Ukraine Worried It Can’t Train Enough Troops On Javelins
Javelins have killed Russian armor. But now there are concerns about supply and the ability to train Ukrainian troops.
Ukraine may not be able to keep pace with training its troops, especially new ones, on how to use the thousands of Javelin shoulder-fired anti-armor systems the U.S. has sent the country, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) told Pentagon leaders Tuesday morning.
“Obviously the Javelins have the ability to significantly help Ukrainian forces,” Murkowski told Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing. “But what we're hearing is that the new Ukrainian troops are not provided adequate training to operate these $200,000 weapons systems.”
Murkowski told Austin that a constituent has been in Ukraine “training ground forces for the past couple of months” and “has facilitated several requirements letters from the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense verifying the need for Javelin training kits, including the head of Ukrainian Defense Intelligence. I understand these documents have been pushed to your office.”
Contacted by The War Zone Tuesday afternoon, Ukrainian Brig. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence, confirmed the need for more of those Javelin training kits.
As Russia presses its offensive in Donbas, Budanov told The War Zone that Ukraine has to face off against 500 Russian tanks and a lot of infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers.
Austin told Murkowsi that this was the first he’d heard of the request for more Javelin training kits.
“In my engagements with the Minister of Defense, and I think also with the Chief of Defense and the Chairman, the specific issue of training on javelins has never come up,” Austin testified. “But if they raise that issue, certainly we stand ready to train them.”
If additional Javelin training is a requirement, “and since you brought it up, no doubt it is,” Austin told Murkowski, “we’ll go back and check with them again.
“The people that need to be trained, we stand ready to train them,” said Austin. “And we're pushing training kits into the country as well.”
Austin told Murkowski he would provide her with whatever information was available on the Javelin training issue. But he also highlighted that the U.S. has already taken “several hundred” Ukrainian soldiers out of Ukraine to train in other countries on artillery and drone operations.
Murkowski wasn’t the only Senator to raise concerns about Javelins Tuesday.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo) raised concerns about whether the U.S. has adequate stocks of Javelins and Stinger shoulder-fired anti-aircraft systems given how many have been sent to Ukraine since Russia launched its all-out war on Feb. 24.
The U.S., Blunt noted, has provided Ukraine with about 5,000 Javelins and 1,400 Stingers.
That represents about a third of the U.S. Javelin stockpile and about a quarter of its Stinger stockpile, he said.
“Is it possible to replace a third of our stockpile or let's say 50 percent before we're done here within a year?” he asked Austin.
“It is not only possible, but we will do that and we will never go below our minimum requirement for our stockpile,” Austin replied, without offering specifics.
The proposed Fiscal Year 2023 defense budget “will help us to not only replenish our stockpile, but also replace some of the capabilities that we've asked our partners and allies to provide,” Austin said. “Some of the eastern flank countries early on provided Stingers and other countries have provided Javelins upon our request. And so that’ll help us do that.”
Austin’s assurances, however, come at a time when there are concerns about whether and how the U.S. can replenish its stockpiles of the shoulder-fired weapons.
During an earnings call late last month, Raytheon CEO Greg Hayes said that his company could not make Stingers fast enough.
They blamed a familiar culprit - problems with the supply chain.
“We're currently producing Stingers for an international customer,” Hayes said during the call. “But we have a very limited stock of material for Stinger production.”
The company, he said, has been working with the Department of Defense “for the last couple of weeks” to fix the problem, he said.
“We're actively trying to resource some of the material but unfortunately, DOD hasn't bought a Stinger in about 18 years and some of the components are no longer commercially available. And so we're going to have to go out and redesign some of the electronics in the missile of the seeker head. That's going to take us a little bit of time.”
A solution, he said, won’t likely come for another year or two, Hayes said, “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.”
Both the Stinger and the Javelin shoulder-fired anti-armor weapon (the latter made in a joint venture by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin) have been in high demand since Russia launched its all-out war on Ukraine.
You can read our full report about what Hayes said here.
The concern about maintaining stocks of these weapons has been so great that on April 7, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn) raised the issue of having President Joe Biden enact the Defense Production Act.
“To produce more of the Javelins, Stingers – all the stocks that we are using and diminishing and running low on and our allies, as well – shouldn't we be applying the Defense Production Act?” Blumenthal asked Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at a Senate Armed Services Committee budget on April 7.
The problem has been exacerbated by a fragile supply chain as well as the COVID pandemic.
While Raytheon and Lockheed Martin have faced challenges keeping up with the demand for its shoulder-fired weapons, a $33 million aid package proposed by President Joe Biden is supposed to address many of those concerns.
Most of that money - $20 billion - would go toward assisting the Ukrainian military and other security forces, and would also cover efforts to backfill U.S. stocks of certain weapons and support allies and partners in their transfers of materiel to the Ukrainian armed forces in the process.
After a tour of the Lockheed Martin plant in Alabama that's produced some 50,000 Javelin missiles over the past 20 years, Biden lauded the effectiveness of the Javelins.
"Quite frankly, they're making fools of the Russian military in many instances," he said.
He also addressed concerns about the shortage of components.
"I learned on the tour today that each of the Javelins you produce includes more than 200 semiconductors," Biden said in a speech after the tour. "I've been a broken record...on our need to be able to produce more semiconductors in the United States. We invented the sucker, going to the moon — we, the United States. We’re the one that modernized it. We’ve done more than anybody else. But guess what? We stopped investing in ourselves."
That, said Biden, is why he has been urging Congress to pass the CHIPS act.
So while Austin didn’t provide specifics about the minimum stockpile of those weapons are, perhaps there is some reason for his confidence that there will be enough to go around.
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