A Hard Talk About Bombs

Partners and allies have too long counted on a robust US stockpile of precision-guided munitions to be there and available when they get in a jam, and that has to change, Heidi Grant, deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for international affairs, said Friday. “The tough conversation I’m having with our international partners,” is that high-visibility modernization programs like new fighters are getting all their attention, while munitions fall to “the bottom of the list” of their defense spending, said Grant at an AFA-sponsored, Air Force breakfast. “You have got to make sure,” she said, “when you’re looking at your budget, that you look at the most likely scenario in the future … and make sure you have the right mix of munitions.” Partner weapon strategies seem to have been, “’When we need it…We’ll just go to the US and draw on their large supply,’” Grant observed. The US, though, is short of precision weapons and can no longer be the armory for all its friends, she warned. “The message is, there’s no longer a large supply; we’re all on resource challenges.” (See also: Empty Racks, which will appear in the January issue of Air Force Magazine.)

The US needs to follow its own advice in this regard and start getting smarter about anticipating changes in weapon consumption and buy accordingly, Grant said, since “it’s two years” between budgeting for a weapon and actually receiving it. The Air Force is working with Congress to try to keep production of PGMs up even under the continuing resolution, which prevents big increases to refill depleted stocks, and thanked industry for “helping us out with … a surge in production,” said Grant. She also urged allies to reserve the short supply of PGMs for when they’re truly needed. “If you don’t need precision, don’t use precision. Use the right weapon for the target,” Grant suggested. Overall, “we’re going to get through this,” Grant said of the weapon shortage, as long as allies buy “proactively” and appropriately.