Over the last week, the United States has announced fresh military aid packages to Ukraine and Taiwan, but not equitably. The decision seems to have intensified debates in American strategic circles, whether by acceding to every request by Ukraine for more and more military aid, Washington is not only neglecting Taiwan to the increasing comforts of China but also undermining its own defense preparedness.
On August 29, the Biden Administration announced the next package of military assistance to aid Ukraine, containing important capabilities such as “AIM-9M missiles for air defense, munitions for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, 155mm and 105mm artillery ammunition, mine-clearing equipment, Javelin and other anti-armor systems and rockets, over 3 million rounds of small arms ammunition, ambulances, demolition munitions for obstacle clearing, as well as spare parts, services, training, and transportation.”
This package of weapons and equipment is valued at $250 million. This is above $41 billion that the US had already dispensed to Ukraine as military aid.
In contrast, on August 30, President Biden approved military aid of only $80 million for Taiwan under the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program, usually used for sovereign states. It was said that “FMF will be used to strengthen Taiwan’s self-defense capabilities through joint and combined defense capability and enhanced maritime domain awareness and maritime security capability.”
This is the first-ever transfer of US military equipment to Taiwan under a program typically meant for sovereign countries. Strictly speaking, the US does not consider Taiwan to be an independent country, committed as it is to the so-called One-China principle.
However, under “the Taiwan Enhanced Resilience Act” passed last year, the US government is authorized to spend up to $2 billion annually in military grant assistance to the island from 2023 to 2027.
There is a vast difference between Ukraine and Taiwan as far as US military aid is concerned. Ukraine is at war, whereas Taiwan “may” face a war. But for experts, for the long-term security of the United States and the whole world, any war over Taiwan by China is a much bigger threat.
Does the US have enough arms to deal with the threat over Taiwan? Military analysts are not so sure. Ukraine is even emaciating the US, they say.
A recent opinion poll by CNN said that most Americans (55%) oppose Congress authorizing additional funding to support Ukraine in its war with Russia. And 51% say the US has already done enough to help Ukraine.
Such findings are unsurprising as the US has already supplied Ukraine with over $75 billion in humanitarian, financial, and military support, representing 0.33 percent of its GDP. This is said to be no mean sum when the US faces rising living costs and unemployment.
It may be noted here that while aiding Ukraine, Biden is using “the Presidential Drawdown Authority” to direct a drawdown to provide military assistance under section 506(a) (1) of the Foreign Assistance Act (FAA).
It allows the speedy delivery of defense articles and services from Department of Defense stocks to foreign countries and international organizations to respond to unforeseen emergencies. Such assistance can arrive within days—or even hours—of approval.
In support of this effort, Congress has progressively increased the cap on this drawdown authority from $100 million to $11 billion for Fiscal Year 2022 (most recently in the Additional Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2022, which was signed into law by the President on May 21). Since August 2022, the Biden Administration has utilized this Presidential Drawdown Authority 43 times to provide military assistance to Ukraine.
However, now studies reveal that US military aid to Ukraine has severely depleted American arsenals. And the already-strained US defense industrial base cannot sustain current levels of Ukrainian munitions expenditures, much less replenish American stockpiles.
Last September, the prestigious think-tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) found out some US inventories reached the minimum levels needed for war plans and training. It examined the ability of the defense industrial base to replace inventories in an emergency and concluded that the process would take many years for most items.
“The problem is that the defense industrial base is sized for peacetime production rates. Surge capabilities have been regarded as wasteful, buying factory capacity that was not planned to be used. Conversion of civilian industry to wartime production is theoretically possible but a long process. In World War II, that conversion took two to three years in a society and economy that was fully mobilized,” it said.
For example, the US has handed Ukraine about a third of its Stinger stockpile, amounting to over 1,600 of the shoulder-fired anti-aircraft system. But the production line for Stinger missiles is in worse shape than that of the Javelin, kept open only thanks to small amounts of foreign sales, according to CSIS.
Even Raytheon Technologies chief executive Greg Hayes has been reported to have admitted recently that “In the first ten months of the war, we’ve essentially used up 13 years of Stinger production, and five years worth of Javelin production.” For him, “So the question is, how are we going to resupply, restock the inventories?”
Another study (The Ukraine Weapons Drain – The American Conservative) says that “the US Army produces about 14,000 155mm shells monthly. Extrapolate that to a year, and that’s just 168,000 shells—less than a fifth of the number of 155mm shells the US has given Ukraine in the past year. If all Ukrainian aid ended tomorrow, it would take the US just under six years to produce enough 155mm shells to bring US stockpiles back to pre-war levels.
“This explains why the US is looking to boost the production rate of these shells to 20,000 shells per month sometime this spring, but even then, it would take just over four years to replenish 155mm shell stockpiles. This is why the US wants to increase that production more than fourfold, from 20,000 to 90,000 shells per month, by 2025.
“Congress has already provided the factories that produce 155mm shells $420 million, but the United States is projected to spend nearly $2 billion on boosting the production of 155mm shells this year alone. Even at that new production rate, it would still take eleven months and change to bring 155mm shell stockpiles back to pre-war levels, assuming the US stopped giving Ukraine 155mm shells entirely.”
The depleting stockpiles are further indicated by the Biden administration’s recent decision to supply Ukraine with cluster munitions, which are banned in over 100 countries, including the NATO allies. The White House claimed it intends to use the cluster munitions as a “bridge” while artillery shell production ramps up.
Yet another study by “The Center for Renewing America” says that “the US has sent approximately 8,500 Javelin anti-tank missiles to the Ukrainian Armed Forces. It would take up to eight years to replenish our stockpiles at current production rates, assuming no more missiles are sent to Ukraine. Similarly, the US has provided over 1,600 Stinger missiles to Ukraine.
“The US has not produced any Stinger missiles since 2003, but under maximum estimated restored production rates, it would take at least six years to replenish our stockpile. Additionally, the US has sent Ukraine over a million artillery shells. The US produces around 20,000 artillery shells a month, with plans to increase its production to between 70,000 to 90,000 shells a month over the next several years.”
In fact, in July this year, none other than USAFE (UA Air Forces in Europe) Commander Gen. James Hecker admitted that the stockpile of US weapons and those of allies are getting “dangerously low.”
“If you look at the US itself — and let’s not just talk about the munitions we recently have given away to Ukraine — but we’re [at] roughly half the number of fighter squadrons that we were when we did Desert Storm,” Hecker said, pointing to a similar decline in fighter strength for the UK.
“So we don’t have nearly what we had at the heart of the Cold War. Now you add that we’re giving a lot of munitions away to the Ukrainians — which I think is exactly what we need to do — but now we’re getting dangerously low and sometimes, in some cases even too low, that we don’t have enough. And we need to get industry on board to help us out so we can get this going”, he said.
As the Center for Renewing America study says, these shortages include “Many of the weapon systems that the US is supplying to Ukraine are also needed by Taiwan to deter or defeat a Chinese invasion. There is an approximately $19 billion backlog of weapons deliveries to Taiwan, partly caused by the US prioritizing arms supplies for Ukraine.
“Many of the same weapon systems being supplied to Ukraine (Harpoon missiles, HIMARS rockets, etc.) are also needed by Taiwan and other East Asian partners, creating real trade-offs against the US’ ability to deter Chinese aggression.”
It also warns, “There is also a real risk that weapons sent to Ukraine could fall into the wrong hands. Ukraine historically has been one of the most corrupt countries in the world and has a history of being a source of illicit arms smuggling – including for advanced weapon systems. For example, Ukraine has provided cruise missile technology to Iran, sold China its first aircraft carrier, and likely provided rocket engines that enabled North Korea to launch its first intercontinental ballistic missile.”
Against this background, two fundamental questions are relevant here. For one, when the defense industrial base is struggling to produce weapons for Ukraine, should China invade Taiwan, would the US not run out of ammunition “within a week?”
For another, is the amount of aid spent supporting Ukraine not far out of alignment with its importance to American safety and economic prosperity?
The Biden Administration does not seem to have convincing answers.
- Author and veteran journalist Prakash Nanda is Chairman of the Editorial Board – EurAsian Times and has been commenting on politics, foreign policy, and strategic affairs for nearly three decades. A former National Fellow of the Indian Council for Historical Research and recipient of the Seoul Peace Prize Scholarship, he is also a Distinguished Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.
- CONTACT: prakash.nanda (at) hotmail.com
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