Image: The Stinger missile. Credit: Reytheon - Photo: 2023

Arms Flow to Ukraine Threatens to Undermine US Fire Power

By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, 31 March 2023 (IDN) — The uninterrupted flow of US weapons to Ukraine—running into billions of dollars—may ultimately have a negative fallout on American military security and its fire power. So far, US economic and military aid to Ukraine, along with security assistance, is estimated at about 100 billion dollars.

According to a March 25 report in the New York Times, it could take at least five to 13 years to replace some of these weapons in the US military inventories.

The Times quoted a spokesman for Raytheon, one of the major arms manufacturers in the US, who warned that replacing the Stinger missile stock alone “would take 13 years of production at recent capacity levels to replace them”.

“It has sent so many Javelin missiles that it would take five years at last year’s rates to replace them.”

If a large-scale war broke out with China, “within one week the US would run out of so-called long-range anti-ship missiles”, a vital weapon in any engagement with China, according to a series of war-game exercises conducted by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Dr Alon Ben-Meir, a retired professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University (NYU), told IDN the recent article in the New York Times stating—that “the flow of arms to Ukraine has exposed a worrisome lack of production capacity in the United States that has its roots in the end of the Cold War”—should certainly sound an alarm at all branches of the US military.

The depletion of such ordnances, he pointed out, impacts the Air Force, Army, and Navy, which include basic ammunition like artillery shells, air defense systems, Javelin missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles, SM-6 missiles, and rockets and guided missiles for warships, submarines, and planes.

Although it will take between 5 to 13 years to replenish (depending on the kind of ordnance) equipment to the level necessary to maintain full readiness for any potential conflict with China or Russia, as was reported by the Times, there is no imminent danger that faces the US at this particular juncture, he warned.

There are several reasons that explain why the potential Chinese threat should not be overblown, he said.

“To begin with, China is experiencing a significant economic downturn and it is not about to challenge the US militarily when its trade war with the US generated $550 billion in import tariffs on Chinese goods, which do not appear to be ending anytime soon,” said Dr Ben-Meir who has taught courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies for over 20 years.

He said China is not adventurist and would always prefer to solve the Taiwan conflict with the US by peaceful means. In this regard, the US should not provoke China in any way as it would only rase the temperature without any gains.

“China also knows that the US is not looking to escalate the conflict and would rather keep the channels open. The US administration is seeking a direct communication between Chairman Xi and Biden.”

“It is more than likely that a new date will be established for Secretary of State Antony Blinken to visit China, which was postponed due to the surveillance balloon incident,” he declared.

In an interview with IDN, Pieter Wezeman, Senior Researcher with the Arms Transfers Programme at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said while the impact of military aid to Ukraine on US military preparedness receives of course significant attention, it is very difficult to assess the impact as there are so many factors to be taken into account.

To highlight a few: For example, the value of military aid given to Ukraine is high in billions but only a limited percentage of what the US buys in weapons every year.

By early 2023 the US has promised Ukraine $44 billion in equipment and weapons. of which roughly half was ‘committed’ in 2022, said Wezeman.

The latter should be about 2.0 to 3.0 per cent of total US military spending in 2022, and very roughly about 10 to 15 per cent of total US spending on military equipment in that year.

That, for example, means that the aid to Ukraine accounted for may be 2.0 to 3.0 per cent of total US spending on military equipment over five years, which in turn raises questions about the scope of the impact on the existing US arsenals, he argued.

“In particular, because the use of the weapons supplied to Ukraine has contributed to the severe weakening of Russian military capabilities, it is one of the main reasons for maintaining US military capacity,” he noted

A Fact Sheet provided by the US State Department in February 2023 provided a long list of US weapons delivered to Ukraine, including over 1,600 Stinger anti-aircraft systems; more than 8,000 Javelin anti-armor systems; 20 Mi-17 helicopters; 31 Abrams tanks; 45 T-72B tanks; 109 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles; Over 1,700 High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWVs); 300 M113 Armored Personnel Carriers; 250 M1117 Armored Security Vehicles; and over 500 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles (MRAPs), among others.

In his latest statement released March 20, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said pursuant to a delegation of authority from President Joe Biden, “I am authorizing our 34th drawdown of U.S. arms and equipment for Ukraine valued at $350 million.

This military assistance package includes more ammunition for US-provided HIMARS and howitzers that Ukraine is using to defend itself, as well as ammunition for Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles, HARM missiles, anti-tank weapons, riverine boats, and other equipment,” he said.

“We applaud the more than 50 countries that have come together to provide support for Ukraine as it defends its sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Elaborating further, Dr Ben-Meir said It is also important to keep in mind that “the U.S. Department of Defense has advanced the concept of integrated deterrence in the 2022 National Defense Strategy (NDS)… [which] seeks to integrate all tools of national power across domains.”

And finally, regional allies and partners, such as Australia, will certainly become more active and capable in supporting the US, especially in a time of crisis or conflict involving China, he noted,

Meanwhile, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks correctly stated: “The goal is not necessarily to prepare to fight a war with China—it is to deter one from breaking out,” a sentiment that was echoed by Singapore Prime Minister Lee, who recently stated in an interview “I think you have to take things step by step, and stabilize the relations and then gradually build trust, and gradually try to move forward. But it will take time. It is not easy and there are political pressures on both sides”.

But then both China and the US, said Dr Ben-Meir, know that there will be no winner in any confrontation. Maintaining the calm and resetting the button for renewed dialogue will result in a win-win situation and confronting each other will result in a lose-lose outcome.

Wezeman said Raytheon is acting as a company that tries to sell its products and therefore is saying that if the US government sees the need to replenish the stocks of these weapons it will have to place some major orders for these weapons soon.

Whether that need exists and if it is urgent, it is to be determined by the US government. And here it is useful to mention that the javelins and stingers are just a small part of the total US military arsenal, he said.

“Even if they are not replaced quickly it can be questioned if that significantly affects U.S. military capabilities. The U.S. has until now not yet supplied or promised any combat aircraft or major ships, has only supplied few air launched missiles, a handful of anti- ship missiles and air defence systems, and a handful of tanks.”

It is such types of arms that constitute the bulk of the US arsenal and should thus be the focus of any assessment of how military capability contributes to US security, declared Wezeman. [IDN-InDepthNews]

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Image: The Stinger missile. Credit: Reytheon

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