October 24, 2023 | Insight
Can the U.S. Arm Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan at the Same Time?
October 24, 2023 | Insight
Can the U.S. Arm Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan at the Same Time?
The Biden administration has moved quickly to send Israel weapons following Hamas’ deadly October 7 terror attack. This laudable step has some asking whether U.S. military assistance to Israel might affect Washington’s ability to send weapons to Ukraine or Taiwan. Fortunately, at least for now, there is little to no tradeoff between arming Ukraine and Taiwan and the aid being sent to Israel other than 155mm artillery shells.
A senior Pentagon official stated on October 9 that U.S. support being prioritized for delivery to Israel “includes air defense and munitions” and that the Pentagon is “contacting U.S. industry to gain expedited shipment of pending Israeli orders for military equipment.” The major systems and munitions the United States has sent to Israel so far are the Iron Dome air defense system, its Tamir interceptors, Small Diameter Bombs, Joint Direct Attack Munitions, and 155mm artillery shells.
It is worth examining each of these in turn.
Iron Dome and the Tamir Interceptor
Tamir interceptors are fired by Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system that shoots down rockets, drones, and some missiles. Hamas fires its rockets indiscriminately at Israeli cities, and without Iron Dome, Israel’s civilian casualties would be much higher. Israel operates at least 10 Iron Dome batteries that are spread across the country, along with a few other air defense systems. The Pentagon has transferred some of its Tamir interceptors to Israel and is reportedly planning to lease its two Iron Dome batteries to Israel as well.
Ukraine and Taiwan do not operate Iron Dome, so there is no tradeoff in providing Israel Tamir interceptors. However, a large portion of Tamir missile components are produced in the United States, which raises defense industrial base questions around whether or not production can keep up with Israel’s needs.
In addition to the supplier network already in the United States, Raytheon and Israel-based Rafael agreed in 2020 to build an Iron Dome and Tamir interceptor manufacturing facility in the United States. The facility would reportedly “build Iron Dome systems, the Tamir interceptor and launcher, and the SkyHunter missile (the U.S. version of Tamir).” Many now want to accelerate those efforts.
The supplemental funding that the Biden administration requested on October 20 includes $4 billion for Israel to procure “Iron Dome and David’s Sling defense systems.” That funding, along with investments to strengthen the U.S. Iron Dome supplier base and establish a production facility in the United States, will be critical to close the gap between the air and missile defense capacity Israel needs and the capacity it currently possesses.
Small Diameter Bombs (SDBs)
In addition to air defense assistance, Israel will need a significant number of precision strike munitions to target Hamas while minimizing civilian casualties. The Small Diameter Bomb, which a senior defense official said Monday the United States has provided Israel, is a 250-lb., air-launched, precision-guided munition. Its relatively small warhead will reduce collateral damage in the densely populated Gaza Strip. One thousand of the weapons were expedited to Israel, as Jerusalem had previously ordered them through a direct commercial sale.
The United States has procured over 37,000 of SDB Increment I and nearly 2,000 of SDB Increment II in total, according to Pentagon documents. U.S. Air Force and Navy procurement of both SDB variants averaged over 5,700 per year from 2018 to 2022, showing that industry can produce the weapon at scale.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Israel received 8,550 SDBs from the United States between 2010 and 2022, a significant number. The United States has not publicly committed any air-launched SDBs to Ukraine. It is possible that they have been quietly provided to Ukraine, but it would likely be in small numbers as the Ukrainian Air Force struggles to employ non-standoff munitions due to dense concentrations of Russian air defenses.
To help address that problem, Ukraine will soon receive the Ground-Launched Small Diameter Bomb (GLSDB). Ukraine has not received the system yet, but that is due to the time needed to design, integrate, and produce the launcher and rocket motor, not availability of the bomb portion of the system. Taiwan does not have any pending orders for SDB through the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program, and while it has reportedly considered purchasing the GLSDB, Taipei has not ordered it yet. Therefore, there is no significant tradeoff between providing Israel SDBs and providing Ukraine or Taiwan with the munition.
Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs)
The Joint Direct Attack Munition is a guidance kit that converts unguided bombs into precision-guided munitions, and the Extended Range variant (JDAM-ER) converts unguided bombs into precision-guided glide bombs with a range of up to 45 miles. The United States has produced JDAMs in large numbers — over 520,000 in 25 years. The current production rate is 10,500 per year, with a surge capacity of over 50,000. According to SIPRI, Israel has received 12,489 JDAMs since 2010, and in 2015, the State Department approved a Foreign Military Sale to Israel of 14,500 JDAM tail kits as well as a host of other munitions, although no JDAM-ERs are listed. According to an October 20 Defense News report, the administration had already sent Israel about 1,800 JDAMs to Israel since October 7.
There is no publicly available evidence Ukraine has received the standard JDAM, although since March 2023, the United States has committed to Ukraine an unknown number of JDAM-ERs, which are launched from MiG-29s and Su-27s. Ukraine’s consumption of this munition is likely low, as Kyiv only has a small fleet of aircraft capable of launching the weapons and must contend with dense concentrations of Russian air defenses. Taiwan does not have any pending orders for JDAM through the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program.
Israel will not need to use the extended range capabilities of JDAM-ER in Gaza, as the Israeli Air Force enjoys air supremacy and can fly close to targets. Admittedly, Israel may eventually be interested in JDAM-ER for potential operations against Hezbollah or Iran’s nuclear program. Regardless, Israel has its own glide bomb family, known as Spice, which adds an electro-optical/infrared sensor to complement the weapons’ GPS/INS guidance, allowing for additional targeting capabilities. It’s possible that Israel may request JDAM-ER in the future, but at present, Israel has not publicly requested the system and has its own stockpile of glide bombs. Therefore, there is no current tradeoff between providing Israel JDAM and providing Ukraine or Taiwan the system.
155mm Artillery Shells
155mm artillery shells are fired from towed and self-propelled artillery pieces and can be used against a wide variety of targets, including fortifications, vehicles, and infantry. According to public reports in January, the United States had reportedly withdrawn half of an expected 300,000 shells from WRSA-I by January 2023 to give to Ukraine. 155mm is in extreme demand by Ukrainian forces, as the Ukrainian military is an artillery-centric force. The United States has supplied over two million 155mm artillery shells to Ukraine, straining U.S. stockpiles and production capacity.
If a conflict with Hezbollah erupts, Israel’s need for 155mm artillery would increase well beyond what the IDF is currently using in Gaza. One factor worth considering is that the Israeli military is generally less dependent on tube artillery than the Ukrainian military, so its demand for artillery shells will likely be considerably less, depending on a number of variables.
A somewhat relevant historical example is the Second Battle of Fallujah, where Marines forces fired less than 6,000 rounds in a battle that took place in a dense urban area and lasted over a month and a half. Even so, the state of 155mm stockpiles is an area of concern. Fortunately, the Pentagon has already taken steps to increase artillery production, which has roughly doubled over the past six months to 28,000 per month and is on pace to reach 57,000 per month by spring 2024 and 100,000 per month by fiscal year 2025. This will alleviate tradeoffs in the medium term, but there might be challenges in the short term.
Therefore, for the time being, other than the overlap with 155mm artillery shells that can be managed, providing Israel the munitions and the air defense capacity it requires does not materially hamper efforts to arm Ukraine and Taiwan. Any suggestions otherwise do not withstand scrutiny.
Ryan Brobst is a senior research analyst for the Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP) at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where Bradley Bowman serves as CMPP’s senior director. For more analysis from the authors and CMPP, please subscribe HERE. Follow Brad on X @Brad_L_Bowman. Follow FDD on X @FDD and @FDD_CMPP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focused on national security and foreign policy.