The Bunker, delivered to our subscribers Wednesdays at 7 a.m., is a newsletter from the desk of National Security Analyst Mark Thompson. Sign up here to receive it first thing, or check back Wednesday afternoon for the online version.
This week in The Bunker: The Pentagon’s perpetual hunt for a threat grows weary; F-35 engages in its first dog fight; Navy secretary calls a Red State senator a Red ally; and more.
The Soviet Union, Japan, now China
The U.S. seems to need an enemy. For the two generations following World War II, it was the Soviet Union and its 10-foot tall Red Army soldiers. Until it fell apart. Then it was Japan, who was going to eat our economic lunch. Until it grew so old and frail it couldn’t. Now the bogeyman is China — a country that not only is going to eat our economic lunch, but is going to beat the U.S. military, too.
How long does this have to go on before we realize we’re being scammed?
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In recent days, we’ve heard about China’s newest combat game-changer: quick-setting concrete. That supposedly gets Chinese warplanes back in the air shortly after runways have been cratered by (presumably) U.S. bombs. “The runway cutting was completed in 10 minutes, the pneumatic drilling took 30 minutes, mixing the concrete was completed in 8 minutes, filling was completed in 2 minutes, and the surface was completed in 1 minute, after 25 minutes the repair material was initially set,” a report sponsored by the (surprise!) U.S. Air Force said. “After another 2 hours the concrete finally solidified completely to meet the requirements of airfield use.”
Not sitting on the tarmac, the Pentagon is launching its Replicator program to build “multiple thousands” of cheap air, land, and sea drones to counter China’s growing military. The goal is swarms of robot weapons that are “small, smart, cheap, and many,” Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks said August 28. Unfortunately, Pentagon history tells us the Defense Department is lucky to get two of those four (and as for cheap, that’s going to be difficult, given that such systems rely heavily on Chinese parts). The press is complicit in this, hyping stupid Chinese moves like their balloons and gate-crashers that — while of dubious military utility — are peddled as the leading edge of the Next Big Thing Threat.
But the U.S. is fighting a China that doesn’t exist — and likely never will. “China probably will never match America’s power, much less surpass it,” the usually Pentagon-friendly Loren Thompson (no relation) writes. “A combination of smart policies in Washington and deep-seated defects in China precludes the Middle Kingdom from ever being a true superpower.” Bully for Thompson: those are fighting words, and contrary to the conventional U.S. nat-sec wisdom that China’s military is a burgeoning behemoth primed to drive the U.S. out of the western Pacific. China’s per-capita income is $13,000, he notes, compared to $76,000 in the U.S. Next year’s Pentagon budget will eclipse China’s. And despite frequent scare-mongering about the Chinese navy, Thompson says “a handful of U.S. bombers equipped with stealthy antiship missiles would make quick work of the Chinese fleet in a war.”
It’s often said that the U.S. national-security state is perpetually on the hunt for the Next Big Threat. The Bunker reported on the final years of the Cold War, when Caspar (The Unfriendly Ghost) Weinberger launched Soviet Military Power (PDF), a regularly-published glossy jeremiad replete with Defense Intelligence Agency drawings of scary new Soviet weapons designed to make Americans quake in their non-combat boots. It worked (although the weapons didn’t; cf. Ukraine).
Americans are being duped again. The Pentagon plans to issue its latest edition of Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China (PDF) — more commonly called China Military Power — in mid-October. Perfect: just in time for Halloween.
Contractors fire at each other over latest snag
The long-delayed and over-budget $1.7 trillion F-35 program finally got into what you might call its first dogfight. It happened September 6 when F-35 builder Lockheed blamed the F-35’s latest four-to-six month delay on one of its major suppliers — and the supplier promptly fired back.
“The development of the L3Harris Integrated Core Processor (ICP) has driven most of the delays due to unexpected challenges associated with hardware and software development, component and system integration testing and system qualification testing,” Lockheed said in a rare case of public Pentagon procurement finger-pointing.
Did not! a ticked off L3Harris said after taking fire from Lockheed, the Pentagon’s biggest contractor. L3Harris “overcame some early design challenges and delivered a fully qualifiable Integrated Core Processor (ICP) to Lockheed Martin well over a year ago,” the Defense Department’s 8th largest contractor countered.
“Well over a year ago,” eh? The Bunker can imagine the L3Harris wordsmiths gleefully writing that.
Navy secretary goes McCarthy on Tuberville
The Pentagon is angry that Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), ex-college football coach turned U.S. senator, is blocking more than 300 U.S. senior military promotions. He’s taken the action because he doesn’t like a new Pentagon policy that pays for members of the U.S. military to travel to have abortions following the Supreme Court decision allowing states to ban them.
But the debate crossed a line September 5 when Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro — born in Cuba in 1961 — said Tuberville is tacitly allied with the Reds. “For someone who was born in a communist country, I would have never imagined that actually one of our own senators would actually be aiding and abetting communists and other autocratic regimes around the world,” Del Toro said on CNN.
You can disagree with Tuberville while agreeing that Del Toro (Spanish for “of the bull”) was out of line with the patently political remark.
Republicans argue Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) could schedule individual votes on each promotion, instead of rubber-stamping them in batches so long as no senator objects (which is what Tuberville is doing). But Democrats say that would require too much of the Senate’s time. And senators need every minute because they are so busy debating and declaring war — or voting not to declare war (actually, something they haven’t had the stomach to do in more than 80 years) — assuring a lean and lethal national defense, cutting the national debt, grappling with climate change, and providing those in the world’s richest country with health care.
WHAT WE’RE READING
Here’s what has caught The Bunker’s eye recently
The conservative Heritage Foundation has joined the Project On Government Oversight, home of The Bunker, and decided “to refuse funding from the defense industry.” The move is meant to protect “our ability to provide independent analysis without even the perception of influence on the part of any defense contractor,” the think tank noted August 24. And to help “confront China.” It's U.S. aid to Ukraine that has apparently driven the reversal.
Waning U.S. support for aid to Ukraine reveals a growing American isolationism that is short-sighted and could embolden (guess who?) — China, Joseph S. Nye, Jr., a former top Pentagon official, warned September 5 in The Strategist.
…the Pentagon is pondering building the infrastructure needed for an economy on the Moon, The Hill reported September 7 (and, yes, China is involved here, too).
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