WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of 15 senators has unveiled legislation aimed at expediting the Defense Department’s ability to backfill U.S. weapons stockpiles sent to Ukraine through non-competitive contracts.
Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., introduced the Securing American ARMS Act as stand-alone legislation alongside 13 other senators last week.
The bill would allow the Defense Department to award non-competitive contracts to arms manufacturers in order to backfill U.S. weapons stockpile sent to friendly countries such as Ukraine. The authority can only be used for items similar to the weapons sent from U.S. stocks, and the Pentagon must notify Congress within one week of issuing a non-competitive contract under that provision.
“We’re already hearing the Ukrainians ask for more equipment based on their positive progress, and so we could have it on a more regular basis without other bureaucratic hurdles,” Shaheen told Defense News.
Shaheen, who sits on the Armed Services Committee, told Defense News on Tuesday that they hope to see the bill become law when Congress passes the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act later this year but cautioned that that her bill’s inclusion is not yet certain.
“It’s not clear when we’re going to take up the NDAA, whether it will be before or after the election, and also to what extent we’ll have an amendment process,” Shaheen told Defense News.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., told the Defense News conference last week that he’s pushing for a Senate NDAA vote this month before lawmakers leave town for a month to campaign for the midterm election. But the bill is up against several other competing Senate priorities, chiefly a continuing resolution that Congress needs to pass before the end of the month in order to avoid a government shutdown.
Cornyn and Shaheen have secured support for their bill from numerous colleagues on the Armed Services Committee, including Roger Wicker of Mississippi, who is in line to become the top Republican on that key panel next year. Senate Majority whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., has also co-sponsored the bill.
“When providing aid to allies under attack, we must ensure we can quickly replenish our own stockpiles in the process,” Cornyn said upon introducing the Securing American ARMS Act last week. “This legislation would authorize faster procurement of weapons and combat articles so helping our allies and partners doesn’t diminish our ability to protect ourselves.”
The White House submitted a request to Congress earlier this month for an additional $13.7 billion in Ukraine aid, which includes a request for an additional $3.7 billion presidential drawdown authority that would allow President Joe Biden to send Kyiv more equipment from U.S. military stockpiles – weapons that the Defense Department will then have to backfill.
Biden has used the drawdown policy 20 times since last August to provide approximately $12.5 billion in U.S. military equipment to Ukraine. Under current law, the Defense Department must then open a competitive contract process to replace the weapons – even those that are exclusively designed by a specific company or consortium of companies.
Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Bill LaPlante said in a press briefing last week that $1.2 billion in contracts are currently underway to refill equipment. That amount includes $624 million to backfill Stinger anti-ship missiles, $352 million for Javelin anti-tank missiles and another $33 million to replace High Mobile Artillery Rocket Systems.
The United States in recent years has transferred 1,400 Stingers to Ukraine as well as 5,000 Javelins, That amounts to one-quarter and one-third of the stockpiles for each munition, respectively.
The Senate NDAA, which the Armed Services Committee advanced in June, authorizes $2.7 billion for critical munitions procurement for items such as Stingers and Javelins. The House passed its version of the NDAA 329-101 in July, which would require the Pentagon to establish a critical munitions fund and closely track its supply chain.
Once the Senate passes its version of the NDAA, both chambers will have to agree on final legislation in a conference committee. This will also provide Cornyn and Shaheen with one final opportunity to insert their provision to backfill U.S. stockpiles with non-competitive contracts if they are unable to attach it as an amendment to the NDAA on the Senate floor.
Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.