Eyeing Ukraine's war, lawmakers seek assessment on precision-munition surge options

By Jason Sherman / July 27, 2022

Lawmakers want an independent assessment of the domestic, precision-munition industrial base, particularly any gap limitations on the Pentagon's capacity to replenish nearly two-dozen "critical" weapon systems in the event of a fight against Russia or China that extends more than six months.

The House-passed version of the fiscal year 2023 defense policy bill proposes a provision that would require the Pentagon to hire a federally funded research and development center to execute a study and deliver findings within six months of enactment.

“The ongoing war in Ukraine has highlighted the importance of understanding the defense industrial base gaps and limitations of replenishing inventories of critical, preferred and precision-guided weapon systems,” the legislation notes.

The provision, if adopted, would require a detailed analysis of the capability of the Defense Department to replenish inventory of its marquee satellite-guided munitions used for long-range strike against naval surface and subsurface, land-based forces, air superiority, interdiction, air and missile defense, as well as hard and deeply buried targets.

Two prime contractors supply the bulk of these weapons -- Raytheon and Lockheed Martin -- with Boeing also providing munitions that create a niche capability.

The legislation would direct an analysis that addresses “any gaps in current or near-term production capability through 2025 or capacity due to the loss, impending loss, or obsolescence of manufacturers or suppliers of items, raw materials, or software, along with recommendations to address the highest-priority gaps.”

The proposed FFRDC-led study is also to address options “to significantly increase current levels of production beyond steady-state demand requirements, including an assessment of sub-tier supplier capacity, capability, and rates of production.”

The assessment is also to include projections of estimated production capability between 2025 and 2035 as well as a discussion of options to “significantly increase” deliveries during that decade, according to the legislation.

Lawmakers want insight into parts and materials supplied by overseas manufacturers, and particularly any reliance on sole-source suppliers.

Lastly, the assessment is to include a discussion of government- and contractor-operated facilities to surge production.

The draft legislation directs the scope of the study a proscribed inventory.

Weapons built by Raytheon that would be considered include: the Evolved Sea Sparrow missile; Standard Missile variants -6, -3 Block IB and Block IIA; Patriot guided missiles; Stinger; AIM-9X Sidewinder; AIM-120D - Advanced Medium Range air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM); Small Diameter Bomb II; Tomahawk, both land and maritime strike variants; and the Naval Strike Missile.

Weapons built by Lockheed Martin include the MK48 heavyweight torpedo; Patriot guided missiles; Terminal High Altitude Area Defense systems interceptors; guided and ballistic missiles fired from the Multiple Launch Rocket System or the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System; Javelin missile; the Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile; and Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range.

Boeing-built weapons include the Joint Direct Attack Munition, advanced penetrating bombs and the Harpoon anti-ship missiles.

The study is also to include a review of enhanced-fragmentation bombs and low-collateral damage bombs.

In February, the Pentagon published a report that outlined four key challenges of the “kinetic capabilities” base -- which does not have a commercial counterpart.

“The industrial base for kinetic capabilities faces persistent sub-tier supply chain vulnerabilities, from raw materials and chemical shortages to critical subcomponents produced by fragile suppliers,” the report notes.

“U.S. reliance on sole-source suppliers and foreign sources poses risks to domestic capability and capacity to produce kinetic capabilities,” the DOD report states.

The report, signed by Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, includes six recommendations for action to improve the health of the precision missile industrial base.