America’s Woeful Defense Industrial Capacity

Eighteen HIMARS and what do you get? Years older and deeper in debt.

US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Beaux Hebert

Alex Horton’s WaPo report “Pentagon will double powerful HIMARS artillery for Ukraine” is a bit more complicated than the headline suggests.

The United States will more than double its commitment of long-range rocket artillery systems for Ukraine, the Pentagon said Wednesday, part of a long-term strategy by the United States and its partners to ramp up weapons production in response to Russia’s invasion.

The $1.1 billion package will include 18 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launchers, the weapons that have wreaked havoc on command posts and logistical hubs behind Russian lines. The United States already has delivered 16 of the systems, capable of delivering precision munitions from up to 50 miles away, from existing stocks.

So far, so good.

This new tranche will take a “few years” to build and deliver, a senior U.S. defense official told reporters, underscoring efforts to provide for Ukraine’s long-term defense infrastructure while allies and partners speed tailored packages of equipment and ammunition for the most urgent needs. The HIMARS represents a “core component of Ukraine’s fighting force in the future,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the Pentagon.

Separately, the Pentagon said Wednesday that the United States intends to increase production of “ground-based long range fires, air defense systems, air-to-ground munitions, and other capabilities” needed to sustain Ukraine’s military for the long haul. In a statement, defense officials said that nearly 20 other nations also agreed to expand their industrial base and accelerate the production of arms that can replace Ukraine’s Russian and Soviet-era equipment with modern systems used by NATO.

So, on the one hand, more good news: this isn’t just a one-off investment to push back the Russian invaders but a long-term investment in the region’s security architecture and keeping Ukraine in the NATO orbit. On the other: it’s going to take years to crank out a measly 18 HIMARS?

We’re talking about a system fielded 22 years ago that is just a smaller, wheeled variant of the MLRS that I had in Desert Storm and which was first fielded in 1983—almost four decades ago. The US Marine Corps has recently all but divested itself of cannon artillery in preference for this system and allies and partners ranging from Australia to Taiwan are buying them. We’ve already transferred 16 of them, “out of existing stocks,” to Ukraine. And it’s going to take years—multiple—to backfill them?

That is, to say the least, worrisome.

We are, by definition, now short 16 launchers that we had planned to have on hand for a potential future fight with China or Russia. Which, okay, we’re putting into action against the Russian military now in furtherance of our interests. But one would think it would be easy to manufacture what are essentially trucks with a launcher bolted on in mass quantity.

What were we planning to do if the balloon went up? Just fight from existing—lowered—stocks . . . for years?

We’re spending $770 billion a year on defense and we’ve let our defense industrial base atrophy to the point we can’t crank out a handful of trucks? We’ve lost the very capacity that enabled us to swoop in and determine the outcome of two world wars?

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Flat Earth Luddite says:

    We’ve lost the very capacity that enabled us to swoop in and determine the outcome of two world wars?

    Yes. Yes, we have. And it doesn’t look good for us in the next one. *

    *Remainder of comment deleted by author for excessive snark … and bile (or despair at homo sapiens)

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  2. Sleeping Dog says:

    While I’m sure HIMARS have some complicated systems, but years to build 18? Porsche produces 550 cars per day, it takes GE about 5 weeks to build a diesel-electric locomotive and it takes Boeing 9 days to build a 737. Yes, something is amiss.

    6
  3. Kathy says:

    This is something I’ve been wondering for years.

    Modern weapons are no doubt very impressive, very destructive, and you need fewer because they are far more likely to strike their target. This last is a progression seen in other areas, too, notably aviation (2 engines for long, long flights) and space travel.

    But these modern weapons are also hellishly expensive and very complicated. they take longer to make. They require more financing.

    In simple terms, these days you either win, or at least end, the war quickly, or you find you can’t keep fighting it. Which seems to be just what happened to Russia.

    What about Afghanistan and Iraq, which went on for years? The main combat against large, organized opponents was over quickly. The rest was lower intensity, constant fighting. Guerrilla war, insurgency and counter-insurgency. This type of fighting can go on and on until one side is exhausted or gets tired.

    What about Ukraine? Well, they get weapons from many countries. This spreads the burden around. But look at the post for this thread, and at small news items here and there to the effect that the arsenals of various NATO countries are depleted. Ukraine won’t be able to sustain this for years, even if they’re not getting aircraft, air-to-air missiles, air-to-surface missiles, or smart bombs.

    Massive war between two or more large, heavily armed opponents, like WWII, seem impossible today.

  4. grumpy realist says:

    @Kathy: I take it that you’ve read Arthur C. Clarke’s short story “Strategy”?

    2
  5. Scott says:

    I’m pretty sure the trucks are not the limiting factor for the weapons system. Peel everything back and I bet you’ll find a piece of custom made electronics from a small specialty defense supplier as the choke point in the production system.

    DoD has for decades focused on fewer very complex, but highly effective and costly, weapon systems for its inventory. Downside is that it takes years to develop and test. And the production lines can be almost as complex.

    Which brings us to one of Augustine’s Laws (Norm Augustine was the CEO of Martin Marietta and then Lockheed Martin):

    In the year 2054, the entire defense budget will buy just
    one tactical aircraft…which will have to be shared by
    the Navy and the Air Force 6 months each year, with
    the Marine Corps borrowing it on the extra day during
    leap years.

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  6. Mu Yixiao says:

    The US Marine Corps has recently all but divested itself of cannon artillery in preference for this system and allies and partners ranging from Australia to Taiwan are buying them. We’ve already transferred 16 of them, “out of existing stocks,” to Ukraine. And it’s going to take years—multiple—to backfill them?

    At our factory, we’re currently looking at lead times of up 36 months for some very common parts. Wait times of 6-12 months on almost everything have been around for 3 years now. And we’re using mass-produced “off-the-shelf” components, not custom, hardened military-grade components.

    Add to that the second part: “and allies and partners ranging from Australia to Taiwan are buying them. ” Those are committed orders that are already in the pipe. Those need to be built, tested, and delivered before the ones for Ukraine can be.

    It’s called “lead time” and involves everything from sourcing to fabrication (remember: all those parts are fabricated by suppliers with their own lead times) to final assembly. 3 years for specialized equipment isn’t unreasonable.

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  7. Kathy says:

    @grumpy realist:

    I wondered if the narrator ever got a different cellmate.

    1
  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    This is appalling. You can’t fight a war out of existing stockpiles, you can’t win a war without industrial might. In fairness no one knew five years ago that of all the weapons systems we build, HIMARS was going to be the secret sauce. But regardless one suspects it’s just much more fun and exciting for everyone in the chain – Congress people, the Pentagon, the contractors – to build new toys than to make sure we have enough rounds for the old toys.

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  9. Raoul says:

    This sounds more like a request for more money than anything else. I would guess we have a few HIMARS in reserve and those that have been shipped need to be replaced, but years to manufacture them? I don’t believe it.

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  10. Modulo Myself says:

    They have made about 550 of these things since 2010. I bet Lockheed Martin would love for the US government to subsidize the capacity to turn out 100 or 1000 in a year just in case. And not only for one complex weapon system, but all of them! Otherwise, you have to wait for capitalism to do its ‘magic’.

  11. MarkedMan says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    They have made about 550 of these things since 2010

    The real question is when was the last time one of these HIMARS was built? If it was 2022, then we have a serious problem. But if it was 2015? Yeah, restarting a production line 7 years later is a helluva job.

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  12. Modulo Myself says:

    @MarkedMan:

    I imagine most/all production lines are not just open and waiting to be restarted. Maybe I’m wrong but whatever makes up (1) HIMAR is made by places that make other things.

    1
  13. drj says:

    It’s not clear what is going on here.

    Perhaps it will take a few years before Ukraine has the force structure that would allow its armed forces to operate an additional 18 HIMARS. These things have a significant logistical tail.

    There may be other equipment (e.g., air and missile defense) that currently has a higher priority. There is only so much stuff that can be operated at the same time.

    Which would mean that US production capacity isn’t the issue here.

    In fact, I strongly suspect that this is the case, because why couldn’t another 18 HIMARS be supplied from existing stocks? Part of the current inventory was undoubtedly meant to fight a potential war with Russia. But Ukraine is already – quite successfully – taking care of that threat.

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  14. steve says:

    We can still produce F-35s. Find a way to have every state in the union benefit from making Himars, make them more expensive, and we can have plenty.

    Steve

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  15. Argon says:

    We’re spending $770 billion a year on defense and we’ve let our defense industrial base atrophy to the point we can’t crank out a handful of trucks?

    No surprise there. Inventory is expensive. Excess production is expensive. Labor is expensive. Most companies don’t implement ‘just in time’ practices with sufficient margins for disruptions or demand scaling. See also ‘ventilators’ and ‘smallpox innoculations’.

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  16. Christopher Osborne says:

    @grumpy realist: Superiority?

  17. OzarkHillbilly says:

    We’re spending $770 billion a year on defense and we’ve let our defense industrial base atrophy to the point we can’t crank out a handful of trucks? We’ve lost the very capacity that enabled us to swoop in and determine the outcome of two world wars?

    But James, just think of all the defense industry CEOs, CFOs, etc whose pockets are being lined with copious amounts of cash. Isn’t that the real reason for spending all that money?

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  18. Andy says:

    James,

    As a guy steeped in defense policy, I’m surprised this surprises you. Defense contracting and procurement have been broken for a very long time.

    And HIMARS is more than just a truck. There will be many advanced systems in that truck to provide fire control, secure communication, etc. The truck frames are probably quick and easy to source – the other parts, many of which may be bespoke or unique to the platform, probably aren’t.

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  19. JohnSF says:

    Somrething heare doen’t quite add up>
    Poland has ordered 500 HIMARS.

    Yes, that is five zero zero.
    And multiple sources have reported this.

    I can’t see the Poles waiting decades to get them.
    Perhaps the “years” is due to a critical production line being shut down, and needing to be set up again?
    If so, once running, the production rate should be rather quicker than suggested by initial delay.

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  20. Andy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    This is appalling. You can’t fight a war out of existing stockpiles, you can’t win a war without industrial might.

    That is the way every country, except maybe North Korea, does it. Without industrial mobilization, no country can fight a major war for more than a few weeks or a couple of months without running out of equipment. Governments balance the costs of maintaining stockpiles with production capacity. Governments don’t usually pay companies to keep production lines open but idle at a capacity that can supply the needs for a major war.

    Back in the Libya war in 2011, many NATO countries used most of their stockpiles of several types of precision-guided munitions during that war. And the US used a significant portion of its stockpile.

    This explains why the Ukraine and Russia conflict quickly transitioned to attritional warfare dominated by dumb artillery. Russia used most of its PGM munitions and is probably saving the rest for NATO war contingencies. Like the US and every other country, they can’t produce enough of these to meet the demands of the conflict, and they assumed they would win quickly, so didn’t build up significant stockpiles. So now they are fucked.

    Similarly, Ukraine went through its entire stockpile of Soviet-era artillery in a few weeks. It quickly transitioned to NATO-standard artillery with ammunition solely sourced from NATO countries – and probably from NATO stockpiles. Ukraine, at this point, is almost entirely dependent on weapons and ammunition from other countries.

    Even though dumb artillery shells are relatively cheap to mass produce, increasing production takes time. And estimates indicate that Russia and Ukraine are firing between 5,000 and 25,000 artillery shells PER DAY. Even with a stockpile of millions of shells, that won’t last long. Many defense analysts believe the drop in the rate of Russian artillery fires is due to stockpiles and insufficient production to meet wartime demand.

    The US has been lucky and skilled in that we’ve been able to keep the major combat portions of our wars short. And then the post-major conflict actions are much less intense and well within our existing production capabilities. But if we get into a long major war with another country, like Russia or China, we’d be in the same boat as Russia, running out of the advanced weapons we rely on in weeks while ramping up production to meet the demand will take years.

    We could – and probably should – greatly increase our stockpiles of equipment, but that is a lot of money that politicians and many in the military would rather spend elsewhere.

    In short, defense procurement is no different from anything else, like masks during the early stages of Covid. Speaking of which, I wonder if Congress has provided funds to refill that strategic stockpile.

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  21. Modulo Myself says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    The US was spending around 40% of its GDP on the military in WW2 by the end. The current number is 3% . It was something like 9% in the 80s. There was absolutely no reason to be spending 40% in the 80s and there’s no reason to be fielding a Cold War-focused military now.

    1
  22. Andy says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    I imagine most/all production lines are not just open and waiting to be restarted. Maybe I’m wrong but whatever makes up (1) HIMAR is made by places that make other things.

    Since keeping a production line open but idle takes a lot of money, usually the line is shut down, or is kept open at a low capacity to provide replacements and spares.

    Otherwise, you have to wait for capitalism to do its ‘magic’.

    This has nothing to do with “capitalism” – it’s everything to do with government contracting and procurement and the choices the government made in that process. The government is well aware that companies cannot instantly create new production capacity and accepted the risk that there would be a lag in deliveries if new HIMARS were needed.

    @JohnSF:

    Poland ordered 20 systems in early 2019 – deliveries won’t be completed until the end of 2023 and they won’t reach operational readiness until 2024 or 2025. That’s four years from ordering to delivery for 20 systems.

    But Poland is doing things differently – they aren’t just buying systems, they are also licensing the technology and will produce many HIMARS components in Poland, and the system will use Polish vehicles. Eventually, Poland hopes to make missiles as well. That has been ongoing for several years and will take many more years to complete.

    2
  23. JohnSF says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    @Andy:
    Andy is dead right on this, historically.

    Look at how long it took the US to build up to wartime production WW2.
    And it had the advantage that from 1937/8 on Europe importing arms massively, and from 1939 and even more ’40 Lead Lease to UK got the US virtually into war mode.

    In 1914/15 the “shell crisis” had a crippling impact on military operations, and led to the replacement of the Liberal government by a coalition.

    In the Second World War the UK built up post-1938 to a massively war-oriented economy, arguably the most efficient government directed industrial-military system the world has ever seen (made the Soviets look backward and the Nazis rank amateurs).
    And it damn near broke us.

    And the UK could still not produce all it’s own needs, or sometimes afford to re-tool to replace inadequate systems.

    1
  24. Mu Yixiao says:

    @JohnSF:

    I can’t see the Poles waiting decades to get them.
    Perhaps the “years” is due to a critical production line being shut down, and needing to be set up again?

    In October 2018, the Polish government sent an official request to buy the Lockheed Martin-made launchers under its Homar program from the United States. The two governments signed a deal in February 2019, enabling the procurement of a total of 20 launchers in the program’s first phase.

    The Polish Ministry of National Defence said the first HIMARS contract was worth about $414 million. Deliveries under this deal are scheduled to be completed by 2023.

    So… 5 years from order to delivery.

    And Poland is buying their HIMARS–so they go ahead of Ukraine who is being given theirs. So 3 years for 18 freebies to Ukraine isn’t a very long wait.

    Absolutely none of this is surprising to me in any way. This is how manufacturing works. We make (admittedly high-end) LED lighting fixtures–by the thousands–and we’re letting customers know that it’ll be 6-12 months wait until they get theirs. 3 years for military armaments? That’s nothing.

  25. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Andy:

    Poland ordered 20 systems in early 2019 – deliveries won’t be completed until the end of 2023 and they won’t reach operational readiness until 2024 or 2025. That’s four years from ordering to delivery for 20 systems.

    Ah. I missed that in the article I found (it’s there, I just missed it). So… 4 years for 20 seems like a standard lead time.

  26. Michael Cain says:

    Over the space of several months, global demand for HIMARS has gone from 10 or 20 per year to hundreds per year. It might be better to say speculative demand, since most of that is militaries saying they want hundreds, but contracts have not been forthcoming yet. It seems unreasonable to expect Lockheed Martin to start ramping production capabilities until they sign the contracts. The US Army says they want 500 systems — but also that they still need Congressional approval. Also that they want to put it out for bids before signing any contracts. Poland’s military says they want 500 systems — but are awaiting approval and funding by the civilian government.

    I’ve said it before. Ukraine really needs to eject the Russians by about the end of November, because that’s when I think the flow of NATO weapons will slow drastically.

  27. Scott says:

    For everyone’s background info: HIMARS stopped production in 2013. Restarted in 2017 with first production unit accepted in June, 2017.

    In August, 2022, DoD announced $200M to expand HIMARS production:

    “We have received nearly $400 million dollars to replenish HIMARS and GMLRS in DOD stocks,” LaPlante said. “In addition, we are planning nearly $200 million to expand and accelerate production and are anticipating contract awards this fall and early next year.”

    Notice contracts have not been awarded yet. And setting up expanded or additional production lines will also take time.

    This is showing standard contracting procedures and timelines. If DoD believed there was an emergency requiring speed, they could award a letter contract tomorrow and definitize the contract at a later time.

    1
  28. Michael Cain says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    And Poland is buying their HIMARS–so they go ahead of Ukraine who is being given theirs. So 3 years for 18 freebies to Ukraine isn’t a very long wait.

    It seems a safe bet that Lockheed Martin will be paid for any systems shipped to Ukraine, just not by the Ukrainians.

  29. JohnSF says:

    @Mu Yixiao:
    5 years sounds about in line with a standard military procurement deal.
    I was extrapolating from the initial premise and thinking 10 to 15 years plus? Bit much.

    Actually though, I suspect Ukraine will get theirs before Poland.
    If only because if the war is ongoing at that point, Poland will want Ukraine to have them.

    Incidentally, I believe that Europe has some production capacity in this line based on licences and the separate Airbus European Fire Control System; the Mittleres Artillerieraketensystem (MARS II).
    Also the actual rockets.
    Producers involved: Diehl BGT; Krauss-Maffei Wegmann; Aérospatiale-Matra.

  30. Jay L Gischer says:

    I just want to note that
    1) All those HIMARS are going to allies, and are going to be available to us in some form or way should we get into a sudden conflict that involves deployment of a lot of ground forces.
    2) If the brass see things coming that mean we need more HIMARS, they will spend more money in a way that will accelerate the process. I feel sure they know just how to do that, in fact.

  31. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Michael Cain:

    It seems a safe bet that Lockheed Martin will be paid for any systems shipped to Ukraine, just not by the Ukrainians.

    LM will certainly get paid. But units shipped to Poland are net income for US Gov. Those shipped to Ukraine are net outlay.

  32. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    It may be standard and “normal”, but it’s silly to pretend it isn’t a result of capitalism and a problem. A capitalist economy will not tie up capital doing unproductive things. In today’s modern world that can mean terrifying long delays if you need something fast.

    Developing the initial COVID vaccines in less than a year was a modern miracle, and an example of what COULD be done in an emergency where money is not limited. The rapid design, acceptance, development, and production of MRAP’s when IED’s became a massive problem in Iraq is another.

    Given how effective HIMARS are proving to be, you could make a strong argument that increasing it’s production should be given the same priority. Unfortunately I don’t know if the funding could get through the current Congress when asshats like Rand Paul would filibuster it to death, quietly supported by enough R’s to stop the filibuster from being bypassed because they can’t bear to see Biden accomplish something. Don’t you know there’s an election coming up?!?!

    2
  33. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Modulo Myself: Indeed. And if my history books told the story correctly, Ford, Chrysler, and GM virtually stopped making automobiles to shift production to munitions at the time of WWII (with a great side story about Edsel demanding that Ford would have to hire Blacks to meet production goals whether his dad liked it or not). Should we be looking at something similar now?

  34. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Andy: ” Many defense analysts believe the drop in the rate of Russian artillery fires is due to stockpiles and insufficient production to meet wartime demand.”

    And also probably accounts for the news item recently that Russia was buying munitions from North Korea. You have to buy inventory where it’s available. (We found this to be an everyday condition in the wholesale produce business back 40 years ago, too.)

    1
  35. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Scott: “Notice contracts have not been awarded yet. And setting up expanded or additional production lines will also take time.”

    Giving Republicans another great choke point for the following year’s “Biden’s inaction on defense production is letting Dems throw another burgeoning democracy under the bus. Vote MAGA 2.0 in 2024!” ads.

    But I see the mistake in my cynicism. Republicans are too freedom loving and patriotic to engage in such activities. They’ll stand with the President they don’t want reelected just on this point because it’s soooooooo important.

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  36. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: Oops! I missed the [CRT TRIGGER WARNING] insert on the parenthetical for this post. My apologies to any troubled snowflakes my lack of warning impacted. 🙁

  37. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Andy: @JohnSF:

    I am aware of the difficulties, and I’m fairly well-read on WW2 procurement. I’m suggesting what may be a less-than-helpful focus on shiny new weapons systems at the expense of ammo. It’s expensive to keep an assembly line prepped but idle? Sure. More expensive than another F-35?

    It appears that the utility of HIMARS has surprised the Pentagon a bit. It’s relatively old, it’s cheap, it’s not glamorous, but in this proxy war against one of our two potential near-peer opponents it seems to be quite effective. I wonder if we’re counting on ground-attack jets to do the same job at a much higher cost?

    Wars clarify. The obvious example is that WW2 spelled the end of the battleship. I wonder if this war is demonstrating the rise of the drone and the decline of the manned aircraft, as well as the end of attack helicopters. Other systems as well, perhaps.

    1
  38. Andy says:

    @Just Another Ex-Republican:

    It may be standard and “normal”, but it’s silly to pretend it isn’t a result of capitalism and a problem. A capitalist economy will not tie up capital doing unproductive things. In today’s modern world that can mean terrifying long delays if you need something fast.

    This isn’t really a problem with capitalism. These are government contracts for stuff that only governments can buy. Whether it’s a socialist or capitalist system, the government is the one that has to decide and pay for maintaining excess production capabilities. It’s the government that decided not to do that.

    2
  39. Andy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    As Don Rumsfeld famously said:

    “You go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might want or wish you had at a later time.”

    Pilloried at the time, his quip is still true (just ask the Russians).

    It’s easy now to look in hindsight and determine we need more HIMARS and other types of production. Predicting that we would need this many HIMARS five years ago isn’t so easy, and you can’t fund excess production for everything.

    1
  40. Scott says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Wars clarify. The obvious example is that WW2 spelled the end of the battleship. I wonder if this war is demonstrating the rise of the drone and the decline of the manned aircraft, as well as the end of attack helicopters. Other systems as well, perhaps.

    Don’t underestimate the influence on weapons procurement of pure inertia and pigheadedness and politics and economic interests. Sure, battleships showed their vulnerability during WWII. But that didn’t stop Reagan from bringing 4 out of mothballs and renovating them at great expense in the 80s. That didn’t stop the B-1 from restarting production in 1981 even though the B-2 was on the horizon. And they didn’t stop production of the F-22 when the the Soviet Union fell and it became militarily less useful. All had constituencies that had to be served.

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  41. Richard Gardner says:

    Two decades ago I was involved in “critical defense infrastructure.” One of the big things (even bigger today) is mostly using USA and NATO (plus Japan) parts. Lots of USA industrial capacity has died off as dual-use items have been off-shored and the DOD contracts are not enough to keep the industrial base running. Some of this is huge items like the country’s only solid rocket fuel (propellant) plant in Magna UT (40+ miles away from the nearest house), and some is small like the seal and washers that go into pumps (water or hydraulic). If you end up with sole source costs can skyrocket. At least with much of the electronics the military has shifted to COTS (Commercial Off the Shelf, but last year’s model) vice the old MIL-SPEC unique stuff (400 Hz power anyone?).
    Another simple example is the recent ammunition (gun) shortage. The factories were at capacity and it isn’t easy to expand as we can’t do hardly anything quickly – procurement studies and environmental reviews last longer than it took to conduct WW II.
    On Ukraine, they are going to have a spare parts nightmare soon with so many different weapons/systems being provided to them.

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  42. JohnSF says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    I suppose it’s a question of balance and degree: you can’t afford to maintain a full-on war capacity in peacetime.
    But neither can you afford to let your margin get so slim you don’t maintain stocks to cover an interval, and the capability to ramp up production in a reasonable span.
    But it will always be a question of choices and priorities.

    If the budget can squeeze out another shiny (for e.g. the fighter mafia) rather than unglamorous war stocks/standby, that’s where it’s more likely to go.
    Politics of procurement.

    Or else general budget trimming.
    Another historical reference: to restrain defence spending in inter-wars UK, the Treasury promoted the Ten Year Rule

    …the military spending should be “on the assumption that the British Empire would not be engaged in any great war during the next ten years”

    Which was fine in 1919; by 1931 it was insane; but it remained in force till 1932, and the budgets only really increased after 1934.

    There is a bigger picture to all this though.
    The extent to which some Western nations (UK in particular) have let not just defence but general “strategic industrial/technical” reserve capability decline.
    At least the issue is now being considered, in the US.

    There have been some attempts to raise it in the UK, but it’s kept getting swamped by political chaos, and likely now by fiscal emergency. Again

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  43. JohnSF says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    @Scott:
    Hm
    Battleships clearly became a secondary system with the rise of the carrier.
    But.
    They were not wholly obsolete.
    The Japanese handled them woefully, (as did the Royal Navy with the Prince of Wales and Repulse in 1941).
    The USN used them in a subordinate role as it (at first) only had limited support for ships of all sorts, and carriers, landing ships, fleet trains, and submarines, were all rightly higher in priority.

    But if you want to see how seriously they were taken in other circumstances, consider the effort the Royal Navy put into taking out the Bismarck, Tirpitz, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau.
    This was not for no reason.

    The rise of drones, and man-portable smart missiles, and precision rocketry, is changing warfare, certainly.
    But the Ukrainians actually still use tanks, helicopters, gun artillery etc. very effectively.
    It’s that they don’t do stupid things like flying formations of helicopters at medium altitude into a saturation zone of MANPADS like the Russians did at Hostomel.
    Or trying to use tanks without adequate infantry support.

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  44. Kathy says:

    What I’ve learned from this thread is this:

    When aliens invade to take over the Earth and enslave us all, they don’t have to come up with irresistible weapons or invulnerable defenses. They only need to bring enough ammo to outlast the humans.

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  45. Andy says:

    @Kathy:

    When aliens invade to take over the Earth and enslave us all, they don’t have to come up with irresistible weapons or invulnerable defenses. They only need to bring enough ammo to outlast the humans.

    Very true. And if they can identify production and storage centers and bomb those from orbit, ammo supply will be measured in days.

  46. Jamie says:

    @Kathy: I’d love to see the aliens’ supply chain or storage capacity, in that event. Odd that that never comes up in the movies.

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  47. dazedandconfused says:

    I rather doubt aliens would be bent on conquering earth. If you have space travel mastered there are doubtless lots of places to go. On the other hand, one could probably explore a million life bearing planets before encountering one with a species in the beginning stages of industrialization, with stone-age peoples living right among them. Sometimes even electing one as their leader, war paint, weird headdress and all.

    If there is a community word would spread, and every egg (or whatever) head would be demanding a study tour. It would be something like a galactic national park, no dogs (or whatever) allowed. Camping only with permits and in certain small designated areas such as Diego Garcia and Area 51.

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  48. wr says:

    @Andy: “Pilloried at the time, his quip is still true (just ask the Russians).”

    Just to keep the record straight, the reason he was pilloried for this comment was not that it wasn’t true, but that the invasion of Iraq was entirely a war of choice and thus the US could have waited until they had the army they wanted before they launched it.

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  49. Zachriel says:

    @dazedandconfused: Sometimes even electing one as their leader, war paint, weird headdress and all.

    https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/976/cpsprodpb/41FB/production/_113919861_hi045965426.jpg

  50. Matt says:

    @Just Another Ex-Republican:

    Developing the initial COVID vaccines in less than a year was a modern miracle, and an example of what COULD be done in an emergency where money is not limited.

    It’s sometimes amazing how many people forget about sars-cov-1. The sars-cov-2 vaccine was 16 years in the making. Sure the money made the actual production of the vaccine much faster but the research was there well before the money showed up.