Watching Ukraine burn through ammo fighting Russia has the US Army rethinking how much it really needs for when war breaks out

  • Both sides of the war in Ukraine have burned through a lot of ammo, straining stockpiles globally.

  • The war appears to have prompted the US Army to rethink how much it's producing and stockpiling.

  • A US official told Business Insider the Army was ramping up production and modernizing its process.

With both sides of the war in Ukraine burning through ammo at astonishing rates, the US Army says it's rethinking what it needs for a potential large-scale future fight.

But with production, particularly of 155mm artillery shells, ramping up, the Army appears also to be looking at how to modernize its ongoing manufacturing and stockpiles — both to continue supporting allies such as Ukraine and Israel and to have enough ammo should the US find itself in a high-intensity conflict of its own, especially against a major military power.

"The Army is looking very closely at the war in Ukraine and how munitions are used to inform our decisions regarding munitions requirements," Douglas R. Bush, the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics, and technology, explained to Business Insider. "Recognizing the use of large quantities of artillery on both sides of the conflict, the Army is investing to better prepare for potential conflict and to support Ukraine as they continue to fight for their freedom."

Part of those efforts are ambitious short-term goals, such as upping 155mm production from just shy of 30,000 shells a month right now to a massive 100,000 shells a month by the end of 2025. But another larger, more long-term effort appears to be securing a stronger supply chain and more constant manufacturing of munitions both domestically and with the support of US partners.

"The Army began making investments over a year ago in our organic and commercial industrial base to accelerate production and improve capacity for 155mm and other munitions in order to meet demands for Ukraine, allied partners, and US stockpile requirements," Bush said.

Looking at the timeline, those investments appear to have come after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine and after both sides began expending tremendous amounts of ammunition attempting to batter the opposing army, launching enough artillery shells to severely strain stockpiles worldwide and even push partners to send over controversial weapons such as cluster munitions to slow the ammo consumption.

Ukrainian artillery fires towards the frontline during heavy fighting amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, near Bakhmut, Ukraine, April 13, 2023.
Ukrainian artillery firing toward the frontline during heavy fighting amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, near Bakhmut in April.REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Many weapons and systems, such as Storm Shadow/SCALP long-range cruise missiles, first-person-view drones, Russian Kinzhal ballistic missiles, and Western tanks such as Leopard and Challenger, have, at some point or another, had their moment in the war thus far. But this conflict seems to be marked most by artillery and has offered a strong case for its role in future conflicts.

Ukraine relies heavily on systems such as towed 155mm and 105mm howitzers and rocket-artillery assets such as the High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System, pummeling Russian forces miles away and devastating advancing troops and vehicles, as well as command, control, and logistics. It's heavily relied on the US and NATO allies for its supply of ammo, and many Western nations have had their stockpiles stressed by the provision of this vital aid.

And Russia has often expended ammunition at even higher rates than the Ukrainians, who often speak of rationing their ammo consumption. Even in the face of heavy Western sanctions and a pariah status that have severely limited its ammo production, it's still been able to bolster its stockpiles.

Like Ukraine, Russia has also sought out foreign partners for munitions. Back in September, Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted North Korean leader Kim Kong Un for a meeting on North Korean artillery. The result was an arms deal of sorts — Russia got ammo, while North Korea probably got food and petroleum products. The exact details of that deal are unclear, but there are indications North Korean ammunition has already arrived in Ukraine.

For the US, Ukraine's biggest single-nation donor, the constant bombardment from both sides has apparently been eye-opening, offering insights into not only how much artillery ammunition Ukraine needs to sustain its war effort but also how much ammo the US may need in a future fight. It has also offered lessons in production.

"This conflict has allowed the Army to recognize that challenge of implementing multiple initiatives to expand industrial capacity without disrupting current production," Bush told BI.

The remains of artillery shells and missiles including cluster munitions are stored on December 18, 2022 in Toretsk, Ukraine.
The remains of artillery shells and missiles including cluster munitions being stored in Toretsk, Ukraine, in December of last year.Photo by Pierre Crom/Getty Images

At a roundtable earlier this month, Bush told journalists the US was expanding and modernizing its ammo capacity, making a variety of new munitions to bolster its stockpiles, "all critical investments that" were "part of the supplemental requests that builds additional capacity in our industrial base."

The primary focus appears to be on 155mm shells, which Ukraine has burned through in artillery duels with the Russians, and the US has had to find "creative ways" to get to Kyiv.

Bush said the US was at 14,000 shells a month at the beginning of the war and had ramped up to its current rate of 28,000 a month. He said it was looking to make 36,000 monthly by early 2024 and then skyrocket production to 60,000 by the end of the fiscal year.

Bush said that the Army was projecting 100,000 a month by the end of 2025.

It's a staggering number, but a lot has to come together to make those numbers a reality. For one, the Army says it plans to increase manufacturing abilities at existing government facilities while building new domestic sites with commercial partners.

But for the Army, any increase is a net positive. "Getting to those higher production rates is kind of a win-win," Bush said. "You can support Ukraine or Israel more, but it also means that we can rebuild our stocks much faster than if we don't make those investments."

With production still ramping up and both Ukraine and Israel in conflicts, the US may find supporting them both increasingly challenging. On Friday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the supply of artillery to Ukraine had slowed down since Israel began its war on Hamas after the group's multi-front surprise terrorist attacks last month. But in the roundtable earlier this month, Bush denied that any shells intended for Ukraine had been given to Israel instead.

"Nothing that was being shipped to Ukraine got redirected," Bush said. Instead, he said, munitions had been moved out of US stocks in Israel and given directly to them. He said the US had sent ammo from its own stockpile to Israel as well but did not give an exact number.

Read the original article on Business Insider