WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of 10 senators is pushing to include the Pentagon’s request for a critical munitions acquisition fund in the Fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act.
Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., introduced the PROCURE Act on Monday alongside eight other senators, noting they intend to file it as a floor amendment to the NDAA as well.
The legislation would set up a revolving fund of up to $500 million per year in the Treasury Department for the Pentagon to procure critical munitions. It would allow the Defense Department to quickly replenish high-demand munitions that have been sent to Ukraine or those sent to another country as part of any future conflict. This fund would sustain itself using profits from the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program.
“As [Russian President Vladimir Putin] continues his unprovoked war in Ukraine and China increases its coercive measures towards Taiwan, ensuring that the U.S. can capably support our democratic allies while maintaining our own military stockpiles in a crisis is essential,” Shaheen said in a statement upon introducing the bill. “As we have seen in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. has played an invaluable role in providing our Ukrainian friends with significant amounts of munitions to defend themselves — most of which have come from U.S. stocks.”
She said the bill “would ensure the U.S. is prepared to help our allies and partners in times of crisis without undermining our own military readiness.”
The bill would permit the Pentagon to procure critical munitions before transferring the weapons and keep them on continuous order, rather than backfilling them as the United States has done since the Ukraine war started. The authorization for the fund would expire at the end of 2024.
The legislation is closely modeled off a similar provision in the House NDAA, which passed 329-101 in July.
But that critical munitions acquisition fund, introduced as an amendment by House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., would only apply to high-demand munitions transferred to Ukraine and its European neighbors. The Senate bill would expand the scope of this fund by allowing the defense secretary to also deem a munition eligible for the fund if he expects it to have “a potential high-use rate during a future conflict.”
The House NDAA would also require the Pentagon to establish a critical munitions reserve to keep better tabs on subcontractors involved in their production and more closely track the supply chain.
Notably, Senate Democrats on the defense spending panel have been cooler on the Pentagon’s request for a $500 million per year critical munitions fund than their Armed Services Committee counterparts.
The report accompanying the defense spending bill, which Senate Democrats released in July without Republican support, criticizes the proposal as “narrowly focused on procurement of small amounts of certain munitions to be decided in the year of execution.” It said such a fund “does not address the broader challenges of strategy investment and management of the [defense industrial base] and the supply chain.”
Instead, Democratic appropriators proposed $240 million for the defense workforce, $450 million to expand industrial capacity for missile procurement programs, $250 million for ammunition facilities, $45 million to diversify the munitions supply chain and $50 million for the Pentagon to conduct munitions and fuel vertical data integration pilots. It also recommended “targeted investments in particular munitions lines,” including hypersonics, Tomahawks and the Small Diameter Bomb II.
Separately, the Senate NDAA already allocates $2.7 billion for future munitions production for items such as Stinger anti-ship and Javelin anti-tank missiles. The United States in recent years has transferred approximately 1,400 Stingers to Ukraine as well as roughly 5,000 Javelins. That amounts to one-quarter and one-third of the stockpiles for each munition, respectively.
The Senate is expected to vote on its version of the NDAA sometime next month. Congress will then convene a conference committee to hammer out the differences in the Senate and House versions of the bill — likely at some point after the November elections.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, has co-sponsored the PROCURE Act alongside several other members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, including Roger Wicker of Mississippi, in line to become the top Republican on that panel next year.
Shaheen, Tillis, Cornyn and Wicker have also joined forces in a separate push to add a bill to the NDAA that would expedite the ability to backfill U.S. stockpiles of weapons sent to Ukraine by allowing the Defense Department to use non-competitive contracts to replace them.
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.