Typically, this money would primarily be funneled to so-called top manufacturers, which are attractive to the Defense Logistics Agency, the Department of Defense’s procurement arm, because they have existing supplier relationships and can provide a one-stop-shop for order fulfillment, says Bryan Rudgers, director of government and business development at Jamaica Bearings Group, a New York-based storage and distribution company licensed to sell parts — seals, gaskets, bearings, motors, gyroscopes — to the U.S. government on behalf of larger aerospace companies such as Eaton Corporation and Meggitt.
In the military-industrial food chain, Jamaica Bearings Group is a middle player, largely in the supply and replenishment sector. When fighter jets need to be repaired or refitted, with tires, wheel bearings or other faulty systems, it provides the parts as the “single source partner” for larger companies, which use them to manufacture things like hydraulic systems and sensors, which then power often even larger manufacturers of large weapons platforms, for example F-15s.
As most ammunition sent to Ukraine from the US is sourced from existing stockpiles, Jamaica Bearings Group is seeing an increase in order requests. But these orders are haphazard and hard to predict, Rudgers says, making it risky for small manufacturers to rent or invest in new facilities. “They give out awards to companies like ours to start replenishing the wares they’re running out of. But they’re trying to do it to meet the needs of today, not looking at the needs of tomorrow,” Rudgers said.
Some factories, such as the Scranton Army Ammunition Plant, one of several producing the U.S. Army’s 155mm artillery shells, have gained momentum, increasing production of 155mm artillery shells from 14,000 per month to over 20,000 per month , with plans to go to 70,000 a month by 2025, Jeff Jurgensen, a Pentagon spokesman, wrote by email.
But sources at smaller manufacturing facilities, including a foundry in Montreal that produces small batches of custom aluminum parts for Javelin missiles, say the war has had little noticeable effect on their businesses. Although the company is subcontracted to perform a $16.5 million joint production contract for Javelin from the Department of Defense awarded to Lockheed Martin and Raytheon in 2019, it would be difficult to take on new work.
“Foundry work is not that easy to start up and expand,” said a company employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing staff shortages as an ongoing problem. “You could add a second shift, weekend or overtime, but to suddenly find yourself in a new multimillion-dollar building… that wouldn’t happen unless there was a huge amount of work.”
The promise of on-time delivery is at stake in an unforgiving industry where prime contractors have the power to make or break deals. Training new engineers or technicians, or shifting positions to increase capacity for long-tail orders, can jeopardize the timelines of existing contracts. In addition, a manual intensive “lost wax” casting method, in which molten metal is poured into molds, is done in small batches of a few parts per day and requires precise dimensional specificity. Unlike a car factory capable of mass production, “every single part must be made individually,” says the employee.