A decade for delivery

It takes way too long to build a ship.

Why do I say this.

The USS Robert E. Peary, a Liberty ship, was built in four days, fifteen hours, and twenty-nine minutes. This was the record set for the construction of a Liberty class vessel in World War Two. Yes, it was an outlier. However, the average time for construction was about thirty days. This is a blistering rate of construction.

In contrast, the construction of the USS Gerald R. Ford, the USN’s newest carrier, spanned from 2005-2022 from start to fully operational status. This seems to be an apple-to-orange comparison. Fine. The USS Yorktown, a carrier that was commissioned in 1943, served for over thirty years. It took sixteen months to build.

Sixteen months versus well over a decade.

This lays bare a chief weakness of the Western democracies. We have forgotten how to produce weapons and ordnance to scale for a peer-on-peer conflict.

One missile, albeit an expensive and sophisticated one, will send the thirteen billion dollar Gerald R. Ford to the bottom of the sea.

Our enemies know this. They also know that we no longer possess the basic manufacturing capabilities that we had in the Second World War, because we sent that overseas a long time ago, in many cases directly to unfriendly countries. We labored under the delusion that our peaceful and interconnected world would always exist, that our extended supply chains didn’t matter, and that we could bask in the sun of readily available cheap stuff made by people far away in places we couldn’t pronounce.

Well, a lot of things these days are showing us what a foolish presumption that was.

First, there was COVID, which shut the world down for a while, killed millions, and continues to cast its shadow across our supply chains. This is one reason that it’s hard to buy a car at a decent price these days. Second, someone decided that it would be a great idea to restore the Soviet Union by rolling tanks into Ukraine. This set off alarm bells throughout Europe, which in terms of defense had fallen asleep at the switch around 1992 or so. Finally, it became clear to all that the world’s factory, China, was not going to transition as imagined to a benign semi-democratic and friendly economic superpower.

No, Chairman Xi put a stop to that. Witness his latest move, publicly humiliating and purging a potential rival at this latest conclave of the Chinese Communist Party. No, make no mistake Xi is in charge, and under his watch, the Party has regained its primacy in China. Leninist principles will be adhered to.

Vladimir Lenin, remember him? The hoary old ghost we all thought had finally been laid to rest? Nope. Not so much. The hammer and sickle rule billions.

The purging of Hu was worthy of Stalin. All that was lacking was a show trial. But who knows, maybe we’ll get to see that, too.

I say all of this to remind my readers that there is no replacement for hard power. Soft power is fine, but if you can’t back it up with hard, you are pissing in the wind when confronted by men such as Putin and Xi. “How many divisions has the Pope,” asked Stalin, in a succinct summation of the limits of soft power.

This is why I’m distressed at the current state of our logistics, let alone our politics.

A brief aside about politics. Isolationism was thoroughly discredited for generations for a reason. We learned the hard way that wars elsewhere have a dangerous tendency to reach our shores and that alliances are crucial to maintaining global peace. It’s not for nothing that certain alternate histories portray a Nazi victory in World War Two. It is not hyperbole that if the US would have stayed out of World War Two, at least in the beginning, the German war machine would have eventually dropped a nuke on Washington. Does anyone doubt that Hitler would have shown any restraint in that regard? This drives me crazy. It took all of the combined Allied might to subdue fascism in that war, and to contain Communism thereafter, and how quickly we forget. Eighty years of relative peace, paid for by the blood of our grandparents, largely forgotten. But I digress.

What I really want to talk about is logistics.

The ten-year carrier. A company that can only make a few thousand Javelins per year. The limited capacity of the Lake City plant to make artillery rounds. The chip shortage, which affects each and every “smart” munition in our arsenal. And by the way, most of our chips are made in Taiwan. Do you think that the benevolent Chairman Xi doesn’t know that? Our inadequate shipbuilding capacity. The list goes on.

Some politicians speak of how we need to stop supplying Ukraine with munitions because we are drawing down the US Army’s stocks. This is an enormous fallacy for a number of reasons.

First, Ukraine is fighting to hold back the Russian army from an unprovoked invasion. They need help. But this isn’t charity on our part. Does anyone doubt at this point that Putin would have used an occupied Ukraine to threaten further expansion into Europe? The man has shown his cards. Soviet-style terror amongst the general population. Re-introduction of the internal passport system and the levĂ©e en masse. Using energy as blackmail. Blockading food deliveries to the third world. Sabotage on Europe’s vulnerable infrastructure. The list goes on. Ukraine’s problem is our problem collectively. Didn’t we learn a damn thing from the 1920s and thirties?

Second, the Ukrainian war has done us a favor by clearly illustrating that our munitions procurement system is broken and sclerotic. OK, fine, the Ukrainians are drawing down our stocks and the US Army might run out of Javelins. Doesn’t this tell anyone that it would not be different if we were fighting a war? Wouldn’t we be subject to the same limitations? This gives us a chance to fix the system before we fire a round- the Ukrainians are doing us a favor and spotlighting this issue before it bites us in the ass.

Finally, the Ukrainian war has shown us how vulnerable our major weapons systems are to attack by sophisticated and relatively cheap munitions. Look at how the Ukrainians took down a capital ship, the Moskva. Look at all the blown tanks and fighting vehicles scattered across that blood-soaked land. Look at the many, many strikes to critical infrastructure. Look at the blown pipelines into Europe. This is a preview of what a major war looks like in the modern age. If our leaders can’t look at the example of Ukraine and draw appropriate defensive conclusions, then we are governed by fools on the left and the right.

But what do I know, really. I’m just a pensioned-off company-grade officer.

My only hope is that someone in a position of influence is thinking along these same lines and that we need to take a very hard look at the underpinnings of the arsenal of democracy, which we have allowed to atrophy. Actually, “atrophy” is far too kind.

In an act of criminal negligence, we have sold the old arsenal to our enemies. We have sub-contracted to those who wish to destroy us and our way of life.

Josef Stalin was, in the end, correct.

When it comes time to hang the capitalists, they will sell us the rope.”

Burning bridges

Image courtesy Vera Katkova.

The Ukrainian war is starting to really hurt the Russian government. This is a self-inflicted wound, there was no reason whatsoever for Vladimir Putin to roll the panzers on his neighbor. But he did, and here we are, in the midst of a slow-rolling replay of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

Actually, I would go so far as to say this one is worse. Why. Allow me to explain.

Khruschev was a rational actor with real experience of war at its worst. Kennedy was also a man with combat experience. Both were participants in World War Two, and both men knew on a visceral level how everything we had built could be vaporized with a single miscalculation.

Putin has delusions of grandeur and Biden is president because it was his turn. This is not the leadership team I would have wanted at the helm of this crisis.

However, you don’t go to war with the army and leadership you want, you go with what you have.

So, now we have a threatened and possibly unstable KGB agent with thousands of nuclear weapons at his disposal, leading Russia. The man leading the United States rose to the top because everyone else disqualified themselves. He was the last man standing.

On these two men rests the fate of our world. Literally. Not exactly the stuff of pleasant dreams.

This is why I have been fairly quiet as of late. But now I think it’s time to write about this.

Vladimir Putin has burned all the bridges upon which his country depends to further his dreams of fire and glory. Economically Russia is totally screwed, their chief exports were hydrocarbons and weapons.

Europe was the primary recipient of Russian oil and gas. Any idiot can now see why dependence on Russia for energy was a bad idea. The Europeans are praying for a soft winter, and I don’t blame them. The acceleration of green resources will take the time they don’t have, and people are going to get cold without cheap Russian gas. The mysterious sabotage of the Nordstream pipeline hasn’t helped, and OPEC isn’t riding to the rescue. Just the opposite is true.

In the short term, the Europeans are going to pay through the nose for energy this winter. In the long term, the OPEC lands are shooting themselves in the foot. No one likes blackmail or watching their mother-in-law freeze in her flat. People remember.

In terms of weapons exports, what country will want to buy Russian arms when those have been comprehensively proven to be vastly inferior to western systems? Russian weapons are not only inferior, but they are also a tremendous waste of money. Who wants to buy tanks that are so readily converted into scrap metal littering the countryside? Who wants artillery that is only a slight improvement upon systems from WW2? Who wants planes that don’t dare to fly over hostile territory because they’ll be shot down readily and immediately?

Putin. He created this terrible situation, and in the short term he might do something desperate.

In the long term, he has thoroughly poisoned the water of his country.

Of course, any bad situation can always get worse.

One has to remember that life is a series of choices. Zeroes and ones. Putin made the choice to invade Ukraine. The Ukrainians made the choice to resist. As a result of these choices, our world is being pushed to the brink of a terrible conflict, one in which a possible use of nuclear weapons can be realistically foreseen.

What, was our lazy and happy world simply not good enough? A disappeared nirvana where the news cycle was driven by inflated outrage and not-stories involving the Kardashians?

No. Instead, we get disease, famine, and death, all rolled up into a lovely hate cigar that we are forced to light up and inhale. What is with these historical monsters who dream of imagined utopias based upon fire and glory? How do we keep getting saddled with these losers? A failed seminarian. A disgruntled corporal. And now, a pissed off secret policeman.


And here in the US, I don’t see a Lincoln or FDR anywhere in sight.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man, so it is said.

Well, right now I’m not seeing it. At least not over here. The Ukrainians totally lucked out with Zelensky, who obviously inherited something from his grandpa, a Soviet infantry officer. The Finns have a good one, too, with Sanna Marin.

Ahh. This is why it’s taken me so long to write this. I’m having a lot of trouble seeing a good way out of this situation.

More power to the Ukrainians, who are fighting for their homes. Paradoxically, their success with weapons stamped “Made in the USA” makes the conflict more dangerous and likely to metastasize.

I guess the important thing to realize is where this all started. It wasn’t with NATO, which until very recently was rather content to sit and slumber, to atrophy. It wasn’t “the West,” which was happy to send billions of Euros and dollars to Russia in exchange for methane, raising the living standards for all in that perpetually tormented land. No, this all started in the fevered imaginings of a man who began his career in the torture cellars of East Germany.

This crisis began with him, a man nurtured on the most poisoned fruit possible, the institutional memory of the NKVD/KGB. It may not end with him, for he may be replaced by someone crazier.

Zeroes and ones. Choices. It all comes down to that.

What will Putin choose now that he has burned his bridges? Will he unleash nuclear fire?

If he does, this will be a first. In what sense, you may ask. Didn’t the Americans destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945?

Yes, we did. We destroyed those cities to end a terrible war.

If Putin uses nuclear weapons in Ukraine, he will start one.

There’s a difference.