DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Concerns over munition levels among key Gulf partner nations are driving the Pentagon to look at how it can speed up manufacture and delivery of precision weapons, the US Air Force's top official said Tuesday.
Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James told reporters at the Dubai Airshow that Gulf partners have expressed concerns to her that they are running dangerously low on munitions following 13 months of continuous bombing operations in Syria and Yemen.
"One of the key areas that our partners have brought to my attention, and to the attention of [US Air Forces Central Command head Lt. Gen. Charles Brown Jr.] and the rest of us, is the importance of replenishing our stocks of ammunition and precision guided munitions," James said. "So that's a key message that I'm going to be taking back to Washington and it's one that we're working pretty hard."
Brown, who appeared with James, added that the situation is the result of a "unique and unprecedented time here in this area" which has seen the rapid expenditure of smart weapons in both Syria and Yemen.
"Precision Guided Munitions are pretty popular," Brown said. "So not only have we within AFCENT taken steps to make sure we have the right stocks, but we're also working with partners as we understand more about how they operate and their expenditure rates to make sure everybody has what they need and we can get the job done. "
James did not specify what the Pentagon could do to speed up the processing of such weapons, saying only that "we're looking at all of the various strategies" for how to proceed.
But the fact that a service secretary is talking openly about the need to expedite weapons deliveries of precision guided munitions is undoubtedly welcome news to both the allies who need them and the companies who manufacture them.
The issue of munitions levels is not limited just to partners. In an exclusive September interview with Defense News, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, Air Force Chief of Staff, said to expect a generous ask for munitions as part of the service's fiscal year 2017 Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) request.
Munitions are "a real problem" for the service, Welsh said, given the rate at which they are being expended in Iraq and Syria, as well as and the lag time between when a new munitions order is placed and when it is filled.
"Typically if you drop a bomb today, it's going to take you two years from now to get the appropriation to replace it, another year or two to actually get it on the shelf," Welsh explained. "Stockpiles are down. What we tend to use to replace those stockpiles of weapons used in combat is OCO funding. ... We plan to use that to increase the munitions account this next year."
At Tuesday's event, James raised a similar concern about the speed with which munitions can be produced.
"Another important point that this has elevated for all of us is the importance of planning out into the future the likely need for munitions, because, after all, it does take a certain amount of time to ramp up the industrial base to meet these needs," she said.
Later in the press event, Brown was asked whether Russia has been showing off precision guided weaponry, the kind of cutting-edge technology Russian industry has been showing at the airshow. Brown responded that he has yet to see an impact from Russian attempts at modernization of weaponry in Syria.
"I personally haven't seen really any of those types of advancements," Brown said. "We're using the precision guided munitions. Based on the intel I see, I don't think they are."
"My focus is on Daesh and ISIL, less so on the Russians, so [they are] more a distraction to me than anything else," he added. "They're in the area, but we're going to do what we need to do to get the job done."