Seeking weapons for Ukraine, Pentagon buyers scour Eastern European factories


IN POLAND, NEAR THE UKRAINIAN BORDER – Just off a runway at a Polish airfield, forklifts actively emptied an Air Force C-17 transport plane of its cargo alongside a civilian plane at much smaller propeller, carrying pallets of green boxes full of ammunition from each to a nearby asphalt parking lot filled with several dozen of them.

Some carried American-made weapons, while others held a variety of Eastern European-made ammunition – all representative of Ukraine’s highest military aid priorities that would soon be loaded into a fleet of waiting tractor-trailer trucks lying nearby for the trip to Ukraine.

The Pentagon procures much of the American-made weaponry it sends to kyiv from its own stockpiles, but relies on American defense contractors to scour munitions factories in Europe from East in order to find newly manufactured weapons designed by the United States’ former adversary, the Soviet Union, to fulfill President Biden’s promises to increase military aid to Ukraine.

Ukraine still uses many weapons common to the Russian military, such as modern Kalashnikovs. And while Ukraine’s demands for more sophisticated weapons – such as the Javelin anti-tank and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles – have received widespread attention, the country’s military has pressing needs for a wide range of ammunition, including tens of millions of rounds for Soviet-era weapons that aren’t state-of-the-art but are staples of the Ukrainian army.

The Pentagon refers to these weapons, including rockets, artillery shells, and machine gun and assault rifle ammunition as “non-standard ammunition” – since the ammunition is incompatible with that used by the United States and many allied countries, generally known as NATO- standard munitions.

And since the 9/11 attacks, the Pentagon has been purchasing large quantities of these weapons through various US defense companies to supply client armies in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and other countries that still depend on weapons of Soviet design.

One such company is Ultra Defense Corp. in Tampa, Florida, which has approximately 60 employees and has built a vibrant business working with factories in Romania, Bosnia, Serbia, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Bulgaria.

These countries supply about 90% of the non-standard munitions purchased by the Pentagon, according to Matthew Herring, the company’s owner, although his company supplies only a fraction of the Pentagon’s total orders.

Mr Herring, who bought the company in 2011 when it was a three-person business supplying Russian-made helicopters to Afghan forces, is now in Poland meeting with Ukrainian officials to find out what his company can do else to supply them with the Eastern bloc. ammunition.

“A month ago, when kyiv was surrounded, it was: ‘What do we need in the next 48 hours?’ said Mr. Herring. “But now the Ukrainians are getting into a long fight and it’s, ‘How can we get enough to sustain us in this fight? “”

“So it’s a longer term view of what they need now,” he added.

The Pentagon’s non-standard munitions program was built in direct response to a 2008 New York Times investigation that uncovered illegal sales of Chinese-made weapons to the US military in Afghanistan, which became the subject of the film. “War Dogs” from 2016.

According to Mr. Herring, after this scandal, the Pentagon contracted with large defense companies to supply non-standard ammunition to Afghanistan and then allowed smaller companies like his to submit bids for the same types of munitions. services.

Whether some European countries that still manufacture Soviet-designed ammunition will sell their wares to Ukraine is a political decision – which may depend in part on how much value they place on maintaining good relations with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin.

Rep. Jason Crow, a Colorado Democrat, a former Army ranger who serves on the House Armed Services and Intelligence Committees, said in an interview last week that much of Ukraine’s non-standard ammunition “will be exhausted very quickly” due to the current pace of fighting with Russia.

Ukraine’s military will eventually have to switch to NATO-standard weapons in the future, he said, so that it can take greater advantage of the West’s vast stockpiles of ammunition that sit in bunkers across the country. Europe and the United States.

This decision is already underway, in part thanks to the Pentagon’s supply of five battalions of 155mm howitzers to meet Ukraine’s pressing needs for what it calls long-range fire, the capacity of which is similar to that of Soviet-designed 152 millimeter howitzers. weapons that Ukraine uses against Russia.

So while companies like Ultra Defense Corp. will continue to purchase as many 152mm artillery shells as possible for Ukraine’s legacy artillery weapons, the Pentagon is aggressively moving 184,000 rounds from its stockpile in Europe for the 155mm howitzers it has drawn. from Army and Marine Corps stocks in the United States and shipped to Kyiv.

At a press conference last week, Pentagon press secretary John F. Kirby said non-standard ammunition remains an important part of the weapons supply the United States provides to Ukraine.

“It’s the lifeblood here for the Ukrainian Armed Forces,” Kirby said of the ammunition supplied to kyiv. “We don’t talk much about small arms ammunition. It doesn’t make the headlines, I understand that, but in every discussion we have with the Ukrainians, they talk about the importance of this.

Since the invasion, he said, the United States has coordinated and delivered more than 50 million small arms rounds to Ukraine, many of them Soviet designs. Mr Kirby said the United States continued to “talk to allies and partners about its stockpiles of non-standard ammunition” in an effort to get more ammunition to Ukraine.

“It has a really significant impact on the battlefield,” he said of Soviet-designed ammunition. “They use this ammunition literally every day to defend their country.”

Jean Ismay reported from an undisclosed location in Poland near the Ukrainian border and Eric Schmitt from Washington.

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