Ukraine fires missiles faster than the US can build them
A major problem is brewing in Ukraine’s war effort against Russia. Although they are progressing, they need one thing from the United States to win.
The United States has an ammunition problem. He gave Ukraine 7,000 Javelin anti-tank missiles. There are 14,000 left. And it will take a year to replace those already in use.
It’s even worse when it comes to Stinger anti-aircraft missiles. According to a report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), 2000 were donated to the Ukrainian war effort. The United States has about 6,000 remaining. And building 2000 replacements will take about five years.
“The United States is approaching the point where it must reduce transfers to maintain sufficient stocks for its own war plans,” warns Mark Cancian, senior adviser to CSIS. “Will Ukraine’s anti-tank weapons inflict enough combat casualties on Russia to produce a battlefield stalemate before Ukraine runs out of its most effective anti-tank weapons?”
American missiles can be extremely effective. But the calculation is brutal.
They are expensive. They are complicated. They take years to build. And their maintenance requires considerable effort.
Yet each Javelin can only destroy one tank. And each Stinger can only shoot down one plane.
If they knock. And if they survive long enough to be fired.
And wherever the war goes, the troops will want them. It is true in Ukraine. This could be true for Taiwan. Or India.
“Military planners are probably getting nervous,” Cancian says. “At some point, these stocks will get low enough that military planners will wonder if their war plans can be executed.”
War – too expensive to fight
“We have destroyed more Russian military equipment than some countries in Europe currently have,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said proudly of his defender’s success.
But the war is not over yet.
Russia has 2800 active tanks. It has an additional 13,000 armored vehicles.
“Open source intelligence indicates that the Russians lost around 1,300 armored vehicles,” Cancian notes.
Many of them fell on the long-range Javelin missile supplied by the United States.
Only one soldier can carry the weapon. It can be dragged around the countryside before being “discovered”, pointed at a designated target and fired.
It then guides itself to an ideal position above the armored vehicle before exploding downward, piercing a tank or the APC’s thin upper armour.
But Russia still has 10,000 older tanks in stock and a similar number of reserve armored personnel carriers.
“The bottom line is that the Russians won’t run out of armored vehicles anytime soon,” Cancian concludes.
That is why Ukraine is also urgently looking for large quantities of cheaper and less capable anti-tank weapons.
That doesn’t mean useless.
Britain’s NLAW (New Generation Light Anti-Tank Weapon), for example, is lighter to transport and cheaper to produce. But its sensors aren’t as complex, its warhead isn’t as powerful, and its range isn’t as great as the Javelin’s.
It was also used to devastating effect in ambushes by Ukrainian troops.
But stocks of this European-made weapon are also limited.
“Time is running out,” says Cancian. “The Ukrainians and the Russians are now involved in a race for reinforcements – both are trying to build up combat forces, logistics centers, consumables, communication networks, intelligence, engineers, etc. as quickly as possible at ballast.”
Bullets are not the problem. The United States has so far supplied Ukraine with 50 million cartridges. It can produce 8.7 billion a year.
Missiles are another story.
It’s not just about buying more. Missiles must be built. And they are infinitely more complex than copper, lead, steel and gunpowder bullets.
“The delivery time is 32 months; that is, once the order is placed, it will take 32 months before a missile is delivered,” Cancian said of the Javelin anti-tank missile.
Its manufacturer says it can build a maximum of 6480 in a year. But only 1000 are currently on the assembly line.
“That means it will take about three or four years to replace the missiles that have been delivered so far,” he warns.
No new Stinger anti-aircraft missiles have been built since 2003. CSIS estimates the remaining stockpile at around 8,000 weapons.
Two decades ago, the peak production rate was about 720 per year. Manufacturing times were 24 months.
“That means it will take at least five years to replace the reduced inventory (two years for lead time and three years for production),” Cancian says.
The problem is not just that of the United States.
Russia also has supply problems.
Reports from Ukraine suggest that it has long since reduced its use of smart munitions. In their place, fighter jets and armored vehicles rely on more basic unguided rockets and bombs.
Another issue is the quality and condition of reserve equipment mobilized to replace losses. Not to mention the condition of his surviving troops.
“Reinforcements and replacements may restore some strength, but skills deteriorate and morale, never high, appears to be declining,” Cancian said. “So it’s a race. Will Russian combat losses produce a stalemate on the battlefield before Ukraine exhausts its most effective anti-tank weapons?”