Why more US weapons will soon be made outside the US

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On the grassy plains of Australia’s vast interior, an industrial revolution in the US war machine is gathering momentum. In munitions factories with room to grow, Australia is on the verge of producing heaps of artillery shells and thousands of guided missiles in partnership with US companies.اضافة اعلان

Made to Pentagon specifications, the weapons will be no different from those built in the US, and only some of what rolls off the line will stay in Australia. The rest are intended to help replenish US stockpiles or be sold to US partners in an era of grinding ground wars and threats from major powers.

It is all part of an Australian push to essentially become the 51st state for defense production, an ambitious vision that is now taking shape with a giant yellow mixer for explosives and a lightning-protected workshop for assembling missiles known as GMLRS for Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System or ‘gimmlers.’

The Australian director general responsible for domestic manufacturing of guided weapons and explosives, Andrew Langford said, “We’re not buying a commodity; we’re investing in an enterprise,” adding, “And that’s where it’s really novel.”

The embrace of joint production reflects a wider awakening in Washington and other capitals: The US by itself cannot make enough of the weapons needed for protracted warfare and deterrence. Vulnerable partners like Taiwan are already facing delayed orders for US equipment even as China’s military capabilities continue to grow.

So, while the Pentagon waits for changes to Cold War-era laws that prioritize protecting, not sharing, military technology, and as the wars in Ukraine and the Gaza Strip push US factories to their limits, officials are leading a worldwide campaign to make more US weapons with friendly nations.

Poland, Japan, and India are a few of the countries in various phases of production partnerships. However, Australia, the closest of US allies, having fought alongside Americans in every conflict since World War I, has gone further and faster with the Defense Department and US contractors such as Lockheed Martin.

Together, they are testing a more collective approach that demands greater trust, investments in the billions of dollars, and cross-continental sharing of sensitive technology for US weapons systems, along with complex production and testing methods.

The undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, Bill LaPlante stated, “We’re really pleased at the momentum and speed we’re generating with Australia.” He also noted, “Efforts like these act as a kind of blueprint for additional US co-development, co-production, and co-sustainment agreements around the world.”

For Australia, a distant island of 26 million people, going first adds opportunity and stress. At a time when China’s military keeps leaping forward, with seemingly endless production lines for warships and missiles, Australia’s push into joint production could make the country more of a ‘porcupine,’ with sharper defenses that would deter China or another adversary. It could also create a much bigger weapons export industry with a US stamp of approval; Australian officials have been lobbying for a broad exemption to military export laws, a status only Canada has now.

Australia’s minister for defense industry, who recently returned from a trip to Washington, Pat Conroy said, “We are there to supplement, not supplant, the American industrial base.” Conroy added, “They should see this as an opportunity for us to be a second supply line.”

The risk is that the US loses interest. Some Australian officials worry that their costly bet on US cooperation, which accelerated in 2021 with plans for nuclear-propelled submarines, could be endangered by another isolationist Trump presidency or simply by an objection from a member of Congress who sees foreign factories as a threat to US jobs.

Analysts argue that weapons co-production will deliver the benefit of greater deterrence only if the manufacturing process advances with alacrity in Australia and around the region.

The Australia chair and a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Charles Edel said, “There is strength in numbers, but only if those numbers materialize rapidly and in sufficient quantity to give Beijing pause.”

Additionally, LaPlante stressed that joint production agreements signaled a long-term commitment, with multiyear contracts for munitions. In Australia, it’s something of a revival: During World War II, the island hosted US troops and served as a military supply center.

That legacy can still be found at a factory in Mulwala, a small town a few hundred miles from Australia’s eastern coast where the US shipped over the machinery for making weapons propellants in the 1940s to support Allied operations in the Pacific.

One of the original buildings, with the musty smell of a museum, has photos on the walls from that era, but the rest of the complex points to the future.

Furthermore, Mulwala is a hub of Australia’s public-private explosives industry. It’s where the volatile materials that fill artillery, bombs, and rifle rounds are made in heavy concrete buildings set far apart from one another and protected with hair-trigger alarms and wet floors to minimize static electricity.

Most of the 2,500-acre site is managed by Thales, a multinational defense contractor, which also oversees munition production at a second location nearby in Benalla. Both sit on government land with a large pastoral buffer that could allow for expansion during what Australian officials described as the ‘crawl, walk, run’ process of collaborative manufacturing.

First, the US and Australia are finalizing joint production of unguided 155 mm artillery shells, which Pentagon officials described as “An early win.”

In the coming months, Lockheed Martin will start assembling GMLRS with US components at a location where other missiles are maintained, ramping up from a few units to a few hundred.

 And as walking turns to run, Australia expects to be producing around 3,000 GMLRS per year with at least some local parts, most likely those that rely on ‘energetics,’ a term that includes the explosives that are used to fly a missile and blow up its target.

Production, by all accounts, will increase with caution. Director of programs for Lockheed Martin Australia’s missiles and fire control division, James Heading stated that coordinating safety procedures for dangerous liquids, differences in voltage and other issues had already required considerable back and forth.

However, he added that Pentagon approvals for Australia now often take weeks rather than months or years and that the hurdles are worth overcoming primarily because the end products are in demand.

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