Seeking Arms for Ukraine, Pentagon Buyers Scour Eastern European Factories

AT POLAND, NEAR THE UK BORDER – Just off the runway at a Polish airport, forklifts thronged with an Air Force C-17 transport jet along with a smaller civil aircraft many, carrying pallets of green boxes filled with ammunition from each to a nearby asphalt parking lot with dozens of them.

Some carry US-made weapons, while others feature a wide variety of weapons made in Eastern Europe – all of which represent Ukraine’s top priorities for military aid. Ukraine.

The Pentagon supplies most of the US-made weapons it sends to Kyiv from its own stockpile, but relies on American defense contractors to scour arms factories in Eastern Europe for find new weapons built by America’s old adversary, the Soviet Union, to fulfill President Biden’s pledge to increase military aid to Ukraine.

Ukraine still uses many types of weapons common to the Russian military, such as modern Kalashnikovs. And while Ukraine’s pleas for more sophisticated weapons – such as Javelin anti-tank missiles and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles – have received widespread attention, the country’s military has an urgent need. about a wide range of weapons, including tens of millions of rounds for weapons from the Soviet era. not the top but a staple of the Ukrainian army.

The Pentagon calls such weapons, including missiles, artillery shells, and ammunition for machine guns and assault rifles, “non-standard ammunition” — because these weapons are not compatible with other types of ammunition. weapon used by the United States and many allied nations, commonly known as NATO-standard ammunition.

And since the September 11 attacks, the Pentagon has purchased a large number of such weapons through various US defense companies to supply military customers in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and other countries. Others still rely on Soviet-designed weapons.

One of those companies is Ultra Defense Corp. in Tampa, Fla., has about 60 employees and has built a bustling business with factories in Romania, Bosnia, Serbia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Bulgaria.

According to Matthew Herring, the company’s owner, these countries supply about 90% of the substandard ammunition the Pentagon buys, even though his company supplies only a fraction of the total orders. Pentagon goods.

Mr. Herring, who bought the company in 2011 when it was a three-man company that supplied Russian-made helicopters to Afghan forces, is now in Poland meeting Ukrainian officials to find out if What else can your company do to provide them with the Eastern Block. ammunition.

“A month ago, when Kyiv was under siege, it was a question of ‘What do we need in the next 48 hours?'” Mr. Herring said. “But now the Ukrainians are digging into a long war and that is it. , ‘How do we have enough to sustain us in this war?'”

“So it’s a longer look at what they need now,” he added.

The Pentagon’s Non-Standard Ammunition Program Was Built in Direct Response to a 2008 New York Times investigation shows the illegal sale of Chinese-made weapons to the US Army in Afghanistan, which became the subject of the 2016 film “War dog. ”

According to Herring, after that scandal, the Pentagon contracted with major defense companies to supply substandard munitions to Afghanistan and then allowed small companies like his to bid for the supplies. similar type of service.

Whether some European countries that still manufacture Soviet-designed weapons will sell weapons to Ukraine is a political decision – a decision that may depend in part on whether they value maintaining good relationship with Russian President Putin or not.

Representative Jason Crow, a Colorado Democrat, a former Ranger who served on the House Armed Services and Intelligence Committees, said in an interview last week that much of the ammunition was non-standard. Ukraine’s “will run out very quickly” because of the current pace of fighting with Russia.

Ukraine’s military, he said, will eventually need to convert to standard NATO weapons in the future, in order to be able to take advantage of the huge stockpile of Western ammunition in bunkers across Europe and USA.

That move was made possible in part through the Pentagon’s delivery of five battalions worth of 155 mm artillery pieces to meet Ukraine’s urgent need for what it calls long-range, capable fire similar to the 152 mm cannon designed by the Soviet Union. guns that Ukraine has been using against Russia.

So while businesses like Ultra Defense Corp. will still purchase as many 152 mm shells as possible for the legacy Ukrainian artillery weapons, the Pentagon is actively transferring 184,000 rounds from its stockpile in Europe for the 155 mm artillery it has withdrawn. from the Army and Marine Corps stockpiles in the United States and moved to Kyiv.

At a press conference last week, John F. Kirby, the Pentagon’s press secretary, said substandard ammunition remains an important part of the weapons supply the United States is supplying to Ukraine.

Mr. Kirby talked about ammunition supplies to Kyiv. “We don’t talk much about small-caliber ammunition. I understand that doesn’t get the headlines, but at every discussion we have with the Ukrainians they talk about how important that is.”

Since the invasion, he said, the US has coordinated and delivered more than 50 million small arms rounds to Ukraine, the majority of which were designed by the Soviet Union. Mr. Kirby said the US was continuing to “talk to allies and partners about their substandard ammunition stockpiles” in an effort to bring more weapons into Ukraine.

“It is having a really significant impact on the battlefield,” he said of the Soviet-designed weapon. “They use that ammunition literally every day to defend their country.”

John Ismay reported from an undisclosed location in Poland near the border with Ukraine and Eric Schmitt from Washington.

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