US Needs More Arms Factories, Says Chief Weapons-Buyer Nominee

March 25th, 2022 - by Marcus Weisberber / Defense One

Bill LaPlante Wants to Speed Deliveries
of Weapons and Equipment to Ukraine

Marcus Weisberber / Defense One

(March 22, 2022) — The United States needs more production lines that can churn out missiles, bombs, and drones, President Biden’s nominee to be the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer told lawmakers Tuesday.

Bill LaPlante’s Senate confirmation hearing came as the US military raids its stockpiles of Javelin anti-tank and Stinger anti-aircraft missile to arm Ukraine.

“I believe we need multiple hot production lines,” LaPlante said. “Whether it be munitions, [drones] and the like. They by themselves are a deterrent, and we need to put much more focus on that across the board.”

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, asked whether the US should “make some one-time investments this year so we could expand production of key munitions.” Responded LaPlante: “Yes, we do.”

The US military has sent thousands of the easy-to-use Javelins and Stingers to Ukraine. But back in the United States, only the Javelin is in serial production, by a Lockheed Martin-Raytheon Technologies joint venture.

“We’re sending thousands of Stingers to Ukraine and we don’t even have a hot production line,” Inhofe said.

Companies typically keep production lines up and running when they have orders or anticipate orders. It’s rare for a company to keep building a weapon without booked orders. A notable exception is when Boeing built C-17 cargo planes without orders in anticipation of being able to sell them later.

Biden nominated LaPlante, CEO of the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based non-profit Draper Labs, on Feb. 28 to become the defense undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment. The position has been without a Senate-confirmed leader since Jan. 20, 2021, when President Biden took office.

Biden announced last week that in addition to missiles and other equipment, the US would send Ukraine Switchblade drones. The small drones, which are filled with explosives, can loiter over the battlefield and then crash into targets.

“If confirmed, one of my first things to do on day one would be [to] accelerate all equipment and capabilities to both the Ukrainians … and also helping our NATO partners and replenish our stockpiles,” LaPlante said.

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