By Steve Holland and Mike Stone
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday visited a Lockheed Martin Co facility in Alabama that manufactures the anti-tank Javelin missile, putting the spotlight on a weapon that has helped Ukraine fight Russia's invasion.
Biden used the visit to press Congress to approve his proposed $33 billion assistance package for Ukraine, including more than $20 billion in military aid.
Biden said his administration was working hard to once again become the biggest producer of semiconductor chips needed to produce Javelin missiles and many other high-technology goods.
"This fight is not going to be cheap, but caving to aggression would be even more costly," he said.
Aid to Ukraine has not been subject to the usual partisan bickering among lawmakers.
But $20 billion is a huge jump and any legislative proposal can fall victim to political polarization in Washington. Biden, a Democrat, is visiting a state that has backed Republican presidential candidates for decades with an aim of shoring up support for the aid package.
The United States has rushed $3.4 billion worth of weapons to Ukraine since Russia invaded on Feb. 24, including howitzers, anti-aircraft Stinger systems, Javelins, ammunition and body armor.
"You're allowing the Ukrainians to defend themselves, and quite frankly, we're making fools of the Russian military in many instances," he told a room full of the plant's assembly line workers.
Demand for Javelin missiles remains high as the war shifts from around Kyiv, where they were used to stop Russian tanks from advancing on the capital, to an artillery battle in Ukraine's east.
So far, the United States has sent more then 5,500 Javelin systems to Ukraine, the Pentagon said. According to a Sunday bulletin from Ukrainian officials, 1,026 Russian tanks have been destroyed.
"They're asking for more obviously," Jim Taiclet, Lockheed's chief executive, said of Ukraine's aims at an Atlantic Council seminar on Friday. The company is trying to expand production capacity at its Troy, Alabama facility and elsewhere, he said.
Raytheon Technologies and Lockheed jointly produce Javelins, while Raytheon makes Stingers.
Lockheed said its Troy facility employs 600, helps manufacture five types of missiles and is the only final assembly plant for the Javelin system, capable of producing 2,100 missiles per year.
The company has been investing to ramp up Javelin production, and may use its own funds to expedite contracts to subcontractors. But supply chain concerns complicate any ramp up. Each Javelin contains about 250 microprocessors, which have been impacted by shortages, prompting Congress to weigh legislation that would offer $52 billion in grants for chipmakers to expand operations.
"Today all the world's most advanced chips are made overseas," Biden said. "But the events of the past few years have proven beyond a doubt that America's security should never be held hostage to events overseas, not a pandemic, not a war, not the politics of ambition, or other countries."
The Pentagon is monitoring the U.S. stockpile of these weapons and their components on a daily basis.
(Reporting by Steve Holland and Mike Stone in Washington; Editing by Heather Timmons, William Maclean and Bill Berkrot)