Apr 29, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Lawmakers fret over dwindling Javelin supply

A pallet of Javelin anti-tank missiles is seen being loaded into a truck in Ukraine.
A pallet of U.S.-made Javelin anti-tank missiles is loaded onto a truck in Ukraine just before Russia's invasion. Photo. Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images

Some members of Congress are calling for President Biden to invoke the Defense Production Act amid concern the diversion of Javelin anti-tank and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine could leave the U.S. itself militarily vulnerable.

Why it matters: The president is planning to visit a Lockheed Martin facility in Alabama that makes Javelins next Tuesday. Having a ready supply of such potent and proven weapons is seen as vital not only to Ukraine but to ensuring Taiwan is prepared for a potential Chinese invasion.

Driving the news: Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) warned of a potential Javelin shortage during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing this week.

  • "The United States military has probably sent about one-third of its Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine — one-third of our supply given to them," Blumenthal said. "Replenishing U.S. stocks or those weapons would require 32 months."
  • Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), a veteran and the committee chair, raised similar concerns: “We have a significant usage rate for the Stingers that we’re moving over there ― Javelins, also ― and we have to not only be able to help the Ukrainians, we have to maintain our stocks."
  • Reed also emphasized "the lack of responsive and rapidly scalable production capacity" for these types of weapons reveals a greater problem. He said that related to "manufacturing flexibility for long-lead items needed in short order, with little to no advance warning."
  • Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told Axios: “We are facing a three-year backlog on delivering weapons to Taiwan, and our current arsenal is being depleted to provide vitally needed support for Ukraine and other allies and partners in Eastern Europe.”

It's not just Congress pushing the issue.

  • Greg Hayes, chief executive of Raytheon — a key U.S. manufacturer of Javelins and Stingers — said during a Tuesday earnings call that increasing the production of these missiles "is going to take us a little bit of time,” Defense News reported.
  • “We’re going to ramp-up production this year, but I expect this is going to be 2023-2024 where we actually see orders come in for the larger replenishments, both on Stinger as well as on Javelin — which has also been very successful in theater.”
  • “We are actively trying to source some of the material, but, unfortunately, DoD hasn’t bought a Stinger in 18 years,” Hayes said. “As far as the Stingers, we should keep in mind we are currently producing Stingers for an international customer, but we have a very limited stock of material for Stinger production.”

Between the lines: The Defense Production Act (DPA) gives the president executive power to authorize companies to prioritize certain areas of production.

The shortages are prompting calls from multiple lawmakers for Biden to trigger its use.

  • Blumenthal said: "Unless the president invokes the Defense Production Act to prioritize deliveries of components to the manufacturer to give that demand signal ... we will run out of these key arms."
  • Ellen Lord, former undersecretary of Defense for acquisition and sustainment, endorsed the invocation during the same hearing: “Even with the Javelin, which we do have a hot production line right now, we are still five years out to, probably, developing all the munitions we need," she said.

Context: President Truman signed the Defense Production Act into law in 1950.

Its aim was to address the lack of war-time equipment during the Korean War.

Congress later expanded it to cover all national emergencies.

  • Most recently, former President Trump invoked it in March 2020.
  • He used it to create more personal protective equipment (PPE) during the coronavirus pandemic.

What they're saying: The Defense Department told Newsweek it's "assessing the use of all of its authorities that may help with the Ukraine crisis — including the Defense Production Act — to determine whether they are applicable or prudent."

Go deeper