The Wages of Taking your MBA to War
you can't leave the table
When your “short, sharp war” turns, as almost all of them do, into a long slog - as we are seeing in Ukraine - there are two things that will lead a nation to victory or defeat; mass and will.
Both of those can help a nation overcome bad geography or even suboptimal leadership. While “will” can be hard to measure as it is so closely tied to the soft sciences of culture and psychology, the “mass” part is a bit easier to measure.
Mass can be your population reserves or industrial capacity. If you have both, then you are in really great shape. Combine them with a strong national will - will that can absorb casualties, deprivation, and setbacks yet still fight - and unless you face an enemy of unsurmountable size greater than you, the odds of your nation’s success at war are not guaranteed, but they are the safe bet.
Let’s look at the industrial capacity part of mass, the part that demonstrates a nation’s ability to arm and sustain the fight outside the first few days/weeks/months or whatever length of time their unrealistically optimistic Operational Plan calls for.
This is a touchy topic in today’s world as we rely on very complicated, exquisite, and expensive weapons as our comparative advantage. Well, that is what we have sold ourselves in the long peace interrupted by brush wars against third rate powers - many we have tied or lost - and imperial policing actions - most of which have ended in stalemate or frozen conflicts.
We spent these last few decades since the fall of the Soviet Union weaving a comfortable web of CONOPS and implemented “efficiencies” constructed of consultant-speak, weekend-MBA jargon, and green eyeshade easy-buttons bluffed from the podium by The Smartest People in the Room™ to an audience on balance populated by people who already had the short list of jobs they wanted once they shrugged off their uniform in a PCS cycle or two.
Agree, endorse, parrot, prepare, …. profit!
War is New™!, Revolutionary™!, Transformational™!. Hard power is Offset™! If we change a bunch of simple words in to multi-syllabic cute acronyms … then the future will be ours, our budgets will be manageable, and our board seats will be secured! Efficiency to eleventy!
Facing the People’s Republic of China on the other side of the International Date Line …. how efficient do you feel? How effective?
I would like the record to show here in 2QFY24 that this exact problem was discussed in detail back when I was a JO in the mid-1990. This is not shocking to anyone who is wearing the uniform of a GOFO. They lived the same history I did.
We knew we were living a lie that we could sustain a big fight at sea. An entire generation of Flag Officers led this lie in the open and ordered everyone else to smile through it. Ignore your professional instincts, and trust The Smartest People in the Room™.
Once again, Megan Eckstein brings it home;
If U.S. military planners’ worst-case scenario arose in the Pacific — having to defend Taiwan from a Chinese invasion — American military forces would target Chinese amphibious ships.
Without them, according to Mark Cancian, who ran a 2022 wargame for the Center for Strategic and International Studies that examined this exact scenario, China couldn’t invade the neighboring island.
U.S. submarines would “rapidly fire everything they have” at the multitude of targets, Cancian said, ”using up torpedoes at a much, much higher rate than the U.S. has expected to do in the past.”
Navy jets, too, would join in — but they’d run out of Long Range Anti-Ship Missiles within days, …
It’s this nightmare scenario that’s driving the Navy to increase its stockpile of key munitions: the LRASM, the MK 48 heavyweight torpedo, the Standard Missile weapons and the Maritime Strike Tomahawk, among others.
Over a decade after the Pacific Pivot, a couple of years after the US Navy became the world’s second largest navy after being the worlds largest for living memory of 99% of Americans, and two years after the Russo-Ukrainian War reminded everyone that, yeah … 3-days wars usually aren’t.
Here’s Perry’s Last Supper’s desert tray;
…output on production lines remains hampered by supply chain challenges, leaving the Navy with too few of the longest-range and most lethal weapons it would want in a fight.
Large defense contractors say they’ve done their part in recent years to expand their production facilities, hire and train workers, and modernize their processes. But until key suppliers can deliver critical components faster, including rocket motors and electronics, the overall munitions production rate can’t increase.
The Navy included $380 million in its FY24 budget plans to address some of these supply chain bottlenecks, and it kicked off four multiyear procurement contracts to provide stable funding. But industry executives say it will simply take time for troubled suppliers to speed up production.
Certain electronics, for instance, are slowing torpedo production, according to Steve Rigdon, SAIC’s vice president for undersea weapons.
“That is the critical path for a lot of our production,” he told Defense News. “Even if we fixed everything else right now, until we get [the vendor] to increase [its] production, which is something that we’re actively doing right now, we couldn’t increase production.”
Better late than never … but these numbers are … hard … and slow;
…the Navy in FY20 projected it would buy 48 LRASMs each year for the foreseeable future. The FY24 budget, in contrast, calls for buying 91, with an increase up to 149 a year by FY28.
Vendors on the heavyweight torpedo program needed three years to rework the 1990s-era torpedo design, which was riddled with parts that were no longer available, before they could start production. Missiles manufacturers found they needed faster processes and more testing capacity to keep up with demand.
In many Taiwan scenarios I can easily see, should the launch platforms get close enough, easily using up all of FY24’s LRASM buy by D+7, maybe D+3.
A B-1B can carry 24 LRASM. In other words, in 2020 we purchased enough for two fully loaded bombers.
Let’s go back to SECDEF Perry’s 1990s “Last Supper,” you know, the one that was all about the efficiencies of consolidation of the defense industry.
Three decades later, what is the solution to the strategic risk we find ourselves in due to our inability to arm ourselves?
…“the bottleneck is rocket motors” because so few companies are qualified to build them for the United States, Okano explained. To help, the Navy issued a handful of other transaction agreement contracts to small companies who will learn to build the Mk 72 booster and the Mk 104 dual-thrust rocket motor so prime contractors have more qualified vendors to work with, she added.
LOLOLOL…what “small companies?” That ecosystem is “old think.” If we need to go back to that structure, that will take decades not just to build, but decades of a viable demand signal.
Looks like we have started that as “small companies” perhaps repurpose part of their company to a military division. If we can just stop them from being gobbled up by the primes, it might be nice to return to a more robust, competitive ecosystem. Soviet-like consolidation and McNamaraesque efficiencies got us here, perhaps time to try something old as new again.
Nothing is less efficient to go to war with than a military designed for an efficient peace.
Look at the calendar;
Navy budget documents call for the purchase of Standard Missile variants to increase from its yearslong annual procurement rate of 125 missiles to 200 by FY26 and then 300 in FY28.
The Navy previously awarded $200 million to specifically increase SM-6 production, and Ernzen said Raytheon used that money to expand its own production and test facilities as well as help some of its suppliers. The rocket motor supply base is the remaining piece needed to make 200 SM-6s annually.
For the Maritime Strike Tomahawk, the Navy wants to double production rates by 2027, Ernzen said.
How many Standard Missiles have we expended since October 7th against a less than 4th-rate military power and non-state actor?
By the time we reach the end of 2027, the USA could have fought and won its part of the Second World War.
I will remind you that we had decades of CNOs, SECNAVs, SECDEFS, CJCS - all of them - who knew this and expended almost no personal and professional capital in banging this drum over and over and over. Instead, they promoted Lean-In Circles, racist grifters, and picked their belly-buttons over their own self loathing.
NONE OF THIS IS NEW.
Bryan Clark, director of the Center for Defense Concepts and Technology at the Hudson Institute think tank, said the Navy has about 1,300 MK 48 torpedoes and counting as production continues. The submarine fleet would quickly go through hundreds in a fight against China, he noted.
Clark said Chinese ships have sophisticated air defense systems — meaning it would take multiple anti-ship missiles to sink a given Chinese vessel — and the U.S. Navy would rapidly go through its best anti-ship missiles in the opening days of a fight.
Cancian said the Navy and the Air Force have about 150 LRASMs today but would need between 2,000 and 3,000 for a healthy stockpile, according to his research.
Acknowledging the high expenditure rate of munitions in the Russia-Ukraine war, Weeks said “those same trends are going to play out in the undersea — there’s no doubt in my mind — and I think we’re coming to grips with that.”
It is good to be seeing progress … but this isn’t good enough. We need more faster, and we need our leaders out front telling the story and making the sale.
Have we learned our lesson? Should the Russo-Ukrainian War and the Gaza War end by Spring, will we still push?