The Air Force is hoping to replenish its stockpile of weapons on a faster timetable in order to keep pace with the rapid operational tempo of ongoing attacks against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, service officials said.
B1-B bombers, drones and F-15E fighter jets have been bombarding ISIS for months, dropping more than 20,000 air-to-ground munitions, and the service is concerned its inventory could fall dangerously low if the air campaign against ISIS continues for the long term, Air Force sources told Scout Warrior.
"We are currently able to manage munitions inventories to sustain operations against ISIL at this time, but we need funding in place and the ability to forecast for production to be ready for the long fight," Air Force spokesman Maj. Robert Leese told Scout Warrior.
The weapons shortfall, to include drone and helicopter-fired Hellfire missiles and potentially other weapons such as laser-guided bombs and precision-guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions, or JDAMs.
"The Air Force has re-supplied forces in the CENTCOM Area of Responsibility with munitions predominately from U.S. depot stocks and new production. This action left depot stocks below our desired objective," an Air Force official said.
Air Force officials said the funding mechanism for the bomb arsenal, called Overseas Contingency Operation, or OCO, provides funds to replenish inventories three years into the future. Accordingly, weapons purchased this year reflect an amount anticipated by planners more than three years ago -- before Operation Inherent Resovle over Iraq and Syria began. As a result, needed weapons can be delayed for as long as four years, Air Force officials said.
The service did request and receive $400 million in reprogrammed dollars to address an air-to-ground munitions shortage. However, that was mostly for Hellfire missiles and there is still a sizeable remaining need for additional bomb stockpiles.
"The Air Force worked with the Army to re-prioritize Hellfire missile deliveries to the Air Force, requested additional funding for Hellfire missiles, reduced aircrew training expenditures, and is working a procurement plan to increase production to reconstitute munitions stocks as quickly as possible," the service official added.
While precision-guided air-to-ground weapons are typically needed during aerial bombing efforts, they are of particular urgent value in the ongoing attacks on ISIS. ISIS fighters regularly hide among civilians and at times use women and children as human shields, making the need for precision all the more pressing.
As a result, various efforts are underway to acquire the funding and procurement infrastructure necessary to acquire more bombs on a much faster timetable.
"The precision today's wars requires demands the right equipment and capability to achieve desired effects. We need to ensure the necessary funding is in place to not only execute today's wars, but also tomorrow's challenges," an Air Force official said.