WASHINGTON — Congress is set to allocate more than $8 billion to bolster high-priority munitions production while granting the Pentagon wartime procurement powers to help Ukraine fight Russia and refill U.S. stockpiles.
The $858 billion National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2023, which the House passed 350-80 on Thursday and is expected to face a Senate vote this week, authorizes more than $2.7 billion in across-the-board munitions funding. That’s on top of $5.9 billion for the Navy to procure additional munitions and expand U.S. industrial base production capacity. Congress is still negotiating a final appropriations package to fund the munitions authorizations alongside other domestic priorities.
Furthermore, a series of emergency munitions provisions in the NDAA are intended to speed up the process by waiving multiple restrictions on Pentagon procurement authorities while allowing it to use multi-year contracts typically reserved for large programs, like Navy vessels and major aircraft.
“The unavoidable fact is that when we provide weapons to Ukraine to defend their sovereignty, we take them out of our own stockpile,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Monday on the Senate floor. “To transfer weapons to Ukraine combined with production challenges in the defense industrial base has made it challenging to quickly replenish our own stockpiles. But this legislation, when it’s passed, will help that.”
“We need to be ready not just to deal with the current challenges in Europe; we need to be ready for any challenge no matter where it arises, especially ... in Asia,” he added.
The $5.9 billion authorized for the Navy to procure 2,365 additional munitions comes as Congress seeks to bolster the U.S. fleet to compete with China in the Pacific. This is $1.1 billion above what the Biden administration requested for Navy munitions funding.
“Whenever you talk about the Navy, whether it’s ships or munitions, when things are Navy-centric it’s first of all recognition that the Navy is far behind our near-peer or peer adversary China in the south Pacific,” Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on seapower, told Defense News. “You’re seeing a recognition that the Navy has some catching up to do.”
That funding includes $574 million to expand the defense industrial base’s capacity to produce munitions for the Navy. Notably, $200 million of that funding is set aside to expand production lines for naval strike missiles alongside another $20 million to bolster the defense industry’s ability to produce Harpoon anti-ship missiles — both of which are high-priority munitions the U.S. has sent to Ukraine.
Harpoons are among the many items that make up a multibillion-dollar foreign military sales backlog of weapons Taiwan has purchased from Washington but has yet to receive. The need to backfill munitions sent to Ukraine has further clogged U.S. production queues.
“We note the challenges in balancing [Defense Department] needs and forecasting additional foreign demands for U.S.-made munitions,” the report accompanying the NDAA states. “The current situation with support to Ukraine highlights the impact exceedingly long timelines associated with foreign military sales can have in an active warfighting situation.”
The Navy is also set to receive $25.9 million to procure 79 additional Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. Ukraine can also use the AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles in the NASAMS medium-range air defense systems the U.S. has provided.
The Pentagon can use the emergency contracting authorities laid out in the NDAA to procure 2,600 Harpoons and 5,100 AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles on top of tens of thousands of other munitions that could be used in Ukraine.
Additionally, it allows the Defense Department to use the emergency contracting authorities to procure 1,7000 long-range ATACMS. The Biden administration has refused to send Ukraine ATACAMS despite pressure from several Republicans amid fears it could spark a broader NATO conflict if they’re used to strike Russian territory.
“The whole munitions infrastructure needs additional support given all of the munitions that are being expended into Ukraine,” Senate Armed Services Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., told Defense News. “We have to replace some of our munitions, but also be prepared to give more to the Ukrainians.”
“It’s across the board, but it certainly will contribute to our naval presence in the Pacific,” he added.
To that end, the emergency procurement authorities extend beyond what the U.S. needs to replenish its stocks already sent to Ukraine.
For instance, it authorizes contracts to procure 5,600 Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and 700 M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems — items Taiwan is still waiting for the U.S. to deliver after purchasing them from the United States. By comparison, the U.S. has sent Ukraine 1,400 Stingers and just 20 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems so far.
The NDAA also authorizes emergency procurement authorities for 28,300 Javelin anti-tank missiles, while the U.S. has sent approximately 5,500 of those munitions to Ukraine so far.
“In light of what we’re doing to support the munitions needs of Ukraine, I think there is a concern that our own numbers are going down,” Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, the chairwoman of the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on seapower, told Defense News. “At the same time, I just don’t want to keep increasing military spending without really reviewing the domestic side of the spending equation.”
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.