The US Department of Defense (DoD) has entered an agreement to expand domestic manufacturing of ball bearings – an important component for many critical systems.

The $13.8m agreement was made with the Timken Company to increase production of high-precision ball bearings at its facility in Keene, New Hampshire. Timken’s high precision ball-bearings are used in defense and space-related advanced systems.

The funds will be used to make operational and technological improvements at the company’s facility, including upgrading equipment and operator training. Timken is also investing approximately $11m to further expand these capabilities at the facility.

Congress identified capacity for high-precision ball bearings for defence and space-related advanced systems as a defence industrial base (DIB) area of interest for the Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations, enacted in May 2022.

“The supply of these ball bearings is a constraint in increasing demand for advanced systems,” the DoD release stated.

Russian ball-bearing supply

The Washington-based think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, stated: “Following the start of the invasion [of Ukraine in February 2022], major Western producers of bearings exited Russia and ended their sales there.

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“The US government believes that Russia already faces a shortage of this key component, which impacts the production of all vehicles, from tanks to aircraft and even submarines.”

Since then, at least by mid-April 2023, Army Technology reported that Russia lost over 10,000 military vehicles in its efforts to invade Ukraine. Verified losses include 1,900 tanks, over 3,500 armoured vehicles, more than 2,400 logistics and supplies vehicles, dozens of high-tech radars and command vehicles as well as 78 valuable combat jets.

American sustainment

“The Office of Industrial Base Policy is moving forward with speed to support sectors of importance to American national security and deterrence.

“The Timken Company manufactures components critical to the health of critical domestic supply chains as identified by President Biden,” the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Industrial Base Policy, Dr. Laura Taylor-Kale, emphasised.

We are left asking if these efficiency measures in enhancing Timken will be enough to sustain an appropriate level of output that maintains America’s own enormous military complex as well as Ukraine’s growing amount of vehicles amid its decisive counter-offensive in the south and east of the country.