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: Ukraine reveals our primed-for-war weapons ain’t; the hole in the debt-ceiling pact big enough to fly a B-52 through; the press catches up with The Bunker; and more.
A BUMPY ROAD TO WAR
Pentagon gear bound for Ukraine is in lousy shape
One of the most interesting things about covering the Pentagon is the surprises you get when it’s caught with its cammies down. Take, for example, the massive stockpiles of weapons the U.S. military has stored around the world, primed to be shipped to the front lines and into battle within days. “The Army Prepositioned Stock program is a cornerstone of the Army’s ability to rapidly project power and send a clear signal of U.S. commitment,” the service says(PDF).
Um, not so much.
We’d likely never have learned just how unready this Army arsenal is if Vladimir Putin hadn’t invaded Ukraine. The U.S. has provided Ukraine with nearly $40 billion in military aid(PDF) since Russia invaded 15 months ago, nearly half(PDF) of which has come from U.S. military stockpiles. Some came from a U.S. depot in Kuwait, which is the subject of a Pentagon inspector general’s report released May 25. “We identified issues that resulted in unanticipated maintenance, repairs, and extended leadtimes to ensure the readiness of the military equipment selected to support the Ukrainian Armed Forces,” the IG said.
The inquiry examined the state of Ukraine-bound M777 howitzers and M1167 High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles. The Army had “identified the equipment as fully mission capable and ready for issue to the Ukrainian Armed Forces,” the IG noted(PDF). Au contraire: the inspector general concluded that a stunning 91% of the guns and vehicles (32 of 35) were, in fact, not ready for war.
The cannons were so poorly maintained they “would have killed somebody” (PDF) — and it wouldn’t have been the enemy. Quarterly inspections and repairs hadn’t been done for 19 months, leading to internal gun misalignments on four of the six howitzers “that could be fatal to the crew operating the howitzer.” Old hydraulic fluid had been recycled, which the operator’s manual forbids(PDF) because it can cause “disastrous results and malfunctions of critical systems.” Once shipped to Europe, worn firing pins and faulty firing mechanisms further delayed the guns’ delivery to Ukraine.
Twenty-six of the 29 M1167 tank-killing Humvees weren’t operational due to dead batteries, fluid leaks, broken gauges, and other woes. Tires on 25 of them had to be replaced due to dry rot. One Humvee tire shredded because of the problem on its way to Ukraine; the spare also failed “due to dry rot” (PDF).
The U.S. military has paid contractors close to $1 billion(PDF) to keep the gear in Kuwait ready for combat since 2016. But apparently that’s not enough(PDF). Which is why the U.S. Army graciously included a note to their Ukrainian allies along with one of the Humvees lacking a part. In the middle of a war for Ukraine’s survival, the U.S. Army suggested Ukraine seek the MIA part “through the established process for requesting parts” (PDF).
That’s the U.S. military’s key to victory: send in the paperwork.
PENTAGON DEBT-CEILING HOKUM
Don’t be fooled by the “cap” on defense spending
As the U.S. military closes in on spending $1 trillion a year, some might see the debt-ceiling deal signed by President Biden June 3 as a half-hearted brake on profligate Pentagon purchasing. That’s because it limits overall national security spending next year to $886 billion(PDF), a 3% boost over this year’s level. In 2025, it would rise to $895 billion, a 1% hike over the 2024 sum. Amid hyped fears over China and Russia, those upticks to the largest inflation-adjusted defense budget in U.S. history qualify as restraint.
Just don’t count on those glass ceilings actually doing anything.
Basically, lawmakers love defense spending because patriotism today has become synonymous with Pentagon procurement — and enough defense jobs are salted in defense plants and bases across the country to make it a bipartisan winner.
At the top of the list for inflating post-deal defense coffers are supplemental bills, purportedly for Ukraine but also to buy bonus battle baubles for the Pentagon. It’s a well-trod route — the Pentagon and Congress crammed supplementals branded as Overseas Contingency Operations accounts for Afghanistan and Iraq with billions unneeded for those conflicts. The spending was opaque and difficult to track, but the excess fat was summed up in a pair of figures(PDF): in 2008, the Pentagon spent $1 million for each troop in those two wars; by 2017 the per-head cost had jumped to $4.9 million, a 490% hike. Such special add-ons totaled $2 trillion between 2001 and 2019.
“The first problem of an inadequate defense budget could be addressed and remedied by an emergency defense supplemental,” said Senator Susan Collins (R-Warships) of Maine, the top GOP member on the appropriations committee. “We know this budget is not adequate to the global threats that we face.”
Senator Jack Reed (D-Submarines) of Rhode Island, chairman of the armed services committee, agreed. “With Ukraine, you’re going to have to have a supplemental,” the Rhode Island Democrat said. “We might put some other stuff in too.”
DON’T STOP THE PRESSES!
Costly F-35 engine woes are old hat around here
Bunker readers shouldn’t have been surprised by the hurricane of headlines following the May 30 release of a new Government Accountability Office report into the Pentagon’s troubled F-35 program:
“F-35 Jet’s Overworked Engines May Cost Pentagon $38 Billion in Upkeep,” Bloomberg blared.
“Overworked F-35 jet engines could cost the Pentagon $38B in upkeep, GAO finds,” Stars and Stripestrumpeted.
“Subsystem Flaw Found In 2008 Caused $38 Billion F-35 Issue: GAO,” Aviation Weekannounced.
Bunker buddies learned of the extra $38 billion cost — and that the problem triggering it was IDed in 2008 — two months ago in this very newsletter. Turns out the author of the GAO report gave a sneak preview of his findings to a little-noted congressional hearing well before the report was officially published.
That’s because the crackerjack editorial staff here at Bunker HQs combs through Pentagon data (official, as well as true) every week, to highlight the inanity of pumping record levels of defense spending into an institution that can’t win wars.
It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it.
WHAT WE’RE READING
Here’swhat has caught The Bunker’s eye recently
The U.S. Army is seeking small, bomb-carrying drones that could be carried into battle by soldiers — just like they’re doing in Ukraine — Sam Skove wrote June 2 in Defense One.
National security graybeards from defense-contractor-funded think tanks are pushing the U.S. to send more arms to Ukraine without acknowledging their benefactors, Ben Freeman reported June 1 at Responsible Statecraft.
The shrinking utility of Navy aircraft carriers is dangerously dismissed because “they employ a lot of people in a lot of congressional districts,” Tim Noah wrote May 31 in The New Republic.
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