that many shells in a short period.
The Scranton facility is undergoing a significant expansion to satisfy that demand, supported by new Pentagon defense spending totaling millions of dollars. It is making investments in new, cutting-edge equipment, recruiting a few dozen more people, and eventually transitioning to a 24/7 production schedule.
“During the past year, it has picked up. According to Todd Smith, senior director of General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems, which runs the plant for the Army, “it will be able to ramp up even higher as we bring in more contemporary technology.”
Smith continued, “The intensity has increased.” “Let’s just say that,” she said.
Over the past year, the military of Ukraine has already received close to $50 billion in supplies and weapons from the US and its allies. The Pentagon is rushing to re-arm, starting the biggest rise in ammunition production in decades, and placing some parts of the US defense industry on a war footing even though America is not technically at war. This is done to maintain the status quo and to restore its stockpiles.
Around $3 billion has been set aside by the Pentagon to purchase weapons from friends abroad and increase domestic production. Part of that money will be used to produce 155-millimeter artillery projectiles, which have evolved into a wartime necessity.
According to Army Acquisition Chief Doug Bush, the Army is proposing a 500% increase in artillery shell production, from 15,000 per month to 70,000. The Scranton plant, which produces a significant portion of the nation’s supply of artillery shells, will meet a big portion of that increase.
Ammunition manufacturers throughout the Nation are accelerating production. All of the rockets and missiles produced by a Lockheed Martin facility in Camden, Arkansas, including those employed by the Army’s Patriot missile system, are in high demand in Ukraine. In January, Bush told reporters that the Army was building a new facility in Garland, Texas to produce artillery shells, while an existing facility in Middletown, Iowa, which loads, packs, and assembles 155-millimeter projectiles, was being enlarged.
Bush spoke to the associated press The Army wants to make twice as many Javelin anti-tank missiles, roughly 33% more Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (GMLRS) surface-to-surface medium-range missiles annually, and at least 60 Stinger anti-aircraft missiles every month. According to Bush, these missiles were “almost not in production at all.”
Some of the most important and relied-upon weapons used by Ukraine to prevent Russian ground advances and aerial assaults are the Stinger and Javelin missiles. Ukraine has already informed the US that it needs 500 of each weapon daily.
We realized that we have to plant our foot firmly on the ground, said Bush.
A race against the clock
The US and its allies are facing a serious issue as the war in Ukraine enters its second year: Ukraine is using up ammunition faster than the US and NATO can provide it.
During a major meeting this week in Brussels, the issue of diminishing weapons supply took center stage. The difficulties of continuing to maintain Ukraine’s military’s well-supplied supply were openly discussed by members of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, an alliance of 54 nations supporting the defense of Ukraine.
According to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, “our defense industry is under strain” since Ukraine is currently spending money on munitions at a rate that is “several times higher than our current rate of production.”
Defense contractors in the United States are bearing a large portion of that burden. Nonetheless, there are concerns over whether the US’s historic rearmament effort will be sufficient. The US is still years away from achieving its anticipated level of enhanced military production, as Ukraine gets ready for a much-awaited spring onslaught in the coming weeks.
According to Michael Kofman, director of Russia Studies at the Center for Naval Analyses, a non-profit organization dedicated to national security research, “the war depends heavily on defense industrial production. These are critical investments that the US and ultimately Ukraine will benefit from, but the question is, were they made too late to affect what could be the decisive phases of the conflict this year.”
When compared to the increased American production capacity, Kofman said that the issues facing Ukraine were more immediate and long-term.
Bush claimed that it will take the US 12 to 18 months to produce 70,00 artillery shells per month at its “max” rate.
Restocking US weapons reserves
The US has to keep up with demands for more weaponry from partners, which have been steadily rising, in addition to making sure the Ukrainian military has what they need.
As a result of the war, “many allies in Europe are currently increasing their orders for US military equipment, so that’s adding to the need for our manufacture,” said Bush. Compared to international military sales, which are normally predicted months in advance, Ukraine’s requirement “changing month to month,” he noted.
However, some experts believe that the US’s stockpiles, which have been critically depleted as a result of the war in Ukraine, need to be rebuilt.
Seth Jones, the director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies International Security Program, recently published a report in which he issues a dire warning: “US stocks of some types of weapon systems and munitions, such as Stinger surface-to-air missiles, 155mm howitzers and ammunition, and Javelin anti-tank missile systems, have been depleted.”
Additionally, Jones told the associated press that according to CSIS war simulations, the US runs out of “critical long-range munitions” like long-range anti-ship missiles “in less than a week of the fight” in a Pacific confrontation.
“If our entire strategy right now, especially in the Pacific, is deterrence, we want to prevent conflict. A key part of deterrence is having the weapon systems and having enough of them pre-positioned in strategic areas so that any actor considering the aggressive use of force knows that we mean business and have those systems in place to use and we’ve got enough of them to use in a protracted conflict,” Jones said. That’s not where we are at the moment, though.
The Pentagon is making every effort to move things along quickly. Changes to the way the nation’s major defense contractors are organized as part of this initiative. It is challenging for industrial partners to plan with production and their staff to satisfy the needs the military lays out for them because the military frequently operates off year-to-year contracts.
“No military business in its right mind is going to start producing weapons if, by the end of every fiscal year, the Marine Corps, the Navy, and the Air Force take what it had allotted in budget and move it to a different pet platform or program,” said Jones of CSIS.
Longer-term contracts are being considered by the Defense Department, according to Bush, who concurred that this would result in “a more efficient supplier base.” According to him, a seven-year contract, for instance, enables the business to plan its labor and production over a long period rather than operating from year to year. However, expanding that workforce will be essential because new plants and shifts may ultimately result in more jobs.
The democratic arsenal
Top US defense officials expressed optimism about being able to provide Ukraine with what it needs this week in Brussels.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin declared, “With unity and urgency, we will once more deliver the help that we have promised to Ukraine. “We will equip trained Ukrainian forces with the necessary tools so they can cooperate on the battlefield.”
In a press conference on Tuesday, Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States, shared a similar stance, saying that the international community “will continue to back Ukraine” until Russian President Vladimir Putin “ends his war of choice.”
But, there are concerns about how long-lasting the US commitment to Ukraine is at home. Republicans’ support for US aid to Ukraine was shown to be waning in a poll conducted in December, and there were worries that a Republican-led Congress may result in a decrease in that support at a time when the speed at which weapons are produced could make all the difference on the battlefield.
A few far-right politicians, like Lauren Boebert, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Paul Gosar, endorsed Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz’s plan to stop US help for Ukraine when it was submitted last week. Nevertheless, according to GOP sources who spoke to the associated press, there are only a few Republican members who oppose sending help to Ukraine.
And although Kevin McCarthy, who was the House Minority Leader at the time, stated in October that Republicans may cut money for Ukraine if they won control of the chamber, sources claim he has since retracted his remarks to appease senior defense hawks in the House.
If everything goes as planned, US production rates will be significantly higher than they are right now in a year, according to Bush. Bush is convinced that the American military and industrial base will be prepared for whatever happens after, even though it is hoped that the crisis in Ukraine will be resolved much sooner.
Bush declared, “We are still the democratic army.” “And no one does it better than America,”