Monday, February 26

Biden visits factory making the Javelins Ukraine is using to kill Russian tanks

President Biden is visiting an Alabama Lockheed Martin facility that makes Javelins, the weapon known as a “tank killer.” The U.S. has donated more than 5,500 Javelins to Ukraine since the Russian invasion began.

Videos of the missiles destroying Russian tanks have spread online, including by the Ukrainian military. The Javelin is known as the “tank killer” because its top attack capability means it pops up into the air before diving down and targeting the top of tanks, where the armor is the thinnest.  

Mr. Biden’s visit on Tuesday comes as the Pentagon and Congress are discussing the long-term impact for the United States of giving so many of these and other weapons to the Ukrainians so quickly. 

The administration’s supplemental budget request includes $550 million to establish the Critical Munitions Acquisition Fund. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the fund would allow the Pentagon “to purchase and establish a strategic reserve of vital munitions like anti-aircraft and anti-tank munitions and then to surge for this crisis, and quite frankly, crises to come.”

President Biden speaks about the war in Ukraine in the Roosevelt Room at the White House on Thursday, April 28, 2022.

Andrew Harnik / AP

The fund would focus on weapons such as the Javelin and another weapon the administration has been sending in the thousands – the Stinger anti-aircraft missile. According to the Defense Department, the administration has given over 1,400 Stinger missiles since the invasion started. 

The Stinger rose to fame during the 1980s in the Soviet-Afghanistan war when the mujahideen used U.S.-provided Stingers to shoot down Soviet aircraft.. 

Raytheon Technologies CEO Greg Hayes said on an earnings call last week that it could take years to produce more. He said the Pentagon hasn’t bought a Stinger in about 18 years, and some of the parts are no longer commercially available, so Raytheon will have to redesign them. 

“We’ll ramp up production – what we can – this year,” Hayes said. “But I would expect this is going to be [20]23, [20]24 where we actually see orders come in for the larger replenishments.”

The Pentagon in April hosted a meeting with the CEOs of top weapons companies such as Raytheon to discuss how production lines of weapons like Stingers and Javelins stay healthy.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a press briefing Monday that the Pentagon conducts a readiness assessment before the approval of each assistance package to Ukraine, and so far, the readiness of U.S. forces has not been a concern. He said it’s not about looking at the numbers in the inventory of a specific weapon but rather the capability the weapon provides. 

“We judge it all as a conglomerate of what’s our ability to meet this particular mission set, realizing that a Javelin isn’t the only capability you have against armor,” Kirby said.

He said that readiness is not something the Defense Department takes lightly, which is why the Pentagon will continue to talk to the defense industrial base about what’s needed going forward. 

The Javelin has become a household name certainly in Ukraine and potentially across the United States, and Alabama wants to keep it that way. Early in March, Republican Gov. Kay Ivey tweeted about the weapon and said, “We want the last thing Putin reads to be ‘Made in Alabama.'”

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