Milley: US has long way to go to build munitions stockpile

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Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, testifies before the House Armed Services Committee on the fiscal year 2024 budget request of the Department of Defense, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 29, 2023. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. military “has a long ways to go” to beef up its munitions stockpiles and ensure the country is ready for any large-scale war, the top U.S. military officer told Congress on Wednesday.

Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the war in Ukraine has underscored the heavy use of munitions that is required during any major conflict.

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He and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin faced repeated questioning from members of Congress this week about the impact the war is having on the Pentagon, as it supplies Ukraine with much of the ammunition it needs to fend off the Russian forces.

They, and senior Army leaders, said the conflict has pushed the U.S. to increase production rates and re-evaluate how much of a stockpile is really needed as tensions with China and Russia continue to rise.

“If there was a war on the Korean peninsula or great power war between the United States and Russia or the United States and China, the consumption rates would be off the charts,” Milley said in testimony to the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday. “So I’m concerned. I know the secretary is ... we’ve got a ways to go to make sure our stockpiles are prepared for the real contingencies.”

He said Austin directed the military to conduct a complete review of all its war plans and assess the munitions estimates, which can then form the basis for future budget requests.

The Pentagon is requesting $30 million in the 2024 fiscal year budget to invest in the industrial base and to “buy the maximum number of munitions that American industry can produce,” Austin said during the same hearing.

In testimony earlier this week, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth told lawmakers that right now the Army is “comfortable that the amount of lethal assistance we’ve been providing is not eroding our readiness, but we keep a close eye on that.”

A key concern is the 155 mm ammunition. The U.S. has sent Ukraine 160 howitzers and more than 1 million of the 155 mm howitzer rounds. The munitions have been put to heavy use with as many as 3,000 rounds fired a day, according to the Pentagon.

Wormuth, who visited the Scranton Army Ammunition Plant in Pennsylvania where the shell casings for the rounds are made, said the service asked for $1.5 billion in the budget to be able to shore up that production. She said the U.S. would like to increase production from about 20,000 shells a month to 75,000 a month by 2025.

“We are working very closely with industry to try to do everything we can to help make it easier for them to increase both the volume of their production but also the speed of their production,” she said.

Asked about the impact on American troops, Gen. James McConville, chief of staff of the Army, said the military goes through about 150,000 rounds a year for training — or roughly 14,000 a month.

Another pressure point is ammunition for the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System, which the U.S. is also sending to Ukraine. Wormuth said the U.S. is working to increase production from about 6,000 a year to 15,000 a year.

Austin and Wormuth also said the Pentagon is hoping that Congress will allow it to do multi-year procurement plans in order to save money and provide stability for the industry.

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