A disarming prospect

United States China Taiwan
In this photo provided by U.S. Coast Guard, Legend-class U.S. Coast Guard National Security Cutter Munro (WMSL 755) transits the Taiwan Strait during a routine transit with Arleigh Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd (DDG 100) on Aug. 27, 2021. China’s defense ministry protested Saturday the passage of a U.S. Navy warship and Coast Guard cutter through the waters between China and Taiwan, a self-governing island claimed by China.(U.S. Coast Guard via AP) <i>Courtesy of Bae Systems</i>

A disarming prospect

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On a warm August day last year, while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was drawing the ire of Beijing with her high-profile visit to Taiwan, a small group of national security experts was huddled around two big game boards in a small window-lit conference room in Washington, D.C.

The professionals from MIT and the Center for Strategic and International Studies were playing another iteration of a tabletop exercise designed to game out what might really happen if China were to launch an invasion of Taiwan and the United States went to war to thwart them.

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With two competing teams matching wits and moving tiny game pieces around on the two maps — one showing China, the other the U.S., Japan, and Taiwan — the results from 24 different scenarios, stretching over several months, varied, always with both sides suffering big losses but usually with the U.S. prevailing, albeit at enormous cost.

“The good guys win in the sense that we are able to maintain an autonomous Taiwan and the Chinese are not able to conquer the island, but the bad news is that we take a lot of casualties,” said Mark Cancian, senior adviser at CSIS, one of the participants in the real-world version of Risk.

“For example, often we lose 500 aircraft, two aircraft carriers, and Taiwanese economy is devastated, so there’s a very high price,” Cancian told the Washington Examiner. “The Chinese also lose a lot of ships and aircraft, so it’s costly all around.”

There was, however, one glaring deficiency on the U.S. side, which months later would be echoed in a display of Russia’s embarrassingly flawed plan to invade and subjugate Ukraine — namely a critical shortage of certain kinds of precision munitions.

Ukraine is primarily a ground war with stationary targets that can be attacked by cruise missiles and drones, which, as the war dragged on much longer that Russian President Vladimir Putin planned, began to be in short supply.

In a war with China over Taiwan, which is an island, the weapons of choice would be air-to-air and anti-ship missiles, especially the LRASM (Lockheed Martin’s Long Range Anti-Ship Missile).

“It’s the preferred munition because it can attack surface ships from long distances. Otherwise, you have to get in very close — that gets very dangerous,” Cancian said. “Increasing the inventory of long-range anti-ship missiles is critically important for the United States and also for Taiwan.”

“If we look at the roughly two dozen iterations of a war game in the Taiwan Strait … the U.S. expended all of its joint air-to-surface standoff missiles and long-range precision-guided anti-ship missiles within the first week of the conflict,” said Seth Jones, director of CSIS’s International Security Program. “We’ve seen similar war games done by government agencies, including one where the U.K.’s third division exhausted national stockpiles in just over a week.”

The war in Ukraine exposed not only Russia’s inability to produce more precision munitions, in part due to sanctions from the West, but also gaps in the capabilities of American defense contractors to ramp up assembly lines on a wartime schedule to replace the stocks of armaments the Pentagon was pulling out of U.S. inventory and shipping to Ukraine.

“We burned through seven years’ worth of Javelins [shoulder-fired anti-tank missiles] in a couple of months,” Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) told the Washington Examiner. “We’re running low on all our stockpiles. We have to turbocharge our munitions industrial base.”

“There is a gap between what the Biden administration’s National Defense Strategy says and what the U.S. is prepared for,” said Jones. “This really is an industrial base that, at least in my judgment, is in no way fully prepared to fight, let alone deter, the Chinese.”

“The war in Ukraine … exposed deficiencies in the U.S. defense industrial base — did the same thing with our European partners and allies,” Jones said at a CSIS event in late October. “It’s depleted stocks of some weapon systems and munitions, Stingers [anti-aircraft missiles], for example, M-777 howitzers, 155 mm ammunition and Howitzers, Javelin anti-tank missile systems.”

Rearming the U.S. military comes with an array of impediments, including increased demand, labor shortages, supply chain constraints, and a shortage of rare earth metals, of which China has a near monopoly.

But one of the bigger problems is the inability of Congress to pass a defense budget on time, instead relying on short-term funding bills known as continuing resolutions that freeze spending at last year’s levels and prevent the Pentagon from entering into multiyear contracts, which defense companies need in order to invest in new production lines.

Last month, Lockheed Martin, maker of the now-famous HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System), announced that it was ramping up production of the multiple-launch rocket systems from 60 to 96 a year in anticipation that demand would be high for the precision weapons that have wreaked destruction on Russian ammo dumps and supply lines.

“We advance funded ahead of contract $65 million to shorten the manufacturing lead time,” said Lockheed CEO Jim Taiclet on an earnings call. “That was without a contract or even any other memo or whatnot back from the government. We just went ahead and did that because we expected it to happen.”

But defense contractors shouldn’t have to guess what the Pentagon wants to buy, say leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee who last month proposed an amendment to the annual defense policy bill to give the Pentagon emergency procurement powers to cut through peacetime red tape and replenish missiles and other munitions in wartime quantities.

“We need to give the Pentagon multiyear procurement authority for munitions, and they just need to start buying these things,” Gallagher said. “We can draw upon some recent lessons of Operation Warp Speed to modernize the Defense Production Act, to really build out our defense industrial base and get new defense companies involved in the munitions business.”

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The Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer says he expects Congress to approve new authorities this month when the National Defense Authorization Act comes up for a vote in the Senate.

“They are supportive of this. They’re going to give us multiyear authority, and they’re going to give us funding to really put into the industrial base,” said Bill LaPlante, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, at an event at George Mason University.

“I’m talking billions of dollars,” he said. “We have not done that since the Cold War.”

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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