Pentagon Seeks Ways To Buy Massive Amounts Of Munitions For Conflict With China Under Biden’s Defense Budget

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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The Pentagon seeks to overhaul the way it buys munitions, requesting $30.6 billion in funding from Congress to scale up orders for the varieties of weapons needed to confront China, officials said Monday.

Surging security assistance to Ukraine has depleted U.S. weapons stockpiles and exposed a need to rethink how the Pentagon procures short, medium and long-range munitions from defense contractors, officials said at the unveiling of the Pentagon’s fiscal year 2024 budget proposal Monday. In particular, a pilot program for certain long-range munitions would authorize Defense officials to make large orders for several years at a time rather than renegotiate contracts every year, which could lower costs and improve the defense base’s ability to manufacture weapons at a large scale, according to budget materials.

“We are buying to the limit and expanding limits,” Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks said at a briefing. (RELATED: US Weapons Aid For Ukraine Could Extend Years Beyond The War, Top Pentagon Official Says Administration Officials Brief Lawmakers At The Capitol On The Suspected China Spy Balloon)

The munitions procurement request is $5.8 billion above the administration’s ask for fiscal year 2023 and 12% more than Congress enacted, Hicks explained. It includes $5.6 billion for ammunition, $17.3 billion for tactical missiles and $7.3 billion for strategic (nuclear capable) missiles, the budget documents show.

Ukraine has not changed the Pentagon’s top procurement priorities, Pentagon comptroller Michael McCord told reporters, but it did encourage a new emphasis on munitions. Those prioritized in the Pentagon’s request are “not ones key to the Ukraine fight but to the Indo-Pacific,” McCord added.

Congress added a multi-year procurement facility for certain critical munitions in the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, which incorporates elements of the Pentagon’s request. Longer-term contracts provide a more predictable demand signal to the defense industry, lessening the risk of investing in greater production capacity, lawmakers argued.

MEDITERRANEAN SEA - APRIL 7: In this handout provided by the U.S. Navy,The guided-missile destroyer USS Porter fires a Tomahawk land attack missile on April 7, 2017 in the Mediterranean Sea. The USS Porter was one of two destroyers that fired a total of 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian military airfield in retaliation for a chemical attack that killed scores of civilians this week. The attack was the first direct U.S. assault on Syria and the government of President Bashar al-Assad in the six-year war there.

MEDITERRANEAN SEA – APRIL 7: In this handout provided by the U.S. Navy,The guided-missile destroyer USS Porter fires a Tomahawk land attack missile on April 7, 2017 in the Mediterranean Sea. (Photo by Ford Williams/U.S. Navy via Getty Images)

Those contracts could be leveraged to expand production of Javelin missiles and 155 mm ammunition as the war in Ukraine has consumed U.S. stockpiles.

Now, the Pentagon for the first time is requesting the authority to grant multi-year contracts for systems like naval strike missiles, medium range air-to-air missiles, long range anti-ship missiles and the stealthy air-launched cruise missile, the so-called JASSM-ER. Some of those weapons would fall into a proposed “Large Lot Procurement pilot program” for long-range munitions, employing dedicated financing and sub-contractors to “maximize manufacturing capacity, accelerate delivery schedules, and drive down unit costs,” according to the Pentagon.

The Department of Defense (DOD) budget request also sets aside $1 billion to help American defense contractors, and possibly those belonging to allies and partners, expand munitions facilities, documents show.

The administration is pursuing “expansions, upgrades and overhauls” of defense systems, Hicks said.

Notably, none of the weapons in the Pentagon’s budget are meant for Ukraine, according to McCord. The situation remains too fluid to plan on what Ukraine will need once Congress authorizes a budget months away, so the Pentagon will rely on short-term supplemental funding packages instead, he explained.

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