JUST IN: Support for Ukraine Not Diminishing U.S. Readiness, Official Says
Eighteen months into Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, the United States has aided the country with more than three million rockets, missiles, mortars and artillery rounds and more than $43 billion of military assistance, according to the Defense Department. That has prompted concerns that the United States is sacrificing readiness.
It's not, said William LaPlante, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment. Speaking at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Emerging Technologies for Defense conference August 28, LaPlante said by the time aid is sent to Ukraine, Defense Department officials have already asked that question.
“Every time that is decided and taken from the U.S. stock and provided to the Ukrainians, the chairman and the secretary go through it, and they look exactly at what is the effect for readiness, and if they think it’s any negative [impact] on readiness or increases risk beyond what they think, we won't do it,” he said.
If resources are taken out through drawdown — an authority allowing for speedy delivery of defense articles and services from Defense Department stocks to foreign countries during unforeseen emergencies — the assessment has already been made that “we can do it and we can manage the risk,” he added.
LaPlante said swirling speculation from the media about running out of “X or Y” is not happening — “we’re not running out of anything,” he said. “We’re managing all of that. It’s just you have to look at all the tools that you have and find the best one.”
Predicting what resources Ukraine will need is a tricky proposition, but it’s the “job every day,” he said. It’s a guessing game with never ending needs, between the needs of the fight “that’s happening right now and what we think is going to happen.”
LaPlante likened the guessing game to another game, alluding to a hockey player skating toward where the puck is going to be. “So, you’re always looking at Ukraine saying, ‘Where is the puck going to be?’ and trying to predict it.”
Assessing the demand today and where that demand might go is the general thought process when determining aid for Ukraine, he said. After determining the need, the options weighed include giving Ukraine what the United States can using drawdown authority, “just purchase something that goes right to the Ukrainians, thanks to Congress,” or go to another country and have them purchase it, he said. “You go through each of those, and you just find the best and most effective way to do it.”
While Ukraine is not depleting U.S. resources, one side effect of sending weapons has been an increased focus on the need for telemaintenance, LaPlante said. Finding ways to train Ukrainians on provided weapons has pushed the United States into a different level of sustainment expertise, he said.
Ukrainians successfully and rapidly learning how to use Harpoon anti-ship missiles meant shifting to a telemaintenance model, such as translating manuals over the phone. Telemaintenance has evolved as the conflict has evolved, he said. “And so right now, I think it’s a high, high need.”
Given the increasing use of telemaintenance in Ukraine, the practice is likely to scale up in the Pacific as well. While the logistics situation is different due to the distances involved, the Defense Department has learned it’s “probably not a good idea” to have contractors on site, LaPlante said.
“That's less desirable, because you have their lives to worry about. You have to get them there.” Telemaintenance is also simpler, and “simplicity really matters,” he said. “It’s affecting how we’re thinking.”
Speaking more broadly on maintaining U.S. resources and the notoriously slow timelines of development and production within the defense industry, LaPlante touched on the Competitive Advantage Pathfinders initiative, or CAPS — a Defense Department initiative focused on finding solutions to barriers in capability fielding.
LaPlante said the department’s challenge to industry is to go from design to production within three years.
“And I think I'm a lot more optimistic than I would have been before I got in this job that this country could do it,” he said.
LaPlante said an important thing to remember about getting equipment to the warfighter is the stool has three legs: the right money in the right year; the requirement and the acquisition; or the right contract and strategy. If any one of those legs is out of sync, “it’s not gonna work,” he added.
Syncing those three things has proved “very, very difficult,” he said. CAPS was an experiment in allowing program executive officers to go “across those three legs … and move fast,” he said.
He called CAPS an experiment in authorities, and what could be done with those available without getting additional approval from Congress. The experiment yielded eight examples “showing you can do this within two or three years,” he said. “So, it gets to the scale thing.
“And in each case, what you do is you find out when you run into an obstacle, there's a way around it,” he continued. “It's really remarkable what you can do when you work across those three legs. That's what CAPS is. We want to … turn CAPS into the way the department does business.”