A Perfect Storm of Unpreparedness
inaction is an action
I was thinking today about what to write about when, as often happens, I had a flash of an idea to fold in two thing I read that I didn’t plan to write on that mashed up together in such a way that might just make a solid point.
I’m having a pessimistic moment today, so I thought I’d try to spread that joy around.
I don’t think too many readers here have a lot of trust in those in the military establishment who ask you to “trust them” that their very scoped and narrow view of the future is somehow the way things will work out. They haven’t earned it much this century. They want you to filter out any hedge, any reserve, any possible branch plan requirement - and just trust their vision, credentials, and parking space.
Instead, we should ask ourselves, “What are we getting wrong?”
To answer that question, it does not have to be a fancy place to look - we don’t do fancy thinking all that well anyway - but instead look to see if the fundamentals are being done correctly. What are we accepting in peace that at war the we will pull our hair out in frustration?
Let’s look at one of the most basic of all things for a land component; artillery ammunition.
How did we plan here?
But a US Army effort to increase monthly output of the crucial munitions to 90,000 will take until 2025, highlighting the challenge of ramping up such production quickly, particularly when the US had not previously been focused on it.
“Prior to the Ukraine spin-up, most of the army’s focus was on building out new tank munitions,” said Retired Brig. Gen. Guy Walsh, executive vice-president at the National Defense Industrial Association.
The Pentagon has asked to buy only about 790,000 155mm rounds over the past 10 years, mostly for use in training exercises. That suggests the US has already given Ukraine more than the quantity it procured in 155mm purchases over the past decade, according to a report by the Center for a New American Security think-tank in Washington.
Compounding the effort to ramp up production was a US decision to downsize its defence industrial base after the cold war.
“We did not anticipate or prepare for a long war and the industrial base was constrained for efficiency,” said Mark Cancian, senior adviser at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“We did not anticipate…” - let that sink in. I really want to know “why?” Did they believe the 72-hour war fallacy? Were they happy to take the risk? Did they know or care about a greater responsibility than the POM cycle?
Why, exactly, do we even have a Joint Staff if no one anticipates a “long war.”
For you maritime focused people - I want you to ponder everything from spare parts, expendable ASW search stores, light weight torpedoes, Standard Missiles, TLAM, 5-inch ammo. All of it.
What will be our 155mm ammo shortage should war come west of the International Date Line?
Why ponder that now?
There is the other layer of today’s depressive mood.
One clue that China is preparing for war, Luttwak contends, is Xi’s recent order to Communist Party officials across the country “to rapidly increase the supply of arable land by any means possible.” Luttwak compares this order to Mao Zedong’s “Great Leap Forward,” which sacrificed tens of millions of Chinese in a futile effort to quickly industrialize China in the late 1950s to early 1960s. China, Luttwak notes, produces enough food to feed its population, but it relies on imports from Argentina, Canada, Brazil, and the United States to feed its cattle, pigs, ducks, and chicken. Xi knows that if China goes to war over Taiwan, those imports “would quickly dry up.”
This means that China is reversing its recent “reforestation efforts” in order to increase the amount of arable land — land that will be needed to produce beans, wheat, soya, and other cereals — in the event of war. And it is doing this by forcible means if necessary — just the way Mao did during the Great Leap Forward. Luttwak notes that during the last few months, Xi has spoken about the need to prepare for “extreme circumstances” and for “worst-case and extreme scenarios,” which Luttwak believes are codewords for preparing for “the danger of war.” Those remarks coincide with Xi’s recent orders to Chinese commanders in the Taiwan Strait theater to increase “training under real combat conditions to raise the capability to fight and win.”
In his interview on the UnHerd website, Luttwak compared Xi to Mussolini, whose bluster and aggression in the 1930s helped bring on World War II. Mussolini saw war as a way to rejuvenate the Italian people. Luttwak believes Xi sees war over Taiwan in similar terms for China. “When somebody keeps talking about war,” Luttwak says, world leaders should take note. Some American leaders understand this, but others do not. Those who understand Xi and the threat China poses to American interests in the western Pacific want the Russia–Ukraine war to end —sooner rather than later — so that U.S. policymakers can focus on the greater threat in the western Pacific.
“We have a dangerous future,” Luttwak says, “because of … Xi Jinping,” whom he describes as a tyrant who is leading the Chinese people — and, perhaps, much of the world — into a potentially catastrophic war. We would be far better off if the Chinese people killed Xi, Luttwak says, but unfortunately tyrannicide is out of fashion.
The time for softball questions is well past.
What is the worst case scenario? The Great Pacific War of 2024 kicks off and we’re Winchester by D+7.
Ask hard questions.