Has Pentagon depleted own stocks by sending Javelin missiles to Ukraine?

"Military planners are likely getting nervous," according to Mark Cancian, a security analyst for the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Updated: May 4, 2022 - 11:05pm

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The United States has delivered so many Javelin tank-buster missiles to Ukraine that the Pentagon's own stocks have dwindled perilously, according to defense insiders.

The U.S. has sent more than 5,000 Javelins to Ukraine, the Pentagon said, with analysts estimating that some 20,000-25,000 of the missiles remain in the Defense Department's inventory — an amount that may not be sufficient for potential U.S.-involved conflicts.

"Military planners are likely getting nervous," according to Mark Cancian, a security analyst for the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The U.S. maintains a weapons stockpile in reserve in case conflict erupts in North Korea, Iran, or other potential hot spots, Cancian noted in an essay for CSIS. 

"At some point, those stocks will get low enough that military planners will question whether the war plans can be executed," he wrote. "The United States is likely approaching that point."

Described by manufacturer Lockheed Martin as "the world's premier shoulder-fired anti-armor system," the 49-pound Javelin guides itself to the target and "takes the fight to the enemy." The missile can be fired from 2.5 miles away from the target, and climbs over the target in order to strike from above. 

The system has been a boon to Ukrainian forces, who use the missile to strike Russian armor at its weakest spot, on top of each tank. The missile has produced a 90% kill rate against Russian armor in Ukraine, a senior defense official told reporters this week at the Pentagon.

President Joe Biden on Tuesday praised the missile and its assembly-line workers while visiting a Lockheed Martin production site in Alabama. 

"You're allowing the Ukrainians to defend themselves and, quite frankly, they're making fools of the Russian military in many instances," Biden said while visiting the site in Troy, Ala. "A big part of the reason they've been able to keep up fighting and to make this war a strategic failure for Russia is because the United States together with our allies and partners have had their back."

Biden made the trip as part of his push for Congress to approve more funds to help Ukraine fend off a months-long assault that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered in February. 

"You're changing the nation," Biden told the Lockheed workers. "You really are." 

The Javelin deliveries to Ukraine might also bring changes to the U.S. in terms of depleted missile stocks, others have noted.

"The obvious answer is to build more missiles," Cancian wrote, adding that the U.S. has been buying Javelins at the rate of about 1,000 per year. "The delivery time is 32 months; that is, once an order is placed, it will take 32 months before a missile is delivered," he wrote. "This means that it will take about three or four years to replace the missiles that have been delivered so far."

The Pentagon downplayed the potential threat to U.S. Javelin missile stocks and deflected questions on how many remain on hand.

"We're not going to talk about what our own inventory is of anything," Defense Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters Monday at the Pentagon. "And I think you can understand why we wouldn't do that. We don't think it's particularly helpful to lay out what our inventory level is for any one particular system or set of munitions."

Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) last week said the stocks were depleted to the point that Biden should invoke the Defense Production Act in order to jumpstart new production lines.

"The cupboard is empty, or it will be very, very shortly unless the president invokes the Defense Production Act to provide that demand signal on an expedited basis," Blumenthal said at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The stocks are in good shape, Kirby countered.

"With every drawdown package, we make an assessment about the impact on our readiness," he said. "And what I can tell you is that thus far, we have not seen any negative impact on our ability to defend this nation across a range of military capabilities."

The issue "is not something we take lightly," Kirby said.

"It is a legitimate thing that we look at with each and every drawdown package," he added.

Ukraine likely could use additional Javelins, according to Cancian. Open-source reports show that Russia has lost about 1,300 armored vehicles in Ukraine, but has thousands more on hand.

"The bottom line is that the Russians are not going to run out of armored vehicles anytime soon," Cancian wrote.