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 levée 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.”
5 thoughts on “A decade for delivery”
As another ‘pensioned off company grade officer’ (albeit a much older Brit rather than a yank and one who served during the cold war), I can only agree with every word you write here Jason. I’ve been worried about Putin since the day that he first crawled out from under his rock and it’s all coming to pass now. The irony is that we are still treating a very large number of extremely rich Russians almost like honorary citizens here in the UK and London is still a major banking centre for Russian money, the origins most of which are dubious to say the least. A lot of universities and public schools (bizarrely what we in the UK call very expensive ‘private’ schools) might have trouble surviving without the funding that Russian and Chinese students bring in. Oh and I almost forgot about the fact that the Chinese are planning on building a new embassy in London and it’s very likely to get the green light. When complete, it will be their largest embassy anywhere in the world and will also make a fantastic intelligence gathering centre and for some reason our government such as it is nowadays seems quite happy about it.
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Yeah, we’ve got some problems to fix and not a lot of time.
Australia has the same issue. Ordered a bunch of subs, cancelled them, re ordered some different ones. None will be ready this decade. They will most likely be obsolete before they get wet.
I know. I’ve been watching your developments down there. “Time!” Said Napoleon. “Ask me for anything but time!”
The Royal Navy only actually has one (sort of) operational carrier with another under construction. I did a bit of googling on this and it would appear that the contract for the first was signed in 2008 with work actually starting on cutting the steel the following year. She achieved IOC in 2021 but has been beset by embarrassing problems ever since. So I guess you could say that the timescales for US and UK carriers are broadly similar but I believe that the USS Gerald Ford is bigger that HMS Queen Elizabeth and is also nuclear powered, both of which must make the build more complicated. On that basis, you yanks are probably doing better off than us Brits and things are not quite as bad as they seem – see there’s always an upside!