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Humility & Hard Questions Win Wars
the War Gods of the Copybook Headings are not happy with us
As yesterday’s Midrats was Army focused yesterday, let’s keep an eye on the green machine for at least one more day.
Like we did Sunday, let’s discuss some things that, though coming from the Army, really apply to all services.
Mindsets are universal.
Yes, no one can see the future. Of course, it is easy to play “got-cha” in hindsight. Yes to all the excuses … but that isn’t the point.
Two things to keep in mind as you read the below:
Our “experts” may lack broad expertise. Always question. Defer only when earned.
We have a horrible record of predicting even the predictable for a whole host of reasons, most bureaucratic.
At peace, assume you have leaders who can only imagine peace unless they actively demonstrate otherwise, that they will plan and act in line with their priors. When war comes, it will be up to others to fix things (as they say in the movies, “When they get in trouble, they send for the sons of bitches.“). The harder peacetime leaders are pressed by those who understand the constants of history, the less difficult the fix will be when war comes.
Well meaning people can be wrong. Just because they are well meaning and have tenure-reputation-rank should not mean that everyone has to defer to them or their plans.
Good leaders with sound ideas and well developed plans will welcome hard questions and informed challenges.
Bad leaders with weak ideas and compromised plans will be defensive, flinty, and more often than not will resort to appeals to authority or credentialism. Those are your warning signs.
Sadly, highly isolated decision nodes - think the Transformationalists in the first half of the ‘00s - don’t think they are wrong. They have filtered their information sources and filled out their staffs with either clones or the obsequious - often found in the same person.
They are the ones who have a blinkered focus on usually something far on the horizon that can’t be measured right now - but is very attractive to them for reasons of either a broader ignorance, ego, or monetary.
They don’t fully accept “risk” - they dismiss it.
In the area of national security - such a mindset and practice can create an existential crisis and it comes from hubris.
Smart people who are so convinced of their wisdom without humility will filter out any concerns, and won’t allow questions that might challenge their wisdom.
They may be right as they didn’t, mostly, get to where they were by being wrong - and they don’t consider they may not be and hedge accordingly.
As the West runs around the planet trying to scrape up all the artillery rounds they can find and start to understand why the “easy” button does not seem to be working for new production, let’s check in to what helped us get here.
Via Ethan Sterenfeld at the United States Field Artillery Association on June 1st, 2021 - seven months from the Russo-Ukraine War kicked off in earnest … but well past the point the Russian buildup was creating concern - we have an almost perfect example of the miasma outlined above:
The Army wants to cut its spending on 155 mm artillery rounds to $174 million in fiscal year 2022, down from the $306.3 million Congress appropriated for FY-21.
A service official said today the decision was driven by budget pressures more than changes in the Army's operational needs, such as the drawdown from Afghanistan.
"When we looked across the accounts at where we could take a degree of risk to support some of the modernization efforts, this was one area where leadership was comfortable taking some risks," Jack Daniels, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for plans, programs and resources, told reporters.
Remember who were the two major global competitors the US military was facing in the summer of 2021, Russia and China? Those two nations are what? That’s right, continental land powers. For the last few centuries, what has been a primary logistical challenge when engaged in wars with continental powers?
Like the ‘00s Transformationalists, these people are so enamored by the “sexy” that might be of use in a short sharp war, they are ignoring the “unsexy but important” that will be needed for what history usually delivers - a slog.
He said these cuts should not hurt training, as the Army has a sufficient reserve of the artillery rounds used for training. In addition, production will remain above the levels needed to sustain the industrial base.
"It doesn't affect the industrial base," Daniels said. "We will still be able to produce, and we can ramp up production quickly in the future if need be."
Oh, really? Show your work, if you don’t mind.
No one replied,
“OK, that’s training, but what if a war should break out before the end of the decade?”
“Can you define “quickly” for me? To what level do you define, “ramp up?”
We can all think of another half dozen follow on questions that were never asked … but for the last 15 months they’ve sure been asked a lot.
From last month via Frank Morris at NPR;
NATO countries can't make munitions fast enough to fight 21st century wars. Fixing that is going to be messy
Workers at the Iowa Army Ammunition Plant in the southeast corner of the state fill the 155-millimeter shells fired by western howitzers donated to Ukraine. But they aren't making them fast enough to meet demand.
"The Ukrainians have been burning through in one month what the United States produces in an entire year," says Mark Cancian, a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
A month earlier, Sam Skove at Defense One discovered the War Gods of the Copybook Headings;
A lack of machine tools is constraining the United State's ability to ramp up ammunition transfers to Ukraine, the Army's top weapons buyer said March 3.
The timeline for acquiring new machine tools “are often the long poles in the tent on getting capacity increased,” said Douglas Bush, assistant Army secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology. “These machines are the size of buildings. You don’t just go buy it from a parking lot somewhere.”
U.S. officials said in April 2022 that they were ramping up production of 155mm shells, the most common caliber of the U.S. and NATO-ally artillery guns sent to Ukraine. Production is set to rise to 20,000 shells per month by spring 2023, and 40,000 per month by 2025, Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth said.
Even that rate, though, may not be enough to support Ukraine and keep U.S. inventories prepped for other wars across the globe. “This could become a crisis,” Cancian wrote
This was unknown? No, it was known, it was just inconvenient to someone’s pet project. Oh, and yes, it is a crisis.
Let’s end things where we started in the summer of 2021 with a report by Jaspreet Gill at Inside Defense;
To protect its modernization priorities while cutting procurement and research budgets by more than 10%, the Army has reduced funding for many existing programs in its proposed FY-22 budget, which was released Friday.
Ah yes, we know this problem well; Transformationalists.
Modernization is important, but so is knowing what time it is.
In the summer of 2021, we know a lot of people were sounding the alarm about Russian intentions in Ukraine but they clearly were not listened to.
Our decision makers, when they were not listening to this developing challenge, were busy ignoring that there was an impending collapse in Afghanistan … again something people were warning about, but was inconvenient to the desired future of The Smartest People in the Room™.
One thing about a desired future, it soon becomes the unwelcome present.
Always question. The less humble someone is, the less deference you should give them. The more ignorant - willful or otherwise - they are of history or the nature of man, the more dangerous they are to you and your nation.
“By their deeds you will know them.
Does a man gather grapes from thorns or figs from briars?”
- Matthew 7:16