The issue became center stage over the past week as images of destroyed equipment — including U.S.-made Bradley fighting vehicles and German-made Leopard tanks — began surfacing on social media.

The need to supply and sustain Ukraine will remain for years, especially if Ukraine joins NATO. At the same time, individual governments are scrambling to increase funding for their own defense industries to ramp up production and work through supply chain bottlenecks that remain from decades of neglect, and COVID-era disruptions.

U.S. Army Secretary Christine Wormuth told reporters at the Pentagon this week that service leaders continue to be concerned that the defense industry is struggling to meet the demand of the conflict.

“A lesson learned I think for our country from the Ukraine conflict is that our industrial base is not as robust as we need it to be, and it’s been a wakeup call,” Wormuth said.

She also called on Congress to approve additional funding to support Kyiv above the spending caps agreed to under the recent debt-limit deal. Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy recently pushed back on any attempt to exceed the caps in the agreement with a Ukraine-focused supplemental.

Over the years of post-Cold War defense spending cuts, “we lost visibility on our defense supply chain,” said a senior U.S. Defense Department official, who was granted anonymity to discuss internal matters. It’s been a tough climb to get back to where they need to be not only for Ukraine, but also support U.S. priorities in Europe and the Indo-Pacific.

The needs on the battlefield have evolved considerably since the initial invasion when Ukraine needed small anti-armor weapons such as Javelins. Now, Ukrainian pilots are preparing to learn how to fly F-16s, drive main battle tanks and operate state-of-the-art long-range munitions and air defenses.

“We’ve crossed the boundaries of every warfighting domain that we do here in the department, and we’ve touched just about every segment of the defense industrial base, probably more so than we did in Afghanistan and Iraq,” a second DOD official said. “I suspect we’ll touch more of them as it continues to evolve through the counteroffensive in the fall.”

In Europe, NATO leaders are expected to sign off on a new Defense Production Action Plan when they meet in Vilnius, Lithuania, next month. At the Brussels meetings this week, dozens of defense contractors gathered on the sidelines to begin planning their recommendations for that plan, according to three people with knowledge of the meetings.

NATO’s leadership has recognized the industry problem, and for much of the past year has tried to come up with a plan to better integrate U.S. and European firms.

“The relationship between governments and industry has never been more important,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday, acknowledging that “of course, it is national governments that sign the vast majority of contracts,” though “NATO plays a critical role for industry as well.”

Speaking of the new action plan, Stoltenberg said it “will connect alliance defense industrial capacity more effectively to our defense planning” and “also facilitate more joint procurement, help meeting NATO’s capability targets and support allies in implementing NATO standards.”

A number of ministers welcomed the initiative.

“I’m very much in favor of having these kinds of meetings with industry, which makes it easier to understand what we have to do, what the problem is, what we can do to solve these issues,” Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren told reporters following the industry session.

There is a lot of “room to improve joint procurement, to have more standardization, to use user groups, so different countries who want the same capability,” she added.

“I’ve spent a lot of time dealing with the Europeans, and I’ve never seen this level of seriousness about defense investments,” the first Pentagon official said. “The reaction to Ukraine is unprecedented in my mind.”

On Thursday, Germany and Poland made commitments to sustain the Leopard tanks rushed to Ukraine this spring, while the U.S., U.K., Denmark, The Netherlands and Canada pledged new shipments of air defense missiles. Norway and Germany also announced multiyear security assistance packages, and Denmark pledged nearly $2.6 billion in military assistance for Ukraine through 2024.

Those pledges come on top of the $325 million assistance package promised by the Biden administration this week, which will be drawn directly from existing U.S. stockpiles. The package will rush 15 more Bradley fighting vehicles to replace the ones Ukraine has lost in recent days, along with 10 Stryker infantry carriers.

While the U.S. Army can pull that small number of vehicles from its stockpiles without damaging its own readiness, European allies that have rushed significant portions of their own capabilities into the war are feeling the pinch more and more.

The Pentagon recently wrapped up work on an effort to speed up sales to allies, while trying to build new bridges with the defense industry to better understand what they can deliver, and when.

“We have seen in Ukraine, and more generally, that the constraint and the limiting factor for producing key platforms is the industrial base in the United States,” Radha Iyengar Plumb, DOD’s deputy undersecretary for acquisition, told reporters this week in rolling out the new initiative. “So what we’re working on is to accelerate production.”

That is a tall order, but there have been significant signs of movement — and some potential roadblocks — in Washington. The Pentagon has received multi-year procurement authorities from Congress for some munitions in the last two defense budgets, allowing companies to hire more workers and expand production lines for orders that are guaranteed.

But there is new pressure from a group of House Republicans to slash government spending, and in some cases rescind those authorities.

In their version of the 2024 defense spending bill, House Appropriations Committee Republicans slashed $1.9 billion for the administration’s multi-year procurement request.

The bill will still need to wind its way through multiple committees on Capitol Hill, where the fight for the multi-year money will likely be intense.

The thinking behind the multi-year strategy is that those investments will have positive knock-on effects for foreign military sales, allowing allies to place more orders for equipment they need, with assurances that bottlenecks will be reduced and they will receive their orders faster.

“We’re looking to more effectively invest in the industrial base to expand capacity and to include that capacity in our partner’s demands,” Sasha Baker, the Pentagon’s No. 2 policy official, told reporters.

While the deliberations over rushing equipment to the front continue in Washington and Brussels and across Europe, there is one view that many allies have coalesced around: the fight, and the threat of Russian aggression, isn’t going away any time soon.

“We are, of course, thinking that this is going to be a long-term confrontation between Russia and the Western countries,” one European diplomat said. “And therefore we need as an alliance to be prepared to defend ourselves.”

Paul McLeary and Lara Seligman reported from Washington. Lili Bayer reported from Brussels.


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