WASHINGTON ― The U.S. may not be able to make more of the shoulder-fired Stinger anti-aircraft missiles it has been sending to Ukraine until at least 2023 due to parts and materials shortages, the head of manufacturer Raytheon Technologies said Tuesday.
The revelation, during Raytheon’s quarterly earnings call, underscores the challenge facing the Pentagon and defense industry as they seek to boost arms production in response to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict. The bottleneck is fueling recommendations from Capitol Hill that President Joe Biden invoke the Defense Production Act to prioritize supplies of components for weapons like the Stinger.
Greg Hayes, Raytheon’s chief executive, said the company is working to find some of the materials for the missile. Because some components are no longer commercially available, the company will have to redesign electronics in the missile’s seeker head.
“That’s going to take us a little bit of time,” Hayes said. “We’re going to ramp up production this year, but I expect this is going to be ‘23-’24 where we actually see orders come in for the larger replenishments, both on Stinger as well as on Javelin, which has also been very successful in theater.”
The remarks follow a meeting earlier this meeting between top DoD officials and industry leaders at the Pentagon to discuss weapons supplies for Ukraine, the U.S. and allies.
While Hayes noted Raytheon has been working closely with DoD in recent weeks, he said the U.S. hasn’t been a sustaining customer.
“We are actively trying to source some of the material, but unfortunately DoD hasn’t bought a Stinger in 18 years,” Hayes said. “As far as the Stingers, we should keep in mind we are currently producing Stingers for an international customer, but we have a very limited stock of material for Stinger production.”
Last month, Washington finalized the fiscal year 2022 $1.5 trillion spending bill, which provides $13.6 billion in new aid for the Ukraine crisis. The money was in large part to restore military stocks of equipment already transferred to Ukrainian military units through the president’s drawdown authority.
As of last week, aid from U.S. military stockpiles for Ukraine included more than 1,400 Stinger anti-aircraft systems and 5,500 Javelin anti-tank weapons. However, neither Stingers nor Javelins were included in the administration’s latest $800 million drawdown package.
During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday on the defense industrial base, multiple senators called on Biden to invoke the Defense Production Act to help address supply chain issues in replenishing Stingers and other munitions.
“We have a significant usage rate for the Stingers that we’re moving over there ― Javelins also ― and we have to not only be able to help the Ukrainians, we have to maintain our stocks,” committee chairman Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., told Defense News after the hearing. “It might require that kind of support. And that’s something we’ll look at closely.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., on Tuesday repeated his call to invoke the Defense Production Act, after urging Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to do so at hearing earlier this month.
Echoing a Center for Strategic and International Studies assessment, Blumenthal said the U.S. had likely sent Ukraine one-third of its Javelins and that it would take a year to ramp up Javelin production and 32 months to replenish Javelin supplies.
“The cupboard is empty, or it will be very, very shortly unless the president invokes the Defense Production Act to provide that demand signal on an expedited basis,” Blumenthal said.
At the same hearing, former Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord said the bottleneck on Stinger and Javelin systems points to broader defense-industrial base problems, particularly with munitions.
Lord noted the U.S. has already sent about a quarter of its Stinger stocks to Ukraine.
“We cannot over the next couple of years produce more because we have a problem with the government not paying to maintain production capacity,” she said. “When that happens, you have test equipment become bottled and not work. You have supply chains with links broken in them, and especially if we had key elements of that supply chain supplied by now-adversarial countries.”
Lord also endorsed invoking the Defense Production Act to incentivize companies to produce additional munitions such as Stingers. She floated loosening restrictions on sharing technical knowledge to manufacture those munitions with close U.S. allies such as Australia, noting Washington has been “very conservative” so far in its information sharing.
“Even with the Javelin, which we do have a hot production line right now, we are still five years out to probably developing all the munitions we need,” said Lord.
The SASC hearing comes after House Armed Services chairman and ranking member Reps. Adam Smith, D-Wash., and Mike Rogers, R-Ala., pushed Austin and the Joint Chiefs chairman, Gen. Mark Milley, on Stinger replenishment in a letter last month.
They pointed to “the apparent absence of a Department of Defense plan to meet [short range air defense] replenishment requirements for not only our U.S. stocks of Stinger systems, but those of other contributing allies and partners.”
“Therefore, the committee strongly urges that the Department prioritize acceleration of a [short range air defense] modernization or replacement that will deliver a low-cost, exportable evolution of a system, within 36 months,” they wrote.
Joe Gould is senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.
Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered the intersection of U.S. foreign policy and national security in Washington since 2014. He previously wrote for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.