A secret reason for Ukraine war funding?

In discussing the costs of the current conflict between Russia and NATO via the proxy war in Ukraine, the discussion often focuses on the procurement costs of the weapons and ammunition being transferred from U.S. and NATO arsenals to the Ukrainian military.  This cost has been characterized as follows: "Our [U.S] total aid to Ukraine from January 24, 2022, to January 15, 2023, is $76.8 billion. [and] $46.6 billion was for military purposes."

In this post I want to discuss just the $46.6 billion portion.  This largely represents weapons that were purchased decades ago, are serviceable for about 20 years, and are about to leave the U.S. arsenal.  When these weapons normally leave active service, they must be demilitarized and disposed of, which incurs a substantial cost to the U.S. and allies.

Demilitarization of military materials is broken down into a number of categories, described in the Army Cost Analysis Manual and broken out there in subordinate documents.  Examination of those documents is left to the interested.

The important point is that these demilitarization costs are substantial.  By donating these old and about to be demilitarized weapons to Ukraine, the U.S. and also to its NATO allies avoid incurring any of these costs. 

How high are these costs?  It is hard to get real data to make estimates, but we do have a real example of the purchase of Cold War chemical weapons and the demilitarization of those weapons as they aged out of the inventory.  The GAO 1985 report, CHEMICAL MUNITIONS Cost Estimates for Demilitarization and Production, states that the cost of building the U.S. chemical weapons arsenal necessary to deter the USSR from using chemical weapons against our NATO allies was estimated as the "total production costs for the three binary systems over the next 8 years": "$2.749 billion, consisting of $178 million for research and development, $312 million for facilities, and $2.259 billion for production."  The demilitarization costs of these weapons was estimated as "total projected program costs of about $1.7 billion."

Extending this example, the $46.6 billion in military aid to Ukraine would cost about $35 billion in necessary demilitarization costs.  That is probably an overestimate because the conventional weapons sent to Ukraine would be less expensive to demilitarize than chemical weapons.  Nevertheless, these conventional weapons would all have had many complex and expensive dangerous components to deactivate, which means that although disposing of these munitions would likely be less expensive, they would incur a substantial fraction of this cost.

Delivering the expiring and about-to-expire weapons to Ukraine has avoided demilitarization costs for the U.S. and NATO.  Additionally, the use of these weapons by Ukrainian forces imposed losses on the Russian armed forces.  This was a reasonable strategy when there were vast stocks of expiring munitions.  Unfortunately, the U.S. and NATO have run out of these surplus munitions. 

In the current political environment, there is little support to spend new money on Ukraine’s military, and the old money is spent.  Expect a change in NATO policy, as continuing to support Ukrainian forces will actually create new costs from production of new weapons rather than avoiding costs from demilitarization of old weapons.

Roger Smith is a pen name.

Image: The Presidential Administration of Ukraine via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 4.0.

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