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Is America Short of Heavy Weapons?

An overview of the current stocks of heavy weapons America now possesses, with attention to the Israel and Ukraine wars.

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President Joe Biden echoed former President Franklin Roosevelt when he called America the arsenal of democracy. With wars raging on two fronts, Israel and Ukraine, and China threatening to invade Taiwan, how stretched is the American arsenal?

First Israel

Israel receives about $3 billion worth of military aid annually. U.S. aid to Israel is mainly in the form of grants to American manufacturers- a type of subsidy. U.S. military aid also has helped Israel build its domestic defense industry, which now ranks as one of the top global exporters of arms. Fourteen Israeli defense companies, such as Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), Rafael, and Elbit Systems export nearly 70% of their products abroad.

The Republican-led U.S. Congress proposed an Israeli-only defense aid package that they knew would die in the Senate. This has only affected U.S. arms manufacturers, because the Israeli conflict with Hamas has reached a stage where this aid is no longer required. Sure, the Israeli would like more support for their air defense systems and more bunker buster bombs, but they can proceed without them.

What about Ukraine?

America has given Ukraine about $46 billion dollars of military aid in 2022 – $23.5 billion of that is military equipment (the remainder is grants, training and financial aid). The total value of U.S. military equipment has not been successfully audited in years, but procurement of new weapons and systems cost $136 billion in 2022, and $107 billion was spent on research and development. In comparison the European Union has given $27 billion dollars of military aid to Ukraine, mainly military equipment.

So, is American miliary stock severely reduced?

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The Economist created a useful chart which indicates that it is not. The chart shows that the military equipment the U.S. has supplied to Ukraine is redundant stock that is on the way to being replaced with new advanced equipment. The three main systems that are at a low point are Javelins, Stingers and ATACMs. Ukraine has been a useful testing ground for all of them.

Javelins (introduced in 1996)

Manufactured by US weapons manufacturers Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, the FGM-148 Javelin is a man-portable, shoulder-launched, fire-and-forget system designed to strike armored vehicles out to 2,500 meters. It has been highly effective in Ukraine. However, it is very expensive and costs $178,000 per unit, including the launch system and missile, according to the Pentagon’s 2021 budget. Ukraine has used up 7,000 Javelin systems which represents about one-third of the total U.S. inventory. Lockheed Martin has doubled production but can only produce about 4000 per year. The Ukrainians now prefer to use $4000 UAV drones, or home-made drones, cheaper, and just as effective.

Stingers (introduced in 1981)

The FIM-92 Stinger is a deadly man-portable air-defense system (MANPADS) that can be rapidly deployed by ground troops. Stingers were initially successful in Ukraine. However, they are not effective against fast-flying jets, and Russian attack helicopters have developed tactics and systems to counter them. When the U.S. Army placed an order for 1,700 Stingers in May 2022, the Pentagon said the missiles wouldn’t be delivered until 2026. Like Javelin’s they are very expensive – $119,00 per unit. In comparison, German Gepard 1 A2 self-propelled anti-aircraft guns (introduced in 1973) are cheap, basic and capable.

ATACMs (introduced in 1991)

There are several variants of the Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS), a long-range missile. America is low on the penetrating ATCAMs that Ukraine desires. The ATCAMs sent to Ukraine contain cluster munition warheads, which are ineffective against heavily entrenched enemies. However, they can certainly spread shrapnel and were enough to disable nine thinly armored, and valuable, Ka52 helicopters in an attack on Berdyansk Army Aviation Base on October 17.

So, is the American arsenal depleted?

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Yes, if solely based on the figures above. However, many of these sophisticated weapons were already in the throes of being replaced. The main lesson of their use in Ukraine, is that cheaper and more conventional weapons are just as effective.

From a philosophical viewpoint, Western society, particularly American society, has to decide whether to support worldwide democracy, or to let dictatorships and/or religious fundamentalists triumph. What many Americans do not seem to appreciate, is that both Israel and Ukraine will continue to fight for their independence, regardless of whether America supplies them with military equipment, or not. Arms manufacturers in Europe, South Korea, Japan, and China will readily step into the breach. The world is not short of heavy weapons designed to kill human beings.

This article was originally published by RealClearDefense and made available via RealClearWire.

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Patrick Drennan is a journalist based in New Zealand, with a degree in American history and economics.

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