A new Manhattan Project

US Army tent fabric

Do you ever get the feeling that the US will sleepwalk into a war with a great-power rival and lose?

The U.S. military has a tent problem.

The only domestic supplier of the specialist polyester fibre used in its tents has gone out of business with potential “significant impact to multiple tent and fabric systems”, according to a multi-agency assessment of weaknesses in the U.S. defence complex.

Tents are just one of nearly 300 strategic frailties identified in the country’s military supply chains. (“Assessing and Strengthening the Manufacturing and Defense Supply Chain Resiliency of the United States”, September 2018)

The list ranges from the cold-rolled aluminium used for armour plating through submarine shaft maintenance to the silicon power switches used in missile systems. And that’s just the handful of examples that made it into the declassified section of the report.

“All facets of the manufacturing and defense industrial base are currently under threat, at a time when strategic competitors and revisionist powers appear to be growing in strength and capability,” the report states.

Topping the list of “strategic competitors” is China.

The DoD report (PDF) thunders:

“China’s non-market distortions to the economic playing field must end or the U.S. will risk losing the technology overmatch and industrial capabilities that have enabled and empowered our military dominance.”

True, but why is this up to China? Instead of whining about the unfairness of it all, shouldn’t the US be proactively defending the supply chain for critical technologies? How hard would it be to jump-start (or restart) manufacturing of key technologies in the US? Bring it ALL back under the aegis of a new Manhattan Project for the 21st century. Incidentally, this would also help to reduce the trade deficit and create manufacturing jobs in the US.

The Trump administration has just begun to do this with steel and aluminum imports, invoking national security as a justification for tariffs. Back to Reuters:

Beneath the apparent chaos of U.S. trade policy lies a comprehensive rethink of the country’s industrial-military policy, specifically its raw material supply chains and its manufacturing sector.

Taiwan is gone

Han Kuang military exercise Kinmen Taiwan

Annual military exercise in Kinmen, Taiwan, a few miles from mainland China (Source)

I’m not entirely clear on who this guy is, but he has a strong opinion on what would happen in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan:

Now let me tell you the biggest military fiction to be found on the planet.

Taiwan will be able to defend itself against a Chinese invasion. The US will rush to Taiwan’s aid in the event of an invasion. Finally the combined might of the US and Taiwan with MAYBE the assistance of others in the region will be able to retake the island in the event that the Chinese establish a foothold/successfully take it.

Sorry boys and girls. Ain’t happening.

No matter how you slice it, we are victims of time and distance. The Chinese are too close, we’re too far away and the Taiwanese have been so thoroughly infiltrated that success is impossible.

Look at the Chinese order of battle.

Count numbers.

Do the same for Taiwan.

The results of your count should be obvious. Taiwan will fall.

Some numbers to consider:

China’s armed forces have long outnumbered and outspent Taiwan’s. China now has 800,000 active combat troops in its ground forces, compared with 130,000 in Taiwan; its budget last year was $144 billion, compared with Taiwan’s $10 billion, according to the Pentagon’s most recent annual report on the Chinese military. (Congress approved a $700 billion Pentagon budget in September, with an even larger increase than President Trump had requested.)

Back to the military blogger guy:

Remember the proposal (don’t know where it came from) to forward position US Marines on the island? If that was followed thu then the calculations change dramatically depending on the size of the force. Put a Platoon forward and its pretty much the same. Make it a Battalion and suddenly you have enough Marines in harm’s way where abandonment or rapid evacuation becomes impossible when ships show up on the horizon. Additionally you have the spectre of a Battalion of Marines “cutting and running” or being destroyed by Chinese forces. That would require a full scale military push if not to save the Taiwanese then to save the Marines.

That proposal would have signalled our determination for Taiwan to remain free.

But we didn’t bite.

Which means that this conversation has already occured at the highest levels of the Pentagon/State Dept/National Command Authority.

It has certainly been obvious for a while that when the pedal hits the metal, the US will throw Taiwan under the bus rather than fight China. As time goes on, China’s military edge over the self-governing island grows more extreme. It’s also very telling that Taiwan is struggling to recruit soldiers as it phases out conscription. The national morale needed to risk life and limb fighting off a PLA invasion seems… lacking.

There is some interesting back-and-forth about China’s capabilities in the blog’s comments section:

Danger_Maus • 3 days ago

You say Taiwan will vote to reunite with the mainland in a decade; that really shows your lack of understanding of the Taiwanese hatred of the communist regime of China. The only way the commies can “unite” the island with the mainland is by force.

Also I find your understanding of the local geography lacking as well. The Taiwan strait is 130 kms at its narrowest. The waters of the strait is considered the roughest in the northern hemisphere and the western side of the island (facing the mainland) has no beaches, only mud flats – the beaches are on the eastern side. This isn’t a Normandy crossing and the PLAN still hasn’t the capacity/capability to bring a significant number of troops ashore without them being sunk and drown at sea.

Solomon Mod Danger_Maus • 3 days ago

80 miles? hardly a long distance. i drive further than that on an almost daily basis. sorry bro but you’re dealing with an American. we know distance. we conquer just for shits and giggles in our personal lives much less militarily. 80 miles? that barely qualifies as a decent training opportunity much less a real world military mission…especially for forcible entry forces.

so what does that SHORT FUCKING DISTANCE mean? it means its within range of EVERY SINGE FIGHTER AND TRANSPORT PLANE IN THE CHINESE AIR FORCE! it means that an LCAC can cover the distance FROM FREAKING CHINA to Taiwan in 2 hours (assuming a transit speed of 35 knots)…it means that you have the almost IDEAL conditions for everything from a RAID to an AIR ASSAULT to a PARACHUTE ASSAULT to a MASSIVE AMPHIBIOUS ASSAULT using AERIAL INSERTION and SURFACE ASSAULT ASSETS!

you talk about me not knowing geography? hell yeah i know the geography. what i can’t figure is why China hasn’t already attacked. the ground is laid. this would be the stroke that would cement them as a Super Power with muscle to enforce their will.

no matter how you slice this thing. from a military point of view Taiwan is undefensible.

[…]

wtfunk555 • 4 days ago

Taiwan isn’t gone. If Taiwan were gone then the Trump administration would not be shoring up US Taiwan relations. Pence would not have recently singled out Taiwan as model of democracy in the Chinese speaking world. Trump wouldn’t be conducting all these FNOP operations right in China’s face if he didn’t believe the US could prevail over China. Losing Taiwan would signify to the world that Japan, The Philippines, Vietnam heck most of the Pacific is up for grabs thus the US isn’t just going to hand Taiwan over to China on a silver platter. If anything, the US seems be closer to Taiwan today, than it has been in decades.

Trump knows that China is the US’s biggest threat. He’s already taken steps to neutralize China starting with its economy. I’d even go so far as to say that USMCA was written in a way to specifically counter China’s exploitation of NAFTA loopholes to access America’s market.

Solomon Mod wtfunk555 • 4 days ago

wait. are you being serious or are you just being a nationalist (Taiwan) on this issue? i’m just looking at things as they are not as i wish them to be. you point out that as goes Taiwan so goes the Pacific? i think you’re just not being honest there. Taiwan could fall and the rest of the Pacific would remain unchanged. the same talk happened with regard to Hong Kong. it fell underneath China’s orbit and everything else remained the same.

quite honestly Taiwan COULD BE SEEN JUSTIFIABLY SO (to some) as properly being Chinese territory. a breakaway Republic but Chinese territory none-the-less.

but my bigger issue is the defense of Taiwan. i just don’t see how it could realistically done. we’re certainly not going to launch a nuclear war in defense of Taiwan so how do we defend it? additionally the US and Russia and NATO have ALL STARTED CONDUCTING LARGE SCALE EXERCISES! we claim that Trident Junction is peaceful but given past tensions it could mask an invasion. the same occurred with the large scale Russian exercise. i heard talk from some that it was a mask to make a move into Western Europe (yeah crazy talk). i said all that to say that the “we can see it from a mile away” is just plain happy talk. China has too many forces in the area. they run too many snap drills. the only real alert we’ll have is when we see Chinese Paratroopers and Marines loading transports and then its all over but the crying.

explain that away before you slam me for my thoughts on the subject. how far away is Taiwan from the mainland? a shorter drive than Atlanta to Louisiana! MUCH SHORTER. in today’s military that’s incredibly short.

Operation Urgent Fury

Invasion of Grenada

An interesting recap of Operation Urgent Fury, the US invasion of Grenada in 1983. I didn’t realize the operation was such a near-debacle, with 19 killed and 116 wounded on the American side:

In the end there were no maps of Grenada to be had anywhere at Fort Bragg. In an inspired moment a division staff officer headed for downtown Fayetteville, where he procured tourist maps of the island. Planners superimposed a military grid atop the map and distributed copies to the invading troops before they boarded their air craft. Interestingly, many senior leaders were relying on articles copied out of The Economist for the most up-to-date intelligence on the island. […]

Things did not go as smoothly for the Army. Newly obtained aerial photos showed obstacles on the airfield—something the SEALs might have cleared had they landed. Presuming the enemy was anticipating the assault, the Ranger commander decided to jump at 500 feet in order to minimize his troops’ time in the air. Such a low-level jump made reserve parachutes useless, so they were discarded. Worse, only the first assault company had expected to jump, so only they were wearing parachutes. At the last moment the rest of the Rangers scrambled to get into their harnesses, a task made infinitely more difficult when attempted in an aircraft crowded with men and equipment. As a result, the Rangers began landing more than 30 minutes behind schedule, and the successive drop waves took 90 minutes to complete —in daylight and initially under heavy enemy fire. So far, Urgent Fury was a perfect example of how not to conduct an airborne operation and was shaping up to be an unmitigated disaster. […]

A separate JSOC mission failed to capture the transmitter broadcasting the government-controlled Radio Free Grenada, after PRA counterattacks drove a SEAL team from the position. Similarly, Delta and Ranger assaults on the enemy command posts at Fort Rupert and the prison at Richmond Hill stalled after antiaircraft fire downed two helicopters and damaged others. Adding some macabre mockery to the unfolding spectacle, attacking U.S. aircraft accidentally hit a mental hospital, killing 18 patients and setting others free to aimlessly wander around a nearby town.

Etc. Apparently at one point, a solider had to use a payphone to call in support for his unit:

The basic story is that a unit on the island was pinned down by Communist forces. Interoperability and communications were so bad, they were unable to call for support from anywhere. A member of the unit pulled out his credit card and made a long-distance call by commercial phone lines to their home base, which patched it through to the Urgent Fury command, who passed the order down to the requested support.

Mistakes were made, and lessons were learned…

Germany scandalously unprepared for alien invasion

Very disappointed in Germany. Apparently, the task of fighting off an alien invasion will fall on the US by default:

The German government has “no plans or protocol” should first contact with aliens occur, according to a report by German daily Bild.

The government considers such an event “extremely unlikely according to current scientific knowledge,” the Ministry of Economics said when responding to a question from Green MP Dieter Janecek.

“Concrete cases that could have been the subject of bilateral or multilateral talks with other states are not known,” the ministry’s statement continued.

United States has a plan

While Germany might not have a plan for extraterrestrial visitors, the US is more prepared. Even before the establishment of a Space Force that US President Donald Trump has recently said he plans to created as a new branch of the military, the 527th Space Aggressors Squadron is already a part of the United States Air Force. It aims to train US, joint and allied military forces for combat with “space-capable adversaries.”

The Air Force squadron regularly conducts drills designed to simulate what a space attack might look like if an otherworldly adversary attempted one.

In all seriousness, it’s hard to see what this can accomplish. Any alien invasion fleet will need to have traversed many light-years before reaching the earth, implying a level of technological sophistication that is surely far beyond that of the US military. Maybe, instead of rousing the invaders’ anger with pointless attacks, it would be better to do absolutely nothing.

From 2007-2012, the US also ran a task force that investigated sightings of unidentified flying objects with an annual budget of $22 million (€19.2 million). The UK has also run UFO sighting projects in the past.

More here about the Pentagon’s secret UFO task force. The military did admit that it was “incapable of defending itself against some of the technologies discovered” by the program, according to a New York Times report.

After analyzing past media coverage about possible findings of extraterrestrial microbial life, Varnum found most people’s reactions were positive.

In two following studies asking respondents what their hypothetical reaction would be if researchers did discover signs of life beyond Earth, or if researchers created a new life form in the lab, participants were still more positive than negative and were more excited about finding alien life than synthetically-created life.

Presumably, these people are betting that what we discover is kinder and gentler than this:

The research found that about half of Americans and Western Europeans surveyed elsewhere said they believe aliens have already visited Earth, Varnum said, and there does not seem to be any “chaos or disorder in the world” as a result.

“Perception-management campaign”

A pair of Republican congressmen allege that a major environmental nonprofit appears to have been co-opted by China’s influence machine:

Environmental advocacy groups that take the Defense Department to court appear to operate as foreign agents working to help China and undermine the U.S. Navy and America’s military readiness in the Asia-Pacific region, congressional leaders suggest.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, and Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., chairman of the oversight and investigations subcommittee, called on two environmental groups to submit documents that “identify any policies or procedures” the groups took to ensure compliance with the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Bishop and Westerman last month wrote the two groups, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Center for Biological Diversity.

In a letter to Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the two Republican lawmakers expressed concern about China’s “extensive perception-management campaign” and the “NRDC’s role” in assisting these efforts.

The environmental group’s press releases and other written correspondence “consistently praise the Chinese government’s environmental initiatives and promote the image of China as a global environmental leader,” their letter says. […]

The political activism of the Natural Resources Defense Council continues to coincide with China’s geopolitical interests, while it regularly files lawsuits against the Pentagon aimed at constraining military exercises vital to national security, Bishop and Westerman say in their letter to the NRDC.

The organization “collaborates with Chinese government entities deeply involved in Chinese efforts to assert sovereignty over the South China Sea in contravention of international law,” the two Republicans say. It also works to “discredit those skeptical of China’s commitment to pollution reduction targets” who seek to report honestly on environmental data, their letter says.

Quote from the letter: “Over the last two decades, your organization has also sued the U.S. Navy multiple times to stop or drastically limit naval training exercises in the Pacific arguing that navy sonar and anti-submarine warfare drills harm marine life. We are unaware of the NRDC having made similar efforts to curtail naval exercises by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy.”

Another take from the New York Times. At first glance, it seems more likely that the NRDC — like so many Western organizations — is simply forced to adopt a double standard because of the Chinese government’s unique sensitivity to criticism, than that the NRDC is part of some Chinese influence campaign. However, is there a functional difference between these two possibilities?

Whatever the reasons or motive, any group that attempts to clip the wings of the US Navy in the Pacific, while working closely and uncritically with the Chinese government as the latter builds and weaponizes thousands of acres of islands in the South China Sea, is rightly viewed with a considerable amount of suspicion by the US.

China aims to overtake “slower vehicle” US

China has big plans for enhancing its military power around the globe, is bracing for increased frictions with Japan and other neighbors, and sees the US as a power in decline, according to a leaked document:

China’s military reforms are aimed at expanding its military might from the traditional focus on land territories to maritime influence to protect the nation’s strategic interests in a new era, according to an internal reader of China’s Central Military Commission obtained by Kyodo News.

If the reforms progress, the reader points to intensifying friction with neighboring countries, including Japan, in the East and South China Seas and elsewhere. It also suggests the willingness of China to overtake the United States in military strength. […]

“The lessons of history teach us that strong military might is important for a country to grow from being big to being strong,” it said. “A strong military is the way to avoid the ‘Thucydides Trap’ and escape the obsession that war is unavoidable between an emerging power and a ruling hegemony.”

A Thucydides Trap is a phrase used to refer to when a rising power causes fear in an established power that escalates toward war.

Military reforms are therefore a significant “turning point” for any given emerging country to “overtake a slower vehicle on a curve,” it said, suggesting that the United States is in its decline.

Watch the subs

The broad outlines of the next world war are beginning to take shape:

The world’s three largest naval powers are all developing the next generation of their nuclear submarine fleets, accelerating the underwater arms race between the United States, China and Russia.

For now, at least, analysts say America remains by far the most dominant submarine force, even as its chief rivals work feverishly to overcome the U.S. advantages. Each country appears to have different strategic goals, with the U.S. bent on gaining greater cost and operating efficiencies while the Chinese and Russian are keenly focused on technological advances and achieving greater stealth.

I’m no military expert, but focusing on cost and operating efficiencies, rather than overwhelming technological dominance, seems like a sure path to losing the next war.

SSBNs, or “boomers,” hide in the ocean and can launch nuclear ballistic missiles at an enemy anywhere in the world even if the rest of a nation’s nuclear triad of air- and ground-based missiles is destroyed. They are the guarantors of mutually assured destruction in the event of nuclear war.

Some analysts say that these boomers will be increasingly crucial to the national security strategy of all three nations in the coming decade.

“There is no higher priority for the U.S. Navy than SSBN recapitalization,” said J.D. Williams, a retired Marine Corps colonel and senior defense researcher at RAND Corporation, who said SSBNs play a major role in the Navy’s big-picture decision making.

Now, why might that be? I thought the specter of global nuclear war was mostly a thing of the past.

Looks like we could be in for a fun century.

He’s not buying it

The former head of the British navy is less than impressed by the evidence that has so far been produced for Assad’s complicity in the gas attack near Damascus. No doubt he will be dismissed by many as an “appeaser” comparable to Neville Chamberlain:

Retired senior Naval Officer Lord Alan West has questioned whether the chemical attack in Syria was the work of President Assad’s troops.

“We need unequivocal proof that this attack was done by Assad’s forces – I’m not at all convinced at the moment,” he told Julia Hartley-Brewer.

“All of the reports are coming from people like the White Helmets, who have a history of doing propaganda for the opposition forces in Syria. The WHO reports are coming from doctors who are also part of the opposition.

“If I’d been advising the opposition, I’d have said ‘get a barrel of chlorine, at some stage there will be bombs dropped on you – blow it up and we can blame them, because what we really want is the allies coming in’.”

Lord West added that if proof is provided: “we do need to be part of a coalition,” but that we should wait for evidence.

The widening vortex

That Richelieu feeling

In light of the swirling chaos in the Middle East, which will most likely be intensified by today’s strange “punitive” bombing of Syria, it’s instructive to consider how another great religious and ethnic conflict played out in Europe:

The Thirty Years’ War started in May 1618 when the Protestant Estates of Bohemia revolted against the Catholic Emperor Ferdinand II. They threw his envoys out of the windows of the palace at Prague. Fortunately for them, the moat into which they fell was filled with rubbish and nobody was killed.

Had the revolt remained local, it would have been suppressed fairly quickly. As, in fact, it was in 1620 when the Habsburgs and their allies won the Battle of the White Mountain. Instead it expanded and expanded. […]

The similarities with the current war in Syria are obvious and chilling. This war, too, started with a revolt against an oppressive ruler and his regime. One who, however nasty he might be, at any rate had kept things more or less under control. […]

With so many interests, native and foreign, involved, a way out does not seem in sight. Nor can the outcome be foreseen any more than that of the Thirty Years’ War could be four years after the beginning of the conflict, i.e. 1622. In fact there is good reason to believe that the hostilities have just begun. Additional players such as Lebanon and Jordan may well be drawn in. That in turn will almost certainly bring in Israel as well. […]

As of the present, the greatest losers are going to be Syria and Iraq. Neither really exists any longer as organized entities, and neither seems to have a future as such an entity. The greatest winner is going to be Iran. Playing the role once reserved for Richelieu, the great 17th century French statesman, the Mullahs are watching the entire vast area from the Persian Gulf to Latakia on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean turn into a maelstrom of conflicting interests they can play with. Nor are they at all sorry to see Turks and Kurds kill each other to their hearts’ contents.

It’s mildly reassuring that US Defense Secretary Mattis is calling this missile strike a “one-time shot” (for now), but I don’t think anybody believes that we’ve seen the end of US military involvement in Syria. To the contrary, it has probably only just begun — and nobody knows when or how it will end, and at what cost.

A military in rapid decline

The US military is tried and found wanting by the Heritage Foundation:

Since the inaugural 2015 “Index of U.S. Military Strength,” subsequent editions have described an unsettling trend, and the 2018 “Index” leaves no room for interpretation—America’s military has undoubtedly grown weaker. A quick look at some of the findings of the 2018 “Index” readily demonstrate this fact:

  • The U.S. Air Force is currently short nearly 1,000 fighter pilots, and of the service’s 32 combat-coded fighter squadrons, only four are actually ready for combat.
  • Of the U.S. Army’s 31 Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs), the building blocks of American ground combat power, only three are considered ready to “fight tonight.”
  • In 2017, the Marine Corps’ overall strength rating was downgraded to “Weak,” given declining capacity and readiness issues. This downgrade means half of the service branches (Army and Marines) are both rated “weak.”

From the full executive summary of the study:

Overall, the 2018 Index concludes that the current U.S. military force is likely capable of meeting the demands of a single major regional conflict while also attending to various presence and engagement activities but that it would be very hard-pressed to do more and certainly would be ill-equipped to handle two nearly simultaneous major regional contingencies. The limits imposed on defense spending and the programmatic volatility created by continuing resolutions, passed in lieu of formal budgets approved on schedule, have kept the military services small, aging, and under significant pressure. Essential maintenance continues to be deferred; the availability of fewer units for operational deployments increases the frequency and length of deployments; and old equipment continues to be extended while programmed replacements are either delayed or beset by developmental difficulties. […]

As currently postured, the U.S. military is only marginally able to meet the demands of defending America’s vital national interests.

That’s not very reassuring.