Typically, this money would be funneled primarily to so-called prime manufacturers, who are attractive to the Defense Logistics Agency, the Defense Department’s procurement arm, because they have existing relationships with suppliers 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 stocking and distribution company licensed to sell parts—seals, gaskets, bearings, motors, gyroscopes—to the US government on behalf of larger aerospace companies like Eaton Corporation and Meggitt.
In the military-industrial food chain, Jamaica Bearings Group is a mid-level player, largely in the inventory and replenishment business. When fighter jets need to get repaired or retooled, with tires, wheel bearings, or other broken systems, it supplies the parts as the “sole source partner” for larger companies, who use them to produce things like hydraulic systems and sensors, which then often feed even larger manufacturers of major weapons platforms, say, F-15s.
Since most munitions being sent to Ukraine from the US are being drawn down from existing stocks, Jamaica Bearings Group is seeing an uptick in order requests. But these orders are haphazard and hard to predict, Rudgers says, making it risky for small manufacturers to hire or invest in new facilities. “They’re issuing awards to companies like ours to start replenishing the wares that they have depleted. But they’re trying to do it to fill today’s needs, and not looking at tomorrow’s needs,” Rudgers said.
Some factories, like the Scranton Army Ammunition Plant, one of several that produce the US Army’s 155-millimeter artillery rounds, have gone into overdrive, ramping up production of 155-mm artillery shells from 14,000 a month to more than 20,000 a month, with plans to go to 70,000 a month by 2025, Jeff Jurgensen, a spokesperson for the Pentagon, wrote by email.
But sources at smaller production facilities, including a foundry in Montreal, which produces small batches of custom aluminum parts for Javelin missiles, claim the war has had little appreciable effect on their businesses. Though the company is included in a subcontracting deal for the fulfillment of a joint $16.5 million Defense Department Javelin production contract awarded to Lockheed Martin and Raytheon in 2019, taking on new work would be difficult.
“Foundry work is not that easy to get up and running and expand,” as one employee of the company, who spoke on condition of anonymity, says, citing worker shortages as a lingering problem. “You could add a second shift, weekend or overtime work, but to suddenly come into a new multimillion-dollar building … that wouldn’t be done unless there was a huge amount of work.”
The promise of on-time delivery is table stakes in a cutthroat industry in which prime contractors have the power to make or break deals. Training new engineers or technicians, or shifting positions to boost capacity for long-tail orders could threaten the timelines of existing contracts. Plus, a manually intensive “lost wax” casting method, in which molten metal is poured into molds, is done in small batches of a few parts a day and requires exacting dimensional specificity. Unlike at an automotive factory capable of mass production, “every single part has to be individually made,” the employee says.