Wednesday, March 22, 2023
HomeDefenseTo refill Army stockpiles, multi-year munition buys are 'in the works': Official

To refill Army stockpiles, multi-year munition buys are ‘in the works’: Official

A PAC-3 Cost Reduction Initiative (CRI) missile is launched during a test at White Sands Missile Range. (US Army)

WASHINGTON — Army plans to refill its dwindling munitions stockpile will ramp up over the coming months when it inks several new, multi-year production contracts with the new authority granted by Congress, according to a top Army official.

Service acquisition officials have traditionally reserved the use of multi-year production contracts for larger ship and aircraft programs, but lawmakers moved to expand this power to include ammunition and launcher lines in the fiscal 2023 authorization and appropriations bills. Assistant Secretary of the US Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology Douglas Bush told reporters on Wednesday he is now working with companies to iron out those deals and new contracts will likely be inked in a February and March timeframe.

We haven’t yet awarded one [with] that new authority but quite a few are in the works… mostly in the munitions area,” he said, noting that contracts above the $500 million threshold will still require appropriators’ approval. “That’ll be part of the conversation this year.”

RELATED: Multi-year procurement for munitions would help stabilize industry, LaPlante says

Bush did not specify which lines will receive new contracts but said the Army is looking at munitions for the Patriot launcher (possibly Lockheed Martin’s PAC–3 Missile Segment Enhancement weapons) and for the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launcher that fires Lockheed’s Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (GMLRS) and Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) missiles. Lawmakers included those munitions on their approved multi-year buy list, along with XM1128, XM1113, M107, M795 (155mm rounds) and many more. 

To date the Pentagon has promised Ukraine more than 1 million 155mm rounds for its ground forces to launch from howitzers. Bush said the Army is continuing to craft a plan to replenish its 155mm stockpile — an effort that includes acquiring the metal shell, explosives, fuse and charge. Once those different components are acquired, most of the production work is conducted at the Iowa Army Ammunition Plant. The service is now looking for ways to expand the plant’s capacity and “stand up additional capability in the private sector,” Bush explained.

While having the authority to issue such multi-year ammunition production contracts may provide industry with a certain level of stability, it is only one part of the equation. It still remains unclear if industry can meet the growing demand. The Center for Strategic and International Studies released a report this month titled, “Empty Bins in a Wartime Environment: The Challenge to the US Defense Industrial Base.” In it, the authors cite several challenges with US munition production lines that range from defense companies “generally unwilling” to take financial risks without contracts to workforce and supply chain constraints to challenges with long-lead items. 

“Supply chains for the US defense sector are also not as secure as they should be, with some businesses shutting down or moving supply chains overseas to unfriendly countries,” the CSIS report said. It also cites problems with single-source production of key components and subcomponents as a critical hurdle. 

“The Javelin, for instance, relies on a rocket motor — Aerojet Rocketdyne’s advance solid-propellant rocket motor — without a second source at the moment. There is one company, Williams International, that builds turbofan engines for most cruise missiles, such as the JASSM (Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile), JASSM-ER, and LRASM (Long Range Anti-Ship Missile),” the report adds. 

Bush did not specifically discuss these three lines but said the services are working to address single-source component concerns and, “in some cases,” is already making changes. 

“Having two suppliers sometimes is less efficient than having just one, but it has other benefits, such as redundancy and backup in case something goes wrong,” he said. 

Ahead of the new contracts, Bush said the Army is also working with industry to decrease some of the long lead-times with components and finding a work around.

“An entire missile, for example, might not take 18 months to produce,” he said. “It might be really just one component that takes 14 of those 18 months.”

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