The Bunker: Subcontracting War

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: battlefield bargain; time for Europe to defend itself; V-22 woes; and more. Housekeeping note: with apologies to Barbara Tuchman, The Bunker’s Guns of August will go silent next month. We’ll be back September 6.


That’s Ukrainian for “bargain”

Nearly half of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents say the U.S. is giving too much aid to Ukraine.

That’s rich, given that the GOP has long advocated boosting defense spending to achieve “peace through strength.” But does that peace end at U.S. borders? Following a brutal invasion featuring attacks on civilian targets that have killed at least 9,000 innocents (and likely “considerably” more, according to the UN), Russia’s malignancy will continue to metastasize if it isn’t cauterized in Ukraine. On July 17, a third of GOP House members voted to cut off all military aid to Ukraine. Representative Michael McCaul (R-TX), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said that this was a terrible message for the United States to be sending to Russia at such a critical moment in the conflict.

It might be hard for some to say out loud, but the war in Ukraine is proving the much vaunted Russian military to be much more of a paper tiger. U.S.’s long-standing superpower foe has been pinned down and pummeled following its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine 17 months ago (some maintain the U.S. provoked Russia into invading Ukraine, which is akin to saying the U.S. provoked Japan into World War II by imposing sanctions on it). While numbers are sketchy, the consensus is that nearly half of the Russian military’s front-line armor has been destroyed, abandoned, rendered useless, or captured by Ukrainian forces.

Let’s pull out a pencil and jot down some ballpark figures on the back of an envelope. So far, the U.S. has said it is providing Ukrainian with $43 billion (PDF) in military aid — which works out to about $2.5 billion a month since the war began. Meanwhile, the cost of the U.S. military since the invasion has been about $70 billion a month. This crude calculation suggests the U.S. (and its allies) are subcontracting out the decimation of Moscow’s military for about 4% of the Pentagon’s annual budget. No U.S. troops are risking their lives on the Russo-Ukrainian front.

War is a serious business, and one that is too important to leave only to the accountants. But the pocket-change pittance the Pentagon is paying to pulverize Putin’s predators is, to date, the military торгуватися of the century.


Time for the continent to rely less on the U.S.

Russia’s hapless performance in Ukraine raises a key question: why is the U.S. still doing the heavy military lifting in Europe? After all, it has been nearly eight decades since the fall of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich and 34 years after the Berlin Wall crumbled. “The contention that the wealthy, technologically advanced European nations cannot join forces to acquire enough military power to deter or defeat Russia strains credulity,” argues Rajan Menon of Defense Priorities. It’s long past time for a re-assessment.

But U.S. defense contractors like it when U.S. presidents harangue 23 of NATO’s 30 members (before newbies Finland and Sweden enlisted) for not meeting their goal to spend 2% of their GDP on their militaries. The U.S. spends 3% of its GDP on defense, 50% more.

Following the latest NATO summit on July 19, the alliance reaffirmed the target: “While the 2% of GDP guideline alone is no guarantee that money will be spent in the most effective and efficient way to acquire and deploy modern capabilities [Bunker observation: who says NATO has no sense of humour?], it remains an important indicator of the political resolve of individual Allies to devote to defence a relatively small but still significant level of resources.” The declaration “was largely seen as a means of increasing the purchase of American arms,” says Joshua C. Huminski, a national-security scholar at George Mason University.

But even in the vanishingly small chance the U.S. leaves NATO, U.S. taxpayers shouldn’t expect to pocket the resulting savings. The U.S. will simply shift the surplus across the Pacific Ocean to deal with China, its latest foe-du-jour. Unfortunately — or fortunately, depending upon which side your bread is buttered — there is always enough war to go around.


Corps clears crew in deadly V-22 crash

The Marine Corps is blaming a 2022 V-22 crash that killed all five aboard on a festering and mysterious problem that it continues to investigate to keep it from happening again. “There was nothing the crew…could have done to anticipate or prevent this aviation mishap,” the Marine probe chillingly concluded (PDF). “They were engaged in routine flight operations and training, in accordance and compliance with all applicable regulations, when an unanticipated, unrecoverable, and catastrophic mechanical failure occurred.”

For unknown reasons, a critical gearbox inside the tilt-rotor failed above the California desert, sending the aircraft into a fatal dive (photo of crash in PDF). The Marines have known about the V-22’s slipping clutch — which can imperil the plane — since 2010. The corps says various fixes since then made by V-22 builder Bell-Boeing have reduced the problem by more than 99%. But Aviation Week reported July 21 that there were four crashes involving gearbox problems in 2022. One of those, in Norway, killed four Marines, although the corps “blamed that mishap on pilot error.” A 2010 crash that killed four has also been linked to the gearbox.

Blaming pilot error — and releasing reports on Fridays to minimize news coverage (this latest report was released July 21) — are long-standing military traditions. The corps blamed two pilots for 16 years for a 2000 V-22 crash that killed them and 17 fellow Marines until public pressure led the Pentagon to recant. That’s what makes this latest investigation, bluntly holding the hardware responsible, noteworthy.

One more thing: Potentially key clues about the accident were lost because “the intensity of the post-crash fire” destroyed (PDF) the V-22’s “crash survivable data recorder.” The Marines have decided — 34 years after the V-22’s first flight — to install “a crash survivable, high-temperature, fire-resistant flight data recorder” (PDF) on all its V-22s. You know, like the famous black boxes pulled from the wreckage of commercial airliners.

They’re not standard equipment on the $120 million (PDF) V-22. Apparently, the Pentagon was betting on a fuel-laden aircraft crashing without starting a fire.


Here’s what has caught The Bunker’s eye recently

Broken Record Dep’t.

Former NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg, now head of the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Board, said the Defense Department’santiquated acquisition system” endangers national security in Defense News July 24.

A Navy first

President Biden has tapped Admiral Lisa Franchetti to serve as the next chief of naval operations, making her the first woman to serve on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Politico reported July 21.

A second Navy first

The Navy commissioned the USS Canberra in Australia, marking the first time a U.S. warship entered the active fleet at an Australian port, Reuters noted July 22.

Thanks for checking in this week. Once again, The Bunker’s off next month. See you back here September 6.