Guess what? There are no more weapons in our supply room to outfit Ukraine. Plus, this winter, Putin will turn up the heat (ironic choice of words) by restricting sales of natural gas and oil to the EU. We'll see how they like that.
Putin's playing the long game; Ukraine and its allies are playing a poorly thought-out short game that inevitably won't end the way they want.
Logistic Peril for NATO Weapons to Ukraine
Dwindling stocks of leading-edge systems probably will mean more casualties.
By Mark T. Kimmitt
Sept. 1, 2022 6:18 pm ET
Within months of the landings at Normandy in June 1944, allied forces raced across France and Belgium so quickly that they outran their supply lines. Rather than fight a broad-front campaign to defeat the Germans, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower was forced to shift to a narrow-front attack, prolonging the war well into 1945. Soon, logistic shortfalls also will confront Ukraine and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and may force a change in strategy.
On Aug. 19, the U.S. pledged another $775 million for Ukraine. The aid provides more Javelins, Himars rockets, and artillery ammunition. It also includes TOW missiles, 105mm howitzers and smaller-caliber artillery ammunition. The last systems are older and less advanced than the items provided to date and may indicate that battlefield consumption rates have outpaced production to a point where excess inventories provided to Ukraine are nearly exhausted. If so, NATO will have to deal with dwindling stocks of leading-edge weapon systems. This likely will mean muddling through a longer war, with more casualties. It means more pressure from supporting nations, sustained inflation, less heating gas and falling popular support.
There are options. One is to dig deeper into NATO stockpiles being held back for national defense. An argument could be made, especially with European countries, that these are needed to defend their territory against a full-strength Russian army, and battlefield losses have greatly diminished that threat. A hard sell, but necessary to confine the war to Ukraine. Better to use these weapons in Kherson than Krakow.
A second option is to use the Defense Production Act and its European equivalents to ramp up critical shortfalls. Stocks of Javelins, artillery rounds and Himar missiles are under pressure. Yet given production lead times and supply-chain issues (each Javelin has more than 250 semiconductor chips), it is unlikely that invoking the Defense Production Act would have a serious effect in the next year.
Another option is to step up the conflict to provide capabilities such as longer-range ATACM missiles, F-16s and Patriots and to broaden the rules of engagement to attack targets in Crimea and possibly Russia. This high-risk option doubtless would spur a response from Moscow, which has held back on mobilizing its vast numbers of eligible males and has to date held some of its advanced weapons in reserve. It also likely would strain NATO unity, as allies may not be willing to risk the conflict spilling into Europe. It may be necessary, however, to consider this option, as the stalemate appears unlikely to change soon and will consume declining weapons stocks.
A fourth option, and for President Volodymyr Zelensky the most vexing, is to push for an interim diplomatic resolution without (or with) territorial concessions. With Vladimir Putin, it may be impossible. As long as both sides believe they are winning—or at least not losing—there is little incentive to negotiate.
Yet Mr. Zelensky must recognize that diminishing resupplies would have a disastrous effect on his army, not merely for battlefield operations but for the message of declining outside support it would send to the people of Ukraine. Beginning the diplomatic resolution would be distasteful, and perhaps seen as defeatist, but as there is little chance of climbing out of the current morass, it may be better to negotiate now than later.
In modern high-intensity warfare, logistics is the Achilles’ heel. Good training, great tactics and brave soldiers are critical, but without weapons, food and fuel, armies grind to a halt. That may be what is happening as the battlefield becomes static and a breakthrough looks unlikely.
The military often talks about the ability to see things clearly and comprehensively. Looking into a future of protracted war, diminishing high-tech systems and mounting casualties, Mr. Zelensky and NATO must face up to tough decisions before those decisions are forced on them.
Mr. Kimmitt, a retired U.S. Army brigadier general, served as assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, 2008-09.