NATO signs $700 million Stinger missile contract amid production push (2024)

WASHINGTON (AP) — NATO has signed a nearly $700 million contract to have member countries produce more Stinger missiles, one of many steps the alliance is pressing at its summit in Washington to get each country to boost its own weapons production capabilities.

Outgoing NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced the contract Tuesday at a Chamber of Commerce industry day focused on increasing NATO member countries' defense manufacturing capabilities to deter future attacks.

“There is no way to provide strong defense without a strong defense industry," Stoltenberg said.

The Stinger is a portable surface-to-air defense system that can be carried and fired by troops or mounted onto a vehicle and used as short-range defense against aircraft.

The Raytheon-produced system was one of the first weapons the U.S. shipped to Ukraine following Russia’s 2022 invasion. It is now among hundreds of types of systems, and tens of millions of rounds of ammunition, artillery and missiles, that countries have pulled from their stockpiles to help Ukraine. But the rapid push over the past two years exposed that defense firms both in the U.S. and in Europe were not set to produce at the levels needed in a major conventional war.

The NATO summit is also occurring against a backdrop of uncertainty: U.S. political divisions delayed weapons for Ukraine for months and the upcoming presidential election is raising concern that U.S. backing — with weapons and troops — in case of threats against member countries may not always be guaranteed.

Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, has boasted during campaign speeches that he'd encourage Russia to do as it wished with NATO members that do not meet their commitment to spend 2% of their gross domestic product on defense.

In some cases, defense production lines were stagnant at the time of the 2022 invasion and are only now getting production numbers up. The buildup has been dependent on getting new, longer-term contracts signed to support more capital investment in the needed infrastructure.

“This is not about shifts or a bottleneck. It’s building new factories,” said Morten Brandtzaeg, the chief executive officer of Nammo, a Norway-based ammunition firm.

The war also spurred those NATO members to increase the amount they spend on defense.

Out of 32 NATO members, 23 are expected to meet the 2% commitment this year, up from just six before Russia's invasion of Ukraine. That's seen as still not enough, as Russia has leveraged the sheer size of its workforce to rapidly replace weapons lost in the war.

“If you want to fight a war for a long time, you need to have an industry behind you, that has the capacity for a long time,” Brandtzaeg said.

Estonian Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur told the Chamber of Commerce that Russia is now spending an estimated 7% to 9% of its GDP on defense. Estonia is spending more than 3% of its GDP on defense, but needs to do more to refill its stockpiles, Pevkur said.

Polish Defense Minister Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz, who also serves as a deputy prime minister, said his country will commit at least 4% of its GDP to defense this year.

The war in Ukraine “exposed major weaknesses of Poland, of region and of the world at large,” Kosiniak-Kamysz said.

Since the invasion, the U.S. has provided more than $53.6 billion in weapons and security assistance to Ukraine. This support, at a time when the U.S. also is sending weapons to Israel and Taiwan, has strained the U.S. stockpile. The rest of the NATO members and other international partners have provided about $50 billion altogether in weapons and security assistance, according to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, an independent research organization based in Germany.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan told Tuesday's gathering that for the first time ever, the NATO countries will each pledge to make plans to strengthen their own industrial defense capacity. He said this would help the alliance “prioritize production of the most vital defense equipment we would need in the event of a conflict."

The 32 members have widely varying defense industry sizes and capabilities, so each country's plan could vary widely, from partnering with industry to partnering with other countries.

___

Cook reported from Brussels.

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