Senators push to expedite replacement of US weapons sent to Ukraine
WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of 15 senators has unveiled legislation to expedite the Department of Defense’s ability to replenish stockpiles of U.S. weapons sent to Ukraine through non-competitive contracts.
The senses. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Jeanne Shaheen, DN.H., introduced the US Safe Arms Act as standalone legislation alongside 13 other senators last week.
The bill would allow the Department of Defense to award non-competitive contracts to arms manufacturers to fill the stockpile of US weapons sent to friendly countries like Ukraine. The authority can only be used for items similar to weapons sent from US stockpiles, and the Pentagon must notify Congress within one week of issuing a non-competitive contract under this provision.
“We are already hearing Ukrainians requesting more equipment based on their positive progress, so we could have it more regularly without further bureaucratic hurdles,” Shaheen told Defense News.
Shaheen, who serves on the Armed Services Committee, told Defense News on Tuesday they hoped to see the bill become law when Congress passes the National Defense Authorization Act of 2023 later this year, but warned that the inclusion of his bill was not yet certain.
“It’s not clear when we’re going to pass the NDAA, whether it will be before or after the election, and also to what extent we will have an amendment process,” Shaheen told Defense News.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed, DR.I., told the defense press conference last week that he was pushing for a Senate vote on the NDAA this month before that lawmakers leave town for a month to campaign for the midterm elections. But the bill clashes with several other competing Senate priorities, primarily an ongoing resolution Congress must pass before the end of the month to avoid a government shutdown.
Cornyn and Shaheen have won support for their bill from many colleagues on the Armed Services Committee, including Mississippi’s Roger Wicker, who is on course to become the top Republican on that key panel next year. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., also co-sponsored the bill.
“When we provide aid to allies under attack, we need to make sure we can quickly replenish our own stockpiles in the process,” Cornyn said when introducing the US Arms Securing Act last week. “This legislation would allow faster procurement of weapons and combat items to help our allies and partners without diminishing our ability to protect ourselves.”
The White House submitted a request to Congress earlier this month for an additional $13.7 billion in aid to Ukraine, which includes a request for an additional $3.7 billion presidential withdrawal authorization that would allow President Joe Biden to send more equipment from US military stockpiles to Kyiv – weapons that the Department of Defense would then have to backfill.
Biden has used the withdrawal policy 20 times since last August to provide about $12.5 billion worth of US military equipment to Ukraine. Under current law, the Department of Defense must then open a competitive contract process to replace weapons — even those exclusively designed by a specific company or consortium of companies.
Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Bill LaPlante told a press briefing last week that $1.2 billion contracts were currently underway to reload the equipment. This amount includes $624 million for Stinger anti-ship missile refills, $352 million for Javelin anti-tank missiles, and an additional $33 million to replace High Mobile Artillery rocket systems.
In recent years, the United States has transferred 1,400 Stingers to Ukraine as well as 5,000 Javelins, representing respectively a quarter and a third of the stockpiles of each ammunition.
The Senate NDAA, which the Armed Services Committee advanced in June, authorizes $2.7 billion to purchase critical ammunition for items such as Stingers and Javelins. The House passed its version of NDAA 329-101 in July, which would require the Pentagon to establish a critical munitions fund and closely track its supply chain.
Once the Senate passes its version of the NDAA, the two chambers will have to agree on the final legislation in a conference committee. It will also provide Cornyn and Shaheen with a final opportunity to insert their provision to fill U.S. inventory with non-competitive contracts if they are unable to attach it as an amendment to the NDAA on the Senate floor. .
Bryant Harris is the congressional reporter for Defense News. He has covered US foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.