Correction: A previous version of this story erroneously described the number of shells fired by Ukraine. The country reportedly fired 6,000-8,000 shells per day.
WASHINGTON — Production of 155mm artillery rounds crucial to the war in Ukraine is years ahead of schedule, according to Pentagon acquisition chief Bill LaPlante.
The Pentagon’s original goal was to build 85,000 of the rounds per month by fiscal 2028. It’s currently on pace to reach 100,000 per month by FY25, LaPlante said, and at least 57,000 a month by spring 2024.
The current rate, he noted, is 28,000 per month — about double the rate from half a year ago.
This pace is welcome news for a Defense Department intent on bulking up its industrial base. The 155mm rounds have been a case study of sorts for surging production to meet an evolving wartime need, in this case Ukraine’s defense against a Russian invasion.
In his remarks at an event hosted by the Center for New American Security think tank, LaPlante showed a graph of peaks and valleys in the Pentagon’s demand for weapons over time. Starting with the Gulf War about 30 years ago, it displayed a trend: A crisis breaks out, the industrial base rushes to meet increased orders and later those orders plummet. In each instance, procurement and deliveries reached their peak at least two years after each crisis began, according to a visual shown during the event.
“If we want to not have this,” LaPlante said, referencing the boom-and-bust cycle, “then we need to change our behavior.”
Such a shift, he explained, would involve sending a more consistent demand signal to industry. The industrial base shrank after the end of the Cold War, when demand for arms fell. It can expand today, LaPlante argued, as the U.S. supports Ukraine and attempts to deter — or potentially fight — China.
Last year’s Pentagon funding bill included almost $1.5 billion to increase the Army’s production capacity for the 155mm shell. Another $18 billion will be spent over the next 15 years to grow the service’s organic industrial base.
Ukraine will likely welcome the news, as the war there is exhausting the stockpiles of the countries supporting its defense efforts. The Associated Press in April reported Ukraine is firing 6,000-8,000 shells per day, more than suppliers are churning out in that same time frame.
To sustain Ukraine’s counteroffensive, the United States in July began sending the European nation cluster munitions, controversial for the risk they pose for civilians.
Next week, LaPlante will travel to Ramstein Air Base in Germany, along with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, for a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group — a collection of countries supporting Ukraine’s defense. Among other items, LaPlante said, he will discuss how quickly U.S. allies and partners are increasing the production of the artillery round.
This spring, the European Union said, it plans to procure 1 million 155mm shells for Ukraine within a year. LaPlante mentioned the plan, sounding somewhat skeptical.
“Great news,” he said. But “where are your contracts?”
“Nothing happens until you get the contracts going,” he added.
Noah Robertson is the Pentagon reporter at Defense News. He previously covered national security for the Christian Science Monitor. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English and government from the College of William & Mary in his hometown of Williamsburg, Virginia.