A few hours in Ukraine counts as a month or more in Afghanistan. The comparison, which circulates among experts, concerns a specific aspect of the war raging in Europe while the roads of diplomacy remain frozen: the extraordinary use and consumption of weapons and above all ammunition, of various kinds and calibres.
Photograph of a conflict that is putting pressure not only on NATO but on the military “machine” of the American superpower, the Pentagon and the defense industry. Focused on future technologies, they are now involved in supporting protracted traditional ground offensive and counter-offensive battles with intensive use of artillery and small arms, armored vehicles and anti-tank and anti-aircraft systems. Capable of emptying existing arsenals without it being easy to reconstitute them, in the face of decommissioned or cut production, ammunition reduced by on-demand strategies, difficulty in finding personnel and components for restocking depots.
Arms to Ukraine
The American General Staffs ensure that the shipment of weapons to Ukraine takes place strictly without degrading the capabilities of their forces, resorting to excess stocks. But the questions are multiplying between appropriations now estimated at 20 billion and set to exceed 40 for Washington alone. A quick inventory: to date, the US has shipped, among other things, 924,000 155 mm howitzer artillery devices, more than 8,500 Javelin anti-tank missiles and 1,600 Stinger portable anti-aircraft devices (a quarter of reserves), hundreds of vehicles and drones, 38 Himars mobile rocket launch systems. With the US military who often still have the same weapons in stock, for preparations and exercises.
Stocks under pressure
“There is no doubt” that both inventories and the industrial base have come under pressure, admitted Pentagon Undersecretary Colin Kahl. “We are witnessing the first example of a truly high-intensity conventional conflict in decades.” A conflict which has highlighted, in the judgment of analysts such as Ryan Bronbst of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, how in particular the production of ammunition in the USA and among its allies is probably inadequate for major land wars. With risky consequences: how would the eventual outbreak of a second conflict be dealt with? “What would happen to the Indo-Pacific Command?” publicly asked Bill LaPlante, the Pentagon’s arms procurement officer.
There is no shortage of concrete examples of pressure on arsenals. In the Donbass in the summer the Ukrainians fired about seven thousand artillery shells a day; the United States so far produces 15,000 a month. Of particular concern is the decline in traditional 155mm artillery shells, but also in guided rockets, rocket launchers, Javelin and Stinger missiles. Recommendations have also come from the Pentagon to Kiev not to use ultra-expensive and sophisticated systems to shoot down cheap Moscow drones.