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Ukraine: A ‘war of the 20th century’ forces the US to revise its armaments priorities


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In the era of guided missiles, “smart” bombs, “real-time” satellite communications (with image and sound) and “surgical strikes”, the “war of attrition” based on constant artillery pounding seemed more of an image from historical films about the two world wars.

And yet the war in Ukraine is precisely a typical case of a war of attrition, where on a long front the two countries fire thousands of artillery shells at each other every day in the hope that this will hit the opposing side’s fortified positions, prevent troop movements closer to the front line and will form that defensive entrenchment which makes a front line vulnerable to counter-attacks so as to ‘break’ the front.

That is why it has been described by various as a “First World War with weapons of the 21st century “.

Thousands of missiles every day

But such a war of attrition also means a huge consumption of ammunition. There have been estimates that the Ukrainian side fires 5,000-6,000 artillery shells each day, equivalent to the annual orders of some smaller European countries. In the summer there were times when Russia may have fired 20,000 missiles in one day.

This has already created problems for the stocks of countries providing aid to Ukraine. As early as the summer, U.S. officials acknowledged that stocks of 155mm rounds, the primary artillery projectiles used by NATO member countries, were outstanding and noted that the Ukrainians were using the artillery in an unsustainable manner.

At the same time Russia, which also appears to be consuming a very large amount of ammunition, appears to be able to rely on its own defense industry for the time being and have no apparent ammunition shortages.

Stoltenberg “rings a bell”

Ahead of the meeting of the defense ministers of the NATO member countries, the Secretary General of the Alliance Jens Stoltenberg underlined that “the current rate of ammunition consumption by Ukraine is many times higher than our current rate of production. This puts pressure on our defense industries,” to add that the alliance needs to “increase production.”

Some even argue that the lack of ammunition is far more important than the much-discussed lack of heavy tanks or fighter jets. And this is because the commanders of artillery units and elements of the Ukrainian armed forces, without ammunition will be forced to retreat from their current positions until additional ammunition arrives.

Others argue that reports of thousands of missiles being used each day were not heeded in time, so the debate on increasing production began with a significant delay in Europe. The result is the search for ammunition in countries outside Europe, such as South Korea. On the other hand, the representatives of the German defense industries underlined that in order to increase the production, commitments from the governments and similar orders are also needed.

The pressure also on the American defense industry

The pressure also concerns the American defense industry . This, among others, also concerns two weapons systems that have been massively given to the Ukrainian armed forces and which have decisively contributed to shaping the current balance of power. The first is the Javelin anti-tank missile and the second is the HIMARS M142 missile launch system.

Both, along with munitions, went to Ukraine from the US as part of an $18.3 billion arms aid package. However, the large quantities of munitions already used up in Ukraine are pushing American defense industries to their limits. Ramping up production of the Javelin or HIMARS launchers and the multiple guided missiles (GMLRS) they carry is complex and takes time. HIMARS and GMLRS are assembled in factories in 141 cities across the US, and Javelins are built in 16 states. This network needs specific orders from the US government to operate.

And things are made more difficult by the fact that defense industries in the US have adopted the just-in-time production organization system that the automotive industry has adopted for decades, which means low inventories. But that doesn’t help when we’re talking about munitions production, because it means there can’t be an immediate response to a large and sudden increase in demand.

If we add to this that there is also pressure to contain defense spending, it can be seen why there is a lot of pressure from the defense industry on the Pentagon to actually adopt a different policy and increase orders.

The US Pentagon will push for greater defense spending

It is against this background that it becomes clear why the US Pentagon is revising its estimates of what its necessary armament stocks are, as it sees how quickly they can be used up in a war like the one in Ukraine.

Essentially, this means a revision of previous assessments that wars based on massive volumes of artillery fire belonged to the 20th century , and so that armies should prepare not for protracted wars of attrition with extensive artillery use, but for “anti-terrorist” ones. operations and wars such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan where adaptation to unorthodox warfare practices mainly counted.

Speaking to the Financial Times , General Mark Miley, chief of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, underlined that “one of the lessons of this war is the very high rates of consumption of conventional ammunition and we are reviewing our stockpiles and our plans”, not failing to underline that “ammunition is too expensive”

This may also translate into a need to increase the budget of the US armed forces which is currently 817 billion dollars

The anxiety to avoid a protracted war

All of this talk is taking place in the context of expectations that as we approach the spring there will be a further escalation of the conflict, possibly through an expected new major Russian offensive.

This will mean an even greater demand for equipment and ammunition from the Ukrainian side. Securing additional military aid is, after all, a constant refrain of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in his meetings with Western leaders.

This in turn increases the pressure on Western defense industries to meet the increased demand and on Western governments to absorb the costs. However, this also means an increase in defense budgets which is not always so easy or self-evident, but also a readjustment of the defense industries to the new treaty.

It is therefore no coincidence that various think tanks are already publishing reports highlighting the costs of a protracted war, focusing either on geopolitical risks such as underestimating other challenges such as competition with China, or precisely on how a protracted war constitutes a huge challenge to the American war industry and the way it is currently structured.

Source: in.gr

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