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The war in Ukraine shows that the US military-industrial complex is not ready for battle

Typically, that money goes primarily to so-called prime manufacturers, who are attractive to the Defense Logistics Agency, the Defense Department’s procurement arm, because they have existing relationships with suppliers and can provide end-to-end service for orders, says Brian Rodgers, director of government and business development at Jamaica Bearings Group, a New York-based warehousing and distribution company licensed to sell parts — seals, gaskets, bearings, motors, gyroscopes — to the U.S. government on behalf of major aerospace companies like Eaton. Corporation and Meggitt.

In the military-industrial food chain, Jamaica Bearings Group is a mid-tier player, primarily engaged in inventory and replenishment. When fighter jets need repairs or retrofits with tires, wheel bearings or other broken systems, it supplies the parts as a “single partner” to larger companies, which use them to make things like hydraulic systems and sensors, which then often feed even larger manufacturers of major weapons platforms, say the F-15.

As most ammunition shipped to Ukraine from the US is removed from existing stocks, Jamaica Bearings Group is seeing an increase in order requests. But those orders are random and hard to predict, says Ruggers, making it risky for small manufacturers to hire or invest in new facilities. “They’re giving out rewards to companies like ours to start restocking items they’ve run out of. But they’re trying to do it to meet today’s needs, not tomorrow’s needs,” Rodgers said.

Some plants, such as the Scranton Army Ammunition Plant, one of several that make 155mm artillery shells for the US Army, went into overdrive, increasing production of 155mm artillery shells from 14,000 per month to more than 20,000 per month, with plans move to 70,000 a month by 2025, Pentagon spokesman Jeff Jurgensen wrote in an email.

But sources at smaller manufacturing facilities, including a Montreal foundry that makes small batches of aluminum parts for Javelin missiles, say the war has not had a significant impact on their business. Although the company is subcontracted to the Department of Defense’s $16.5 million joint Javelin contract awarded to Lockheed Martin and Raytheon in 2019, the new work will be difficult to begin.

“The foundry is not that easy to set up and run and expand,” said one company employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the labor shortage as a lingering problem. “You can add a second shift, weekends or overtime, but suddenly coming into a new multi-million dollar building … it wouldn’t be possible if there wasn’t a huge amount of work.”

The promise of on-time delivery is the stakes in a cut-throat industry where prime contractors have the power to make or break deals. Training new engineers and technicians or changing positions to increase capacity for long-term orders can jeopardize the timing of existing contracts. In addition, the hand-intensive method of molten wax casting, in which molten metal is poured into molds, is done in small batches of several parts per day and requires precise dimensions. Unlike a car factory that can mass produce, “every part has to be individually made,” says the employee.

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