US Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro speaks during the United States Naval Academy 2022 Graduation Ceremony at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland, on May 27, 2022.

US Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro speaks during the United States Naval Academy 2022 Graduation Ceremony at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland, on May 27, 2022. MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

Navy Secretary Warns: If Defense Industry Can’t Boost Production, Arming Both Ukraine and the US May Become ‘Challenging’

Carlos Del Toro’s comments come as an admiral accuses weapons makers of using the pandemic as an excuse for not delivering arms on time.

If weapons makers can’t boost production in the next six to 12 months, the United States may find it “challenging” to continue arming itself and helping Ukraine, the Navy secretary said Wednesday.

Carlos Del Toro was speaking to a group of reporters on the sidelines of a Surface Navy Association conference in Arlington, Virginia, just days after the Biden administration announced it would send armored fighting vehicles to Ukraine. Some Republicans are pushing for the U.S. to stop giving weapons to Kyiv.

The secretary was asked to respond to comments made at the conference by Adm. Daryl Caudle, commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command. Caudle, the reporter said, worried that “the Navy might get to the point where it has to make the decision whether it needs to arm itself or arm Ukraine, and has the Navy gotten to that point yet?”

Del Toro replied, “With regards to deliveries of weapons systems for the fight in Ukraine…Yeah, that's always a concern for us. And we monitor that very, very closely. I wouldn't say we're quite there yet, but if the conflict does go on for another six months, for another year, it certainly continues to stress the supply chain in ways that are challenging.”

The Navy secretary said that Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks has been working “very closely with [the defense] industry, to motivate them to find out what their challenges or obstacles are to be able to increase their own production rates.”

“It's obvious that you know, these companies have a substantial pipeline for the future,” Del Toro said. “They now need to invest in their workforce, as well as the capital investments that they have to make within their own companies to get their production rates up.”

Most U.S. weapons sent to Ukraine are coming from Army, not Navy stockpiles. Still, U.S. officials recently announced they would start sending Sea Sparrow missiles to Ukraine. Last year, Denmark gave Ukraine U.S.-made Harpoon missiles

Speaking earlier at the SNA conference, Caudle said that the timeliness of weapons deliveries have real implications both for the Ukrainian and U.S. militaries.

“I'm not...talking about what it’s doing to me, I'm talking about of course, we're going to help a country—deliver the stuff we need—so they can win that conflict against Russia and it's not going to destroy and set me back into the dark ages,” he said.

Over the past three years, companies have blamed weapons production delays on the supply chain issues and worker shortages stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Still, Caudle accused defense companies of using the pandemic as an excuse for missing weapons delivery deadlines. 

“I’m not as forgiving of the defense industrial base. I’m just not,” he said. “I am not forgiving of the fact that you’re not delivering the ordnance we need. All this stuff about COVID this, parts, supply chain this, I just don’t really care. We’ve all got tough jobs.”

Caudle specifically mentioned torpedoes and Standard Missile-6 interceptors being late. Deliveries of the SM-6, which are made by Raytheon Technologies, have been slowed, in part, due to problems getting the rocket motors from Aerojet Rocketdyne, a key supplier.

“We’re talking about war fighting and nation security and going against a competitor here and a potential adversary that is like nothing we’ve ever seen and we keep dilly dallying around with these deliveries,” the admiral said. “I don't see good accountability and I don't get to see good return on investment from the government [side], I really don't.”