An Air Force official downplayed reports that the service is facing a shortage of missiles and bombs as a result of the air campaign against the Islamic State.
“We’re not concerned [about whether] we have the supplies to do what we need to do today,” Lt. Gen. Jay Raymond, deputy chief of staff for operations, told reporters Thursday morning. “But we’re making sure we request [additional supplies] to take care of future, or potential future operations.”
In December, Raymond’s boss, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, made headlines when he said airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, were denting the service’s stockpile of AGM-114 Hellfire missiles used in drone strikes and GPS-guided bombs such as the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), among other munitions.
The Air Force has expended more than 20,000 missiles and bombs in Iraq and Syria since it began its campaign against ISIS in 2014. It reportedly burned through more munitions in recent months, though still reportedly has an estimated 142,000 smart bombs and 2,300 Hellfires in the inventory.
“I don’t think you can judge the campaign in the number of airstrikes,” Raymond said. “This is an air and ground operation … Those numbers will ebb and flow. So the decrease in the monthly weapons expenditures … is largely due to the successful re-take of Ramadi [in Iraq] and some other operations in Syria and Northern Iraq. So don’t only look at the numbers” of airstrikes.
In addition to arming its own piloted and unmanned aircraft, the Air Force has also provided missiles and bombs fired by coalition partners, a practice for which the U.S. gets reimbursed, Raymond said.
Coalition partners who have conducted airstrikes in Iraq include Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Great Britain, Jordan and the Netherlands. In the campaign against ISIS in Syria, those countries have been joined as well by Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
Raymond did not say which munitions in particular the Air Force wants to order for any future operations, nor was he able to say which suppliers the service has contacted. But he said the manufacturers “are upping their capacity to build those for us.”
Makers of munitions include Raytheon Co., based in Waltham, Massachusetts, and Lockheed Martin Corp., based in Bethesda, Maryland.
The Air Force has flown more than half of the roughly 87,000 coalition-nation sorties since the campaign against ISIS got underway in 2014. That includes about 67 percent of the 11,000 airstrikes, he said. The service currently conducts about 25 combat missions each day.