South Asia and Beyond

‘US Lacks Capacity To Arm Ukraine, Focus On Indo-Pacific Has Diluted’

US not producing enough arms and ammunition for Ukraine, Indo-Pacific and China not getting attention

This may seem odd even unbelievable, but the US with a defence budget of over $800 billion last year, is running seriously short of munitions to support the Ukrainian war effort. Wilson Beaver, a policy analyst with the right wing Heritage Foundation based in Washington DC, said that US manufacturing capacities have degraded since the end of the Cold War.

“A lot of the problem we are facing now is we haven’t been engaged in the large scale production of these munitions really since the 1980s. A lot of the stuff being expended is end of the Cold War munitions stockpiles. In the 1980s, defence spending was around six to 9 percent of GDP, earlier in the 1970s it was even higher at 10 percent.. and the US has just as many responsibilities then as now.”

Beaver pointed out that people are calling on the US to take on Iran, China and Russia but the military is stretched thin. The debate in Washington and the Pentagon is if the US can’t do everything, which theatre should it prioritise. Given his conservative credentials, Beaver believes his country should re-orient the military towards China and the Indo-Pacific. But currently, a lot of US blood, sweat and treasure is being expended in Ukraine.

“The rest of Nato should be doing a lot more,” said Beaver, referring to European member states of Nato that are often accused of not doing enough for their own defence leave alone contributing substantially to the Ukraine war effort.

Beaver believes “Russia is manageable from a European perspective, it really is … if the Europeans want to deter Russia I think they can on their own. The US is going to stay in Nato and will help with a strategic umbrella and things like that. I don’t think we should abandon Europe.”

President Biden’s move to give $60 billion in military and other aid to Ukraine, “does not square with US priorities,” argues Beaver, “since he has allotted only $5 billion for the Indio-Pacific.”

The danger in continued US involvement in Ukraine is the potential risk of China starting something in the Pacific, which the US may find tough to deal with given that so much military hardware, ordnance and stores have gone to Ukraine.

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He made another point with reference to the situation in the Red Sea. The rockets Yemen’s Houthi rebels are firing missiles that cost around $5000 to make while the drones cost even less, about $2000.

“We’re shooting them down with a $2 million rocket which is not sustainable,” he said, noting that US cruise missile production is seriously down to about 70 a year and in the recent missile strikes on Houthi targets, 50 cruise missiles were used, leaving them with only 20.

The US is now ramping up production of 155mm artillery ammunition for use in Ukraine, but this is of little use in the Indo-Pacific theatre where the requirement is for precision guided weapons.

It doesn’t help that the US has de-industrialised with many factories moving to China. It’s better if these are in places like Mexico, that neighbor the US. But it underscores the larger issue of de-industrialising that prevents the US from quickly moving to the production of war stores from civilian goods.

He said India is “doing the right thing by building at home, it drives down costs, makes the supply chain problems easier to manage and its worthwhile that India is spending more on the navy now.”

He welcomed the prospect of “India making for the world”, and called for co-production by Quad members. He said the mood in Washington about India is positive, India is seen as a vital and credible partner. “India is seen as the Indo in Indo-Pacific.”

Nitin A. Gokhale

Left to himself, Nitin A. Gokhale would rather watch films and sports matches but his day job as a media entrepreneur, communications specialist, analyst and author, leaves him little time to indulge in his primary interests. Gokhale in fact started his career in journalism in 1983 as a sports reporter. Since then he has, in the past 41 years, traversed the entire spectrum across print, broadcast and digital space. One of South Asia's leading strategic analysts, Gokhale has moved on from conventional media to become an independent media entrepreneur running three niche digital platforms—BharatShakti, StratNewsGlobal and Interstellar—besides undertaking consultancy and training workshops in communications for military institutions, corporates and individuals. Now better known for his conflict coverage and strategic analyses, Gokhale has lived and reported from India’s North-east for 23 years between 1983 and 2006, been on the ground at Kargil in the summer of 1999 and also brought us live coverage from Sri Lanka’s Eelam War IV between 2006-2009.    An alumni of the Asia-Pacific Centre for Security Studies in Hawaii, Gokhale now writes, lectures and analyses security and strategic matters in Indo-Pacific and travels regularly to US, Europe, Australia, South and South-East Asia to take part in various seminars and conferences. Gokhale is also a popular visiting faculty at India’s Defence Services Staff College, the three war colleges, India's National Defence College, College of Defence Management and the IB’s intelligence school.