Ukraine’s demands for weapons since Russia’s Feb. 24 assault may point to the need for the United States and its allies to invest in diverse production lines and ramping up capacity for producing air-to-air missiles and energetics for munitions, a U.S. Air Force official said on Sept. 27 at the ComDef 2022 conference in Arlington, Va.

“When we’re in negotiations for production, our historic tendencies for the last 30 years that I’ve been involved in this is to only pay for the infrastructure to support the demand that I’m projecting,” Jim Dunn, the U.S. Air Force’s director of policy and programs for international affairs, said in response to a question. “What the last year has told us is that that is a very efficient and low-cost option that may lead to disaster. So you have to make your choices on what you’re gonna buy, and I would focus on those things that have more universal appeal—energetics/having more capacity globally for the production of energetics so that we can load shells, so that we can load missiles, would be one [future area of investment].”

“There are some fairly high demand, common commodities that are out there in the Air Force that I deal with–air-to-air missiles,” Dunn said. “I would offer that an investment in increasing capacity in air-to-air missiles may result in the future with inefficiencies where I have two lines that are now only operating at 50 or 60 percent capacity, instead of one line that’s operating at 92 percent capacity, but I think that investment is in our interest, given today’s environment.”

Amid concerns that large shipments of U.S. weapon systems and munitions to Ukraine are beginning to deplete Defense Department inventories, defense industry officials said last week that they can surge their capacity in 12 to 18 months, rather than the typical 24 to 30 months, to build weapons more quickly, if DoD and defense companies undertake advance planning and investments in long-lead materials (Defense Daily, Sept. 22).

“Industry is producing exactly what we asked them to do,” Dunn said on Sept. 27. “We’ve come out of a period where we have deliberately made decisions based on the environment and the perceptions of the time, and we’ve leaned out processes. We’ve achieved efficiencies. We’ve driven down costs. We’ve switched to ‘just in time’ delivery. Supplies on hand have been an anathema to a large degree because it’s perceived to be capital that’s not in motion. They’re just sitting on their stockpiles or sitting in warehouses or shelves.”

“Those were decisions made during a different environment,” he said. “We have a new environment now, and what we’re getting reminded here over the past year is the consumption rates that come with mechanized, modern warfare once again…Right now, for various commodities we are fully subscribed in the production capacity that’s available over the next five years. The only way to accelerate that is to make the production capacity better. That infrastructure investment–that capital investment–to stand up new production lines, new sources of supply, new long lead item producers, new work force members all take an investment, and they take some finite amount of time.”

Dunn said that some vendors may have some “latent capacity,” however, and may be able, for example, to add an extra shift for workers–one that may come with a significant investment.

“From government down through industry, we’ve all driven the capacity for surge out of our systems because we did not perceive a need for that capacity, and therefore, we didn’t want to pay for it,” Dunn said. “Well, it’s time to pay for it. It’s time for us to make those changes, to realize that we have to invest in infrastructure. We have to have the capacity to meet the threats we’re experiencing today and the ones that may be emerging for us tomorrow, and that will be an expensive proposition.”

“And, if we find out that two years from now, things have changed, and we didn’t have to use that additional capacity, we should all say, ‘Thank God,’ but this is an investment that needs to be made because we have put ourselves in the position that we do not have the ability to respond to the crisis of the day,” he said.