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: More conventional weapons for U.S. allies; a push for more nuclear weapons for the U.S.; sailors are still woozy aboard Navy ships despite fatal collisions linked to their fatigue; and more.
RUNNING OUT OF WEAPONS
Can the Military Industrial Complex do two wars at once?
The twin terrors in Israel and Ukraine are taxing the U.S. military’s ability to churn out enough weapons to supply American allies in Kyiv and Jerusalem. “We can and will stand by Israel even as we stand by Ukraine,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said October 12 in Brussels. “The United States can walk and chew gum at the same time.” The next day, he said it again. “We will stand with Israel even as we stand with Ukraine,” he repeated, in Israel this time. “The United States can walk and chew gum at the same time.”
Austin’s double entendre — maintaining that we can supply both allies, while tacitly acknowledging the challenges associated with doing so — highlights the dangerous world in which we live. Some believe China might choose this time to invade Taiwan. There is little doubt that the U.S. would be hard pressed to serve as an ATM for weapons for three conflicts simultaneously.
Modern warfare highlights the frustration of U.S. military power: the Pentagon took the extraordinary step of dispatching a pair of aircraft carriers to the eastern Mediterranean, not to punish Hamas for attacking Israel — but to deter Iran from taking advantage of the resulting turmoil. What good is a $20 billion carrier against motorbike-riding, bulldozer-driving, and paraglider-flying terrorists whose most important weapons aren’t F-35s but AK-47s? The U.S. also dispatched a C-17 to Israel to bring U.S. troops home after Hamas attacked.
But superpower habits die hard. “One thing that is really important in terms of the munitions, in particular, and our ability to support both potentially the Israelis and the Ukrainians simultaneously, is additional funding from Congress,” Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said. “We need additional support from Congress.”
Of course, having lacked a speaker for the past two weeks, the rudderless House has proved it can neither appropriate nor masticate at the same time.
Congressional panel calls for more
At the height of the Vietnam War in 1969, John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival wrote “Fortunate Son,” his anti-war anthem. “When you ask ‘em, ‘How much should we give?’” he sang bitterly, “they only answer, ‘More, more, more, more’.”
The song popped into The Bunker’s boomer noggin October 12 when a congressionally-appointed panel, largely consisting(PDF) of the usual status-quo suspects, declared the U.S. needs to bolster its nuclear arsenal lest it loses an atomic showdown with Russia, China — or maybe both. “America’s defense strategy and strategic posture must change in order to properly defend its vital interests and improve strategic stability with China and Russia,” the 145-page report concluded(PDF). “These threats are such that the United States and its Allies and partners must be ready to deter and defeat both adversaries simultaneously.”
(“STAT — paging Austin Powers!”)
Beyond spending up to $1.5 trillion to replace the current U.S. strategic nuclear arsenal, the panel recommends(PDF) deploying more tactical nuclear weapons in Europe and Asia, drafting plans to deploy U.S. nuclear weapons now held in reserve, and cranking up production of nuclear-firing B-21 bombers and Columbia-class submarines beyond the totals currently planned. Some new U.S. ICBMs should be deployed in a “road mobile configuration” that the U.S. considered, and scrapped, 40 years ago. The panel didn’t estimate how much more their plans would cost, beyond saying(PDF) “it is obvious they will cost money.”
This tic-tac-toe game — the dark art of nuclear deterrence in quest of purported stability — has gone on long enough. “If there is a military conflict between nuclear-armed states, deterrence will have failed and, in the ensuing conflict, there will be no ‘winners,’” the Arms Control Association countered. More than 90 million people, it warned, could be killed or wounded in the opening hours of a nuclear war. It remains gob-smacking that nations spend trillions in hopes of a draw, while far more important needs — food, shelter, health, climate — go unaddressed.
“The details of this report should serve as a wakeup call for our strategic posture,” Representative Mike Rogers (R-AL), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said. “We need to rapidly make changes now if we want to deter tomorrow.”
Personally speaking, The Bunker would prefer to preserve — not deter — tomorrow.
ASLEEP ON THE BRIDGE
U.S. sailors still lacking shut-eye
After a pair of at-sea collisions in 2017 caused, at least in part, by overworked and sleepy sailors, the Navy launched a series of steps toward getting its crews enough Zs on the high seas. But the service is sure taking its time getting there. It takes a long time for a U.S. warship to change course — and even longer for the Navy to do so. The sea service says more training “is expected to shift the culture within the Navy from viewing fatigue as an unfortunate yet inevitable condition to a problem that should and can be proactively managed,” the Government Accountability Office reported(PDF) October 11.
Sailors aboard warships are getting an average of 5.25 hours of sleep per day, 30% less than the 7.5-hour Navy goal. The service is trying to fix the problem with two programs designed to gather data via smartwatches to ensure sailors are getting sufficient rest. “These programs show promise for their ability to identify fatigue issues and mitigate risks in real time,” the GAO said(PDF), “but both are limited from further expansion due to a lack of dedicated funding.”
The key reasons for sleepy sailors are lousy mattresses and too much work, a 2022 Navy sailor survey found. And those lumpy mattresses will continue. “Navy officials told us that this problem does not have a Navy resource sponsor willing to examine it further and fund mattress improvements across the fleet,” the GAO said. “So it remains unaddressed.” The service plans to enlist up to 10,000 more personnel to give each ship enough wide-awake sailors to operate safely. “The Navy is developing a 15-year plan to reverse enduring personnel shortfalls and to fully crew the fleet,” the GAO said.
Gives a whole new meaning to “full speed ahead.”
WHAT WE’RE READING
Here’s what has caught The Bunker’s eye recently
The Pentagon, readying for war with China, is beefing up its distribution network to ensure that adequate blood flows into the Pacific to keep U.S. troops alive, Lauren C. Williams reported in Defense One October 11.
Nearly 70% of U.S. active-duty troops are overweight, Military Times reported October 13.
→ “Fool’s gold”
Many of the innovations that defense startups, “run mainly by former special operators and often championed by newly retired military generals … almost never live up to all the hype,” a retired Army colonel argued October 5 in Real Clear Defense.
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