The Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10) launches a Naval Strike Missile (NSM) during exercise Pacific Griffin 2019.

The Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10) launches a Naval Strike Missile (NSM) during exercise Pacific Griffin 2019. U.S. Navy / Chief Mass Communication Specialist Shannon Renfroe

Let Us Bulk-Buy Missiles for Fighting China, Pentagon Asks Congress

The Defense Department says it wants to use more multi-year munition buys in future years as well.

The Pentagon on Monday asked Congress to approve bulk buys of five types of missiles that the U.S. military would use to fight China, according to defense officials and budget documents.

The multiyear procurements are part of a $30.6 billion munitions spending request that’s up $5.8 billion, nearly 25 percent, from the previous year. It’s all part of the Biden administration’s $842 billion 2024 Pentagon budget proposal that was sent to lawmakers on Monday.

“This is a good first step,” a senior defense official said. “We hope to do more next year to continue to kind of flesh out the munitions, but…it can't be done overnight and in many cases, what we have here is about as fast as we think we can go.”

Over the past year, the U.S. and its allies have struggled to replace various types of munitions given to Ukraine to fight Russia. Weapons makers have said it would take years, in some cases, to build new missiles to replace those given to Ukraine because of supply chain constraints or production line limitations.

But much of the money being requested in the 2024 budget is not for replenishing weapons given to Ukraine, but instead to boost U.S. stockpiles of newer, more sophisticated missiles specifically designed to fight China.

“We have, of course, an increase in funding on this in this year's budget—trying to go as best we can and to the maximum capacities, at the same time, doing what we can and making investments to expand that envelope to increase the capacity over the next few years,” a senior defense official told reporters.

Traditionally, multi-year buys have been used only to buy expensive warplanes and warships. But in December, Congress approved some bulk munitions buys to rebuild stockpiles drained to help Ukraine.

Pentagon leaders, including Bill LaPlante, defense undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment, have pushed for multi-year munitions deals. Long-term, multi-year contracts typically save the Pentagon between 5 and 15 percent, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The senior defense official characterized the bulk buys in the 2024 budget request as “picking some of the ones that are most important to us and for our vision of what we need to move out on first.” The official noted that multi-year buys require significant documentation by both the Pentagon and weapons makers.

Specifically, the Pentagon asked Congress to approve multiyear orders of the Naval Strike Missile, SM-6 interceptor, AMRAAM air-to-air missile, and JASSM-ER and LRASM stealthy cruise missiles.

The Navy is installing the Naval Strike Missiles, jointly manufactured by Raytheon Technologies and Norway’s Kongsberg, on its littoral combat ships and future Constellation-class frigates. Navy destroyers and cruisers can launch the SM-6, which can shoot down missiles and planes and sink ships. The AMRAAM, which stands for Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile, is a long-range air-to-air missile fired by U.S. military fighter jets. Raytheon makes the SM-6 and AMRAAM.

JASSM-ER is a long-range stealth cruise missile fired by fighters and bombers that can strike ground targets deep in enemy territory. LRASM is a version of the same missile that’s modified to sink ships. Both are made by Lockheed Martin.

“These are more for the broader strategy—for a higher-end fight,” the senior defense official said. “They're not ground munitions.”

In the coming years, the official said, the Pentagon is looking to request multi-year buysfor Patriot interceptors and Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System, both weapons given to Ukraine.

“They're not done and blessed and in this budget, per se, but we're going to continue to work on those and work with the [congressional] committees and we will explain that to them.”