The U.S. Army is rebuilding its stockpiles of ammunition and equipment. These stockpiles are also referred to as the “War Reserve”
(large quantities of munitions and spares stockpiled to keep the troops supplied during the initial month or so of a war). Thus orders for 155mm artillery shells are up from 16,573 (for 2018) to 148,287 for 2019. As are orders for GPS guided 227mm rockets (GMLRS) and upgrades for the longer range 600mm ATACMS guided rocket. The army has been ordering many more of the PGK (Projectile Guidance Kit) 155mm fuze. The PGK fuze turns an unguided 155mm shell into a GPS guided one. These were found to be exceptionally useful in Syria and Iraq and in mid-2017 the U.S. Army ordered another 5,600 PGK fuzes and now wants to build a large stockpile. The army still uses unguided artillery shells for situations that don’t require precise accuracy for each shell but the PGK provides options that can be implemented quickly to turn any “dumb” shell into a smart one.
Orders for the latest version of Blue Force Tracker (that lets commander see where all their troops are in real time) are up from 16,552 in 2018 to 26,355 in 2019. This JBCP (Joint Battle Command Platform) gear began arriving in 2015 and is essential in large scale combat. The 2019 budget accelerates purchases of numerous items that have to be stockpiled to sustain a major war, even a short one. Although fighting in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan has involved few American troops it has seen enough action, and use of artillery in support of Iraqi, Syrian and Afghan forces to deplete stockpiles and indicate which items would be needed in another major war.
A decade ago there were warning that stockpiles and war reserves were being allowed to shrink to dangerously low levels. In early 2016 American military leaders went public about how their complaints about smart bomb and missile shortages are being ignored. In 2015 over 25,000 smart bombs and missiles were used by American (mostly) and allied (NATO and local Arabs) warplanes operating over Iraq and Syria. Nearly all weapons were supplied by American firms and American politicians and military leaders couldn’t agree on how to get the money to replace bombs being taken from the war reserve stocks.
This is not a new problem. It was a major and widespread problem in 2011 when NATO warplanes provided air support for Libyan rebels. In the aftermath of the 2011 campaign NATO countries noted the importance of smart bombs and guided missiles and the tendency of European nations to maintain meager stocks of these (and many other) munitions and spare parts for the aircraft that deliver them. NATO nations did not start acquiring smart bombs until after the Cold War ended, about the same time their procurement budgets were cut sharply. European defense spending continues to shrink, and war reserve stocks are still not a high priority. In Europe the attitude seemed to be that the Americans would be able to supply smart bombs in a crises. For a long time that was the case, but with the Americans now running down their own war reserves and deadlocked over what to do about that (which is currently “not much”) American allies are getting anxious.
In 2011 the situation was made worse by the fact that the NATO air forces delivering most of the bombs in Libya had already used many of them in Afghanistan over the last few years. The now chastised NATO air forces are still trying to deal that the 2011 mess and now they find that their safety net (dependable emergency deliveries from American war reserves) is rapidly disappearing.
All this was yet another reminder that cutting corners in maintaining war reserve stocks was false economy. But the smart bombs and missiles are expensive. About 30 percent of the cost of the NATO Libya operation was for these high-tech weapons, with the rest of the expense being operational costs (fuel, spare parts, and personnel expenses). But if you don’t have the smart bombs to deliver there is no action, except for the imaginative stories conjured by my political and military leaders to shift the blame onto someone else.
When the smart bomb stockpile shortage got some attention it became obvious that the new army guided, and unguided, artillery ammunition stockpiles needed attention as well and that modernization efforts, like JBCP. Army procurement for 2019 is up 18 percent over the previous year that is expected to go on for a few years like this.