A Ukrainian soldier carries the 155mm shells for M777 artillery at their artillery position in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine on August 6, 2023.

A Ukrainian soldier carries the 155mm shells for M777 artillery at their artillery position in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine on August 6, 2023. Diego Herrera Carcedo/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

U.S. government shutdown could slow weapons transfers to Ukraine, Taiwan

Contracting and arms transfer vetting departments may not be able to process new requests.

A shutdown of the U.S. government could reduce arms transfers to Ukraine by stymieing the small workforces that approve arms transfers and arrange weapons’ contracts—even as Ukraine battles to liberate territory in its south. 

The State Department has not issued guidance yet for how it will handle a shutdown, but past shutdowns have meant State was “unable to process new licenses for any partner,” said State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary Mira Resnick, speaking at a House hearing Tuesday. The State Department was also “unable to process new foreign military sales. ” 

“This is something we would like to avoid,” Resnick said.  

The State Department plays a critical role in weapons transfers to Ukraine, including approving weapons transfers directly from the U.S. government. 

It also vets requests from allied governments that wish to send U.S.-made weapons to Ukraine, and performs licensing services both for direct commercial weapons sales and the work of arms dealers serving as middlemen between Ukraine and arms companies. 

An analyst at the State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls previously told Defense One that arms dealers are playing a growing role in support for Ukraine. 

“It was just an explosion of U.S. entities and persons that sought to fill that void … hundreds and hundreds of them,” said the analyst, who spoke to Defense One on the condition of anonymity.

Millions of dollars of worth of in-demand 155mm artillery ammunition, for example, currently passes through arms brokerage Global Ordnance.

Ukraine wouldn’t be the only country affected by a government shutdown—U.S. support for Taiwan would also be log jammed, Resnick said.

The Army effort to rebuild stockpiles of weapons and ammunition would also be squeezed by a shutdown, said Doug Bush, assistant Army secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology. 

Since mid-September, the Army signed contracts to replace $10.5 billion of $23.4 billion worth of weapons that the U.S. has drawn from stocks to send to Ukraine, and $9.1 billion of the $18 billion of money earmarked for future acquisition. 

The Army is also investing to increase the rate of production of 155mm artillery rounds, which Ukraine has used in large numbers. 

Behind that process, which Bush praised as “faster than normal,” are Army civilian employees who handle the contracting process. 

“The contracting workforce isn't that big,” Bush said. “A lot of those people, if we didn't have them able to come into work as much as they can now, that could just kind of affect overall throughput on contracting.” 

Government funding will run out on Sept. 30 unless Congress can come to an agreement on the budget.