A Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block 1B interceptor missile is launched from the guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Erie (CG 70) during a Missile Defense Agency and U.S. Navy test in the mid-Pacific. The SM-3 was reportedly used in combat for the first time this past weekend. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

WASHINGTON — Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro today told lawmakers his service is out at least $1 billion in critical munitions because of recent operations in the Middle East, a shortfall the Pentagon is banking on a congressional supplemental to help replenish.

“We currently have approaching $1 billion in munitions that we need to replenish at some point in time,” Del Toro told the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on defense. “So, therefore the over $2 billion that’s provided for in the supplemental is direly critical to our Navy and Marine Corps to be able to replenish those munitions and continue to provide the types of defensive measures that we have this past six months now.”

The Pentagon’s munitions stockpile, and looming shortfalls, have become a pervasive topic for both lawmakers and outside analysts since last October when Hamas’ attack on Israel led US Navy warships to take up positions in the Red and Mediterranean Seas, while the Defense Department had already been sending numerous aid packages to Ukraine to fend off an invading Russian army.

The question of munitions was top of mind for lawmakers at today’s hearing following this weekend’s attack by Iran, in which it reportedly launched more than 300 drones, ballistic missiles and cruise missiles at Israel, with the goal of destroying F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. The US, United Kingdom, Jordan and Israel collectively defeated most of the incoming Iranian attacks, but the large scale assault as well as the secretary’s comments put into stark relief the strain the Navy’s SM-2, SM-6 and, as of this weekend, SM-3 stockpiles are under.

As Del Toro, accompanied by the sea service chiefs, spoke to senators, on the other side of Capitol Hill, Speaker of the House Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La. was fending off threats from his own party to try to oust him after he announced he would bring several national security bills — including the supplemental the Navy needs to replenish its stockpiles — to the House floor for a vote.

‘Incredibly Irresponsible’

As the strain on the Navy’s stockpiles has intensified, Del Toro in recent months has called out industry for using its profits to “goose” its stock prices, rather than investing in additional capacity to manufacture goods for the Pentagon.

The message, which the secretary repeated as recently as last week’s Sea Air Space Exposition, has ostensibly gained favor with at least one top lawmaker: Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.

As the chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on defense, he is effectively one of the most influential and powerful people on Capitol Hill as far as defense industry is concerned. During the hearing with Del Toro today, Tester echoed the secretary’s warnings to industry about failing to invest in capacity.

“The fact that some of these corporations are using the money to buy stocks back without building capacity first is incredibly irresponsible,” he said.

“I hope they’re listening because, quite frankly, we will do whatever we can do to make sure that they have a workforce,” Tester continued, “But damn it, they [have to] step up to the plate, and in many cases I have not seen that happen.”