Category Archives: NATO

That Stretched US Air Force–One Major War at a Time

Further to this post,

The incredible Shrinking US Air Force, or, Waiting for NGAD

the very realistic and capable air force secretary speaks very frankly (wish we had people like him in the spin-mad, all image all the time, Canadian government–see the secretary’s impressive bio here)–at Air Force Magazine:

Kendall: ‘Unrealistic’ for Air Force to Fight Two Wars While Modernizing

June 24, 2022 | By Abraham Mahshie

As Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall looks to modernize the force, he is calling for tough decisions that will shrink the size of the fleet [see post noted at start of this one] and make the waging of two simultaneous wars “unrealistic,” he said at an AFA [Air Force Association] Leaders in Action event June 24.

Kendall sat down with AFA’s president, retired Lt. Gen. Bruce “Orville” Wright, for an in-person discussion attended by a hundred air power professionals and enthusiasts at the Air and Space Forces Association’s headquarters in Arlington, Va. Kendall addressed topics ranging from threats posed by China and Russia to the ongoing congressional funding decisions that he said are necessary to keep pace with China’s heavy technological investments.

“I think it’s quite frankly unrealistic to think that we can have a force that will fight two major wars at the same time,” he said. He also said he did not believe any nation was capable of immediately ramping up from a peacetime force to engage in a prolonged, conventional war [emphasis added, note that “immediately”].

Kendall demurred when asked how many combat squadrons the Air Force should maintain, but he was clear in his commitment to take on the risk of a smaller Air Force flying fewer hours in order to make big investments in the short term.

“The critical thing is to get to the next-generation capabilities as quickly as we can [emphasis added, see this post yesterday: “USAF NGAD: Big Laser-Shooting Arsenal Fighter?],” he said. “Do we maintain current capability, keep the platforms that we have, or do we shrink down a little bit in order to get to the future? I think those are the trade-offs that we’re going to have to face.”

The Air Force currently has 55 operational combat squadrons, 32 in the Active duty and 23 in the Guard or Reserve, according to a Heritage Foundation study. And according to data provided to Air Force Magazine by the Air Force, fighter pilot hours declined 16 percent from 2020 to 2021, to an average of just 6.8 hours per month per pilot.

Kendall said it would be “hard” to get pilot hours back up, but he still called the force “healthy.”

“We’ve got to think carefully about the balance,” he said. “We’ve got to do it in a way which maintains a healthy force, while we’re doing this, as well as keeps pace with the technological competition.”

To continue to deter and defeat adversaries, Kendall called for leveraging “integrated deterrence,” or the flexing of allies’ and partners’ military and non-military capabilities, while the U.S. catches up to China’s decades of heavy military investment [e.g. various missile capabilities for attacking US bases in the Western Pacific].

Kendall has been pounding the pavement on Capitol Hill, he said, taking a classified threat briefing to the committees of Congress in order to help convince members of the importance of modernization over fleet size.

“Our average aircraft is 30 years old, and we have some aircraft that are not tailored to the high-end fight at all,” he said. “The people who manage and operate those aircraft do a fantastic job—I’m real proud of them. But we’re going to have to get to the next generation [emphasis added].”

And situation of the US Navy vs the PLA Navy is hardly encouraging either.

PREDATE: Kendall in 2012 under the Obama administration–imagine a senior Canadian official being so brutally frank:

F-35 Production Move Was ‘Acquisition Malpractice’: Top DoD Buyer

Given earlier comments by the F-35 program head, today’s [Feb. 6] remarks by the acting head of Pentagon acquisition that “putting the F-35 into production years before the first test flight was acquisition malpractice,” isn’t really news so much as confirmation that senior Pentagon leaders know mistakes were made.

Frank Kendall, who has been nominated to take the chair as undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, told a Feb. 6 event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies here, that the decision “should not have been done” and that “now we’re paying the price for being wrong.” This was Kendall’s first public appearance since he was nominated to lead the Pentagon’s acquisition efforts.”..

Relevant post a year ago:

US Air Force Planning vs PLA in Indo-Pacific

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

USAF NGAD: Big Laser-Shooting Arsenal Fighter?

Perhaps amongst other things. At US Naval Institute News:

Report to Congress on Air Force Next-Generation Air Dominance Program

The following is the June 23, 2022 Congressional Research Service In Focus report, Air Force Next-Generation Air Dominance Program [NGAD, more on the CRS here–excellent and expert non-partisan papers].

From the report

According to the Air Force, the Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program is intended to develop “a portfolio of technologies enabling air superiority.” The Air Force intends for NGAD to replace the F-22 fighter jet beginning in 2030, possibly including a combination of crewed and uncrewed aircraft, with other systems and sensors. NGAD began as a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency project. Since 2015, Congress has appropriated approximately $4.2 billion for NGAD.

NGAD is a classified aircraft development program, but the Air Force has released a few details. On September 15, 2020, then-U.S. Air Force acquisition executive Dr. Will Roper announced that the Air Force had flown a full-scale flight demonstrator as part of the NGAD program. Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall announced on June 1, 2022 that NGAD program technologies have matured enough to allow the program to move to the engineering, manufacture, and design phase of development.

Is the Goal of NGAD a New Fighter? 

While a stated aim of the NGAD program is to replace the F-22 fighter jet, the aircraft that come out of the NGAD program may or may not look like a traditional fighter. The Air Force is developing technologies involved in NGAD to provide air dominance. Part of the program’s goal is to determine how to achieve that end, independent of traditional U.S. military approaches to air dominance. NGAD could take the form of a single aircraft and/or a number of complementary systems—manned, unmanned, optionally manned, cyber, electronic—forms that would not resemble the traditional “fighter.”

For example, a larger aircraft the size of a B-21 may not maneuver like a fighter. But that large an aircraft carrying a directed energy weapon, with multiple engines making substantial electrical power for that weapon, could ensure that no enemy flies in a large amount of airspace [my “arsenal fighter”]. That would achieve air dominance. There appears to be little reason to assume that NGAD is going to yield a plane the size that one person sits in, and that goes out and dogfights kinetically, trying to outturn another plane—or that sensors and weapons have to be on the same aircraft…

The USAF certainly seems to be thinking, and prototyping, very creatively. The efforts had better work.

A very relevant recent post:

The incredible Shrinking US Air Force, or, Waiting for NGAD

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

Enough Already with the Canadian “Arctic Sovereignty” Hoo-Hah, Underpants Section

(Photo at top of the post is of Russian nuclear icebreaker “Yamal”.)

Further to this post,

NORAD, or, Enough Already with the Canadian “Arctic Sovereignty” Hoo-Hah

…In fact the major defence concern in the Arctic is that its airspace offers an avenue of approach to attack the rest of North America. Nothing to do with any threats to our sovereignty up there. And airspace over Labrador also offers an avenue of approach to attack the rest of North America . But nobody is wringing their hands over protecting Canada’s “Labrador sovereignty”. Go figure. One might almost think Canadians were neurotic about the Arctic…

now, via the estimable Andrea Charron, by Prof. Adam Lajeunesse (website here, tweets here) with the title of the year so far:

JUNE 18, 2022 [at the “Quick Impact” webpage of the North American and Arctic Defence and Security Network (NAADSN/RDSNAA, tweets here)]

The Underpants Gnomes of Arctic Sovereignty

Adam Lajeunesse
St. Francis Xavier University

This week the National Post published a sweeping editorial on Canadian Arctic sovereignty. Warning of the growing threats from great power competitors and the fragile state of our northern defences, the Post ’s editorial board painted a grim picture of Canada’s ability to keep the North both strong and free. Russia is building a powerful icebreaker fleet and renovating its Arctic bases; China, meanwhile, has labelled itself a ‘Near-Arctic State.’ From this, the Post extrapolates considerable danger. It is superficially threatening to be sure.

This may instill fits of polar peril in some, but to this scholar it brings to mind tiny cartoon characters: the Underpants Gnomes, from that irreverent cartoon South Park. Notorious thieves who steal underpants in the night, these creatures were asked why they do it. Step one is stealing underpants they declare. Step three: profit! When pressed to elaborate on step two, they draw a blank.

The National Post has offered us Underpants Gnome logic. Step one, they declare is an expanding Russian icebreaker fleet or growing Chinese Arctic interests; step three is a loss of Canadian sovereignty. Step one is more Canadian military capacity; step three is more sovereignty. Like their gnomish counterparts, there is a gaping hole in the argument. I would challenge the Post to fill in the blanks and answer the obvious question: what is step two?

The notion that growing Russian power in the Arctic naturally threatens to strip Canada of its “status as a northern power” or may lead to us “ceding great swaths of territory to hostile and autocratic regimes” is a big prediction not even remotely explained. Precisely which territories will Russia conquer? How and why would Russia invade a NATO power to steal Arctic territory thousands of kilometres from its own coast? The Post is correct that Russia has a growing icebreaker fleet, but how is this a threat to Canada? These ships are slow and unarmed. They are not designed nor suited for any offensive operations. If Russia would like to use them to deploy soldiers to Ellesmere Island, I suspect that Canada would be inconvenienced by – as former chief of the defence staff General WalterNatynczyk once quipped – having to go and rescue them [I fear that these days the federal government would in fact be very hard pressed doing that].

Russia has also expanded its military bases across northern Siberia. “In the past 16 years, Russia has refurbished 13 Soviet-era Arctic bases and numerous other smaller ports” warns the National Post.

Again, this is taken as a threat without question. Why? Across these bases, Russia has deployed an array of ant-shipping and air-defence missile like the high-end S-400 and Bastion systems. None of these can reach Canada and, even if they could, how does that invalidate Canadian sovereignty? NATO has weapons that can reach Russia, and yet Russia retains its sovereignty. Russia’s militarization of the Arctic is not a threat; it is evidence of Moscow’s own insecurity in the region. And, if the Russian military chooses to send critical weapons systems to Siberia, NATO should applaud that. Better there then in Kaliningrad or Ukraine [in any event the main Arctic military/naval action relates to Russia’s northwestern High North in Europe–see first post noted at bottom of this one].

China is, likewise, held up as a threat to Canadian sovereignty. That country certainly has shown a greater interest in the North over the past ten years and has been expanding its capabilities. Despite this, declaring China a threat requires elaborating on connections that the Post leaves implied. In recent years Chinese companies have been steadily losing favour across the circumpolar North. Confucius Institutes are closing, strategic investment reviews are being strengthened, and China’s soft power has been crumbling in the face of its human rights violations and “wolf warrior” diplomacy. Missing from the Post’s logic is that crucial step which explains where exactly that threat is going to come from.

The Post also laments that Canada has failed to “beef up its Arctic naval fleet in order to project power in the North.” We must buttress Arctic combat capability, says the editorial board, so that the Canadian Armed Forces have the “resources it needs to defend our sovereignty in the Far North.” Step one combat power, step three sovereignty.

The question of sovereignty in the Canadian Arctic relates to the legal status of the Northwest Passage and differing interpretations of international law; Canada calls the waters of the Arctic Archipelago internal while the US [along with quite a few other countries] believes that an international strait runs through the region. Canada’s diplomats and military leaders have known for generations that no amount of combat power will fundamentally shift that legal dispute. The notion that more defence capability magically translates into sovereignty cries out for elaboration.

Russia and China are obvious international security threats to Canada and its allies. Both authoritarian states pose an existential risk to the rules based international order and to Canadians’ safety and way of life. Meeting those threats, however, requires a nuanced understanding of where those risks are most acute, not an exaggerated or alarmist panic. A healthy debate on the many risks to Arctic security is important but unsupported implications and insinuation don’t help. I would love to ask the National Post’s editorial board what their ‘step two’ really is, to see if they can do better than the Underpants Gnomes.

Related posts:

Russia, The US, NATO and the High North–The Far West of the Bear’s own Arctic, that is [April 2021]

No Need for Hoo Hah over Under-Ice Dragons in the Arctic [May 2022, Prof. Lajeunesse a co-author]

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

Enfin, PM Trudeau’s Government Commits Money to Several Aspects of NORAD Modernization

Further to this recent post on US pressure on Canada over NORAD,

US Air Force Chief of Staff Visits Ottawa: What’s Missing in This Story?

the Canadian minister on national defence made the Big Reveal June 20, likely with the June 29-30 NATO Madrid summit in mind (to show allies we are Doing Something on defence) as well as trying to placate the Biden administration.

It is clear the announcement at Trenton air base was rushed–a two tweets:

The news release is here. There is still no “Backgrounder”–customary with such major announcements–giving details about, and projected timelines and costings for, the individual projects mentioned.

Some key points:

1) The initial C$ 4.9 billion over six years (i.e. just over $800 million per year) for NORAD modernization is not new money; it was already included in the government’s April 22 budget; there are no details about what the promised $40 billion over 20 years is for;

2) All the major projects are related to detecting threats and processing the relevant information; only two projects relate to acquiring new kinetic defence capabilities. There are also some upgrades for existing NORAD-related facilities;

3) There is no indication of how these specifically Canadian initiatives relate to US plans to modernize NORAD (some of which may not fit in with this government’s thinking–see “left of launch” post below);

4) Canada is still staying out of the US’ GMD ballistic missile defence system;

5) Minister Anand, for some odd reason, did not name either Russia (main threat now) or China as the adversaries involved.

To begin with, an excerpt from an article last year in Aviation Week and Space Technology:

…the radars of the U.S.-Canadian North Warning System (NWS) are still functioning, although their days seem numbered…

The early-warning system lacks the range to detect Russia’s Tupolev Tu-160 bombers [or Tu-95 ones] before they can launch cruise missiles and the resolution to track the latest Russian cruise missiles, particularly the stealthy nuclear Kh-102, after they are launched.

In other words, right now the capacity to intercept the bomber “archers” before they can launch their missile “arrows” at quite some distance from North American does not exist. And tracking those missiles on their courses to targets inside North America is exceedingly problematic. So it would now appear the main future challenge will be tracking and then shooting down the cruise missiles, not the bombers themselves (which may well have fighter escorts in any event–see this 2015 post: “NORAD to Face Escorted Cruise Missile-Carrying Russian Bombers?“).

Here are extracts from a Globe and Mail story:

Canada commits $4.9-billion over six years to modernize NORAD defences

Steven Chase Senior parliamentary reporter

Patrick Brethour Tax and Fiscal Policy Reporter

Defence experts told The Globe and Mail the spending commitment, nine days before a NATO Leaders’ Summit in Madrid, seems to be an effort to create the appearance that Canada is devoting more money to the military. Canada has come under pressure from allies, the U.S. in particular, to raise its military spending to meet NATO’s target level for each of its members: the equivalent of 2 per cent of annual economic output. Canada’s current defence spending amounts to 1.33 per cent…

“As autocratic regimes [Russia? China?] threaten the rules-based order that has protected us for decades and as our competitors develop new technologies…there is a pressing need to modernize NORAD capabilities,” Ms. Anand told reporters…

The new setup will have several components, according to Ms. Anand. “Arctic Over-the-Horizon Radar” will provide early-warning radar coverage and threat tracking from the Canada-U.S. border to the Arctic Circle [clearly to track cruise missiles through Canadian air space after they have been launched].

The second component will be a “Polar Over-the-Horizon Radar” system to provide the same coverage and tracking over and beyond the northernmost approaches to North America, including Canada’s Arctic archipelago [clearly to track cruise missiles immediately after launch from Russian bombers well away from North American airspace–and perhaps track the bombers themselves–and not vulnerable to interception and attack by NORAD fighters].

A third piece will be a new network called Crossbow, which will be made up of sensors with what Ms. Anand called “classified capabilities.” They will be located throughout Northern Canada, where they will provide another layer of detection.

A final component will be a space-based surveillance system, which will use satellites to collect intelligence and track threats, she told reporters.

…She did not provide a breakdown of how the $4.9-billion would be spent, and did not offer any estimate of when the new surveillance equipment would be up and running. She said Canada will spend a total of $40-billion over 20 years for NORAD modernization under the plan [emphasis added]

Andrea Charron, director of the Centre for Defence and Security Studies at the University of Manitoba [a professor who really knows her NORAD and defence stuff], said it’s important that Canada is “thinking about and working on the joint defence of North America.”

But, she added, she thinks Monday’s announcement was aimed first and foremost at Canada’s NATO allies.

“There is incredible pressure that Canada spend more on defence, so they can go to NATO and say, ‘Look, we are spending more,’ ” Prof. Charron said. “At least they are going to the table with something.”..

Asked when Ottawa would reach its 2-per-cent commitment [to NATO], Ms. Anand pointed to Canada’s “upward trajectory” in defence spending….

With the $4.9-billion for NORAD, she said, “our defence spending is now on an even sharper upward trajectory.” However, that $4.9-billion is part of the $8-billion announced in the budget [emphasis added].

But Ms. Anand declined to provide a precise defence-spending target, or to explicitly pledge that Canada would reach the 2-per-cent threshold…

Prof. Charron said the new radar and surveillance projects will take “years and years” to build [emphasis added]

And from a CBC story:

The new network will monitor not only the Arctic — NORAD’s traditional domain — but also Pacific and Atlantic approaches to the continent [see the “Worries” post noted at bottom of this one”–our two fighter bases are well to the interior at Cold Lake, Alberta and Bagotville, Quebec and ill-placed to deal with threats approaching from those oceans; might we start rotating fighters through east and west coast bases as thought needed?]

Canadian Lt.-Gen. Alain Pelletier, the deputy commander at NORAD, said he and other top military officials have been taking notes on Moscow’s air campaign [vs Ukraine].

“Some of that assessment is classified, but I can tell you that we’re seeing the usage of cruise missiles in that theater, like we were expecting it, and like we expect that that cruise missile may be used in the future, against potential … critical infrastructure in North America [emphasis added],” Pelletier told CBC News in an interview following the minister’s statement.

Asked whether Canada will end its prohibition on participating in the U.S. ballistic missile system (BMD), Anand said the government will maintain the current policy of non-involvement [emphasis added]

As for those new kinetic capabilities:

Canada will also acquire new air-to-air missiles [the new AIM-260 the US is developing?] that will be compatible with the 88 F-35 fighter planes from the American manufacturer Lockheed Martin, which will replace the aging F-18s of the Canadian military aviation in the coming years.

We will also work to develop options for a Canadian ground-based air defense capability” added the minister, remaining stingy with details…

Presumably that ground-based air defence capability will be missiles capable of intercepting cruise missiles closing on their targets. Will they be placed to defend our fighter bases at Cold Lake, Alberta and Bagotville, Quebec? Critical infrastructure such as ports? Nuclear power plants? Major cities in case of a possible demonstration nuclear attack (a 2016 post: “NORAD and Russian Cruise Nukes: “de-escalation”? Part 2“)?

Just for comparison’s sake, the current cost for the Stage 2 expansion of the Ottawa’s (pop. some one million) new Light Rail Transit system is $4.6 billion.

Here’s a video of Ms Anand’s announcement and news conference:

Those posts noted above:

NORAD Chief Wants Defence (of what sort?) “Left of Launch” Focus, Russian Cruise Missiles (air- and sub-launched) Big Threat

What Worries the NORTHCOM/NORAD COMMANDER? What Worries PM Trudeau’s Government about Continental Defence? Note UPDATE

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

Why the Russian Army’s Poor Performance in Ukraine (so far)…and Western Armies?

Objective assessment of military performance is a terribly hard thing to do. Extracts from two articles at the essential War on the Rocks, on the Russian army and US army respectively and then a related podcast:

Not Built for Purpose: The Russian Military’s Ill-Fated Force Design

Michael Kofman and Rob Lee

…Enter Putin’s “special operation,” which meant launching a major war in Europe, against the continent’s second largest country, with a force operating at peacetime manning levels. Putin assumed that Ukraine would quickly surrender, and a regime change operation could be conducted without the need to plan and organize for a major war. The resulting debacle, which will be studied for decades to come, proceeds from the intersection of terrible Russian political assumptions with those of the armed forces regarding the forces that would be made available for a war of this scale (as conceived in the design)…

The Russian military set a target to reach 425,000 contract [i.e. volunteer] soldiers by 2017 and later to reach 499,200 by 2019. Instead, according to Russian officials, it reached 384,000 in 2016, 394,000 in 2019, and 405,000 in 2020, which was the last time a figure was publicly released. As the Ministry of Defense kept releasing the same contract servicemen numbers several years in a row, it became evident that they were probably declining. The delta between official figures and actual contract manning levels was the subject of debate in analytical circles.

It appears the Russian armed forces achieved this target by reducing the number of personnel in each battalion, including the number in each company, which has had a significant effect on operations in Ukraine. There were two important outcomes of this decision. First, Russia’s offensive maneuver formations, assuming around 125 to 130 battalion tactical groups as disclosed by official U.S. sources, were in practice much smaller when we consider their actual strength. This force was approximately 80,000 in overall size, not including auxiliaries, and other supporting elements (total force size likely exceeded 100,000). Second, these formations were heavily weighted towards artillery, armor, support, and enablers rather than motorized rifle infantry and the availability of dismounted units. The effect on Russia’s ability to operate in urban terrain, support armor with dismounted infantry, and control terrain was profound. There were also shortages of key personnel, from enablers to logistics, and the force was far more brittle than many (including us) had assumed…

The end result is that the Russian military deployed maneuver formations with few available dismounted infantry, but still brought many of their armored vehicles with them. This situation begins to resemble the problems Russian forces faced in Grozny-1995: tons of metal, little manpower. Russian tank units require infantry support for various situations, and dismounted infantry are critical when fighting in urban settings or seizing or holding terrain. Tanks and armored vehicles are vulnerable without infantry to protect them from anti-tank teams, among other threats. By bringing minimal infantry, motorized rifle battalions are suffering from the same vulnerabilities as tank units. The high ratio of armored vehicles to soldiers in many Russian units also likely accounts for many of the vehicles that were left abandoned by Russian forces during the beginning of the war. The lack of organic motorized rifle troops also helps explain the poor performance by many Russian tank units, who were vulnerable to ambushes by light Ukrainian anti-tank teams armed with Javelin, NLAW, and Stugna-P anti-tank weapons. The problem was exacerbated by losses among infantry components in the first several weeks of the war.

…the reason the Russian military was set up in this manner ultimately ties back to core tenets of Russian military thought. Militaries have ideas about what kind of wars they’re likely to fight, how they plan to fight them, and the best way to balance capability, capacity, and readiness. While we cannot go in-depth into Russian military thinking here, the core choices were not just driven by an attempt to balance resources and attain force flexibility, but also by a coherent set of beliefs about how the Russian armed forces should organize to fight NATO. These drove the development of a force with less infantry, and less logistical capacity for sustaining ground offensives or holding territory, but more fires and support for enablers.

This does not explain the problems Russian armed forces demonstrate in a host of areas, from lack of secure communications to the poorly demonstrated integration of air support, fires, and reconnaissance on the battlefield. There are clear problems with competence, scaled-up employment, and integration. But conventional wars often come down to attrition, where manpower and materiel matters more over time than many other elements. A force with enough hedge in its structure can try to compensate for a terrible plan, recover from initial failure, and try to adjust. The Russian military has no such option and is further constrained by the political framing of this war.

Indeed, it is an open question as to whether Putin may have had an inflated sense of Russian military capability. Alternatively, he may simply let political assumptions that Ukraine would quickly surrender drive his thinking…

Having mobilized substantial manpower, and with access to Western military support, Ukraine now appears positioned to sustain this fight. The Russian campaign floundered not just because it pursued unrealistic political goals, but also because the plan for the invasion did not account for the choices made on force structure, and the limitations they imposed. Russian force employment exacerbated the disadvantages inherent in the force they built. Currently, Russia lacks the manpower to rotate current forces on the battlefield or to conduct further offensives beyond the current campaign in the Donbas. However, Russian forces do appear to enjoy a local-force advantage in the Donbas, and overall long-term challenges raised here may not impede Russian progress in the short term. Much is contingent, and this assessment is not meant to be deterministic.

The arguments we make here are preliminary, and not meant to be predictive of the outcome of battles in the Donbas, or the course of this war. However, contemporary debates on force structure and military strategy would benefit greatly by looking at the choices the Russian military made and how they ended up in this position. There’s much to be said about the primacy of political assumptions, which is one of the most decisive factors in how the Russian armed forces were initially thrown into this war, but equally, it is structural choices that have limited its military’s ability to adjust and sustain combat operations.

Michael Kofman is director of the Russia Studies Program at CNA and a fellow at the Center for New American Security.

Rob Lee is a senior fellow in the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Eurasia Program. He is a Ph.D. student researching Russian defense policy at King’s College London’s War Studies Department and a former Marine infantry officer.

And, on the other hand, also at War on the Rocks::

Would We Do Better? Hubris and Validation in Ukraine

David Johnson

…the second danger: hubris. The unspoken implication of the Western analysis is that we would do better than the Russians because we are better than them.Are we?

The words of Gen. James McConville, when he assumed office as Army Chief of Staff in August 2019, are not just talking points, they are deeply believed within the U.S. Army and by the other services about themselves: “Our Army — Regular, National Guard, and Reserve — is the best-trained, best-equipped, and best-led land force ever to take to the field.” McConville also gave the principal reason for why this is true: “People are always my #1 priority: Our Army’s people are our greatest strength and our most important weapon system.” Given these deeply held convictions, it is not surprising that militaries that do not share U.S. approaches would fall short on the battlefield.

These views are dangerous in Western assessments of the Ukrainian military. Currently, the prevailing narrative is that the Ukrainian edge is that they have evolved into a modern Western military, trained for over a decade in Western methods. They are professionals. Therefore, they will prevail. Just as we would. Again, nothing to learn here.

However, the actual evidence is unclear; the assessments of the prowess of Ukraine’s military may be wishful thinking and hubris. The title of a Wall Street Journal article epitomizes this view, saying it all came down to “years of NATO training.”

One should recall that Western initiatives to reform the Ukrainian military did not even begin until after the 2014 Russian invasion…

An indication that there is some way to go beyond the NATO training is that there is little evidence that the Ukrainians are executing joint and combined arms offensive operations. This capability will be important if the transition from the defense and attempt offensive operations to restore territory lost to Russia. Furthermore, Ukraine also appears to be ceding ground in the Donbas to a slow, grinding Russian advance.

Consequently, the analysis of the Ukraine war needs to address another unasked question: What if this view that quality people and leaders are the most important ingredient in modern warfare is wrong? What if Stalin was correct that quantity has a quality all of its own? If that is the case, then the Ukrainians may need much greater assistance if they are to survive a Russian-style grinding war of attrition.

Additionally, as the United States plans for how it will compete and potentially fight China and Russia in the future, the approach should be characterized by humility and an intense desire to challenge existing assumptions, concepts, and capabilities, rather than to validate current approaches.

As it did for Russia, it could happen to us, and we need to fully understand what “it” is.

David E. Johnson, Ph.D., is a retired Army colonel. He is a principal researcher at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation and an adjunct scholar at the Modern War Institute at West Point. From 2012 to 2014 he founded and directed the Chief of Staff of the Army Strategic Studies Group for Gen. Raymond T. Odierno.

Plus a Rocks podcast:

What the Experts Got Wrong (and Right) About Russian Military Power

Christopher Dougherty, Gian Gentile, Michael Kofman, Dara Massicot, and Ryan Evans

It is now widely understood that many observers, in advance of this war, over-estimated Russian military performance and underestimated Ukrainian military performance. Prominent among those observers are those who specialize in analyzing the Russian military. To better understand what they got right and wrong, Ryan put two of those specialists — Dara Massicot of RAND and Michael Kofman of CNA — into conversation with two people who approach this conflict as generalists — Chris Dougherty of the Center for a New American Security and Gian Gentile of RAND. Do not miss this vivid discussion.

On verra. Keep in mind that the good guys frequently do not win.

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

Russia’s War vs Ukraine: Latvians to Demolish Soviet World War II Monument

(Caption for photo at top of the post: “Police vehicles in front of the Soviet ‘Victory Monument,’ in Riga, Latvia, on May 24. Police have been guarding the Soviet war monument and barriers have been erected around it to prevent any further clashes at the site. Gints Ivuskans/The Globe and Mail”.)

Lots of chickens coming home to roost in countries incorporated by the Soviet/Russian communists. From a story by a Globe and Mail man in Riga for the moment:

In Latvia, the battle over a Soviet monument sparks tensions across the Baltic country

Geoffrey York

Some time in the next six months, workers will begin demolishing a massive 79-metre-tall Soviet war monument that has loomed above Latvia’s capital city for decades. Then the country will brace for Moscow’s angry retaliation.

The newly approved plan to tear down the monument is the Baltic country’s latest response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. And it is already heightening emotions and political clashes here.

Riga’s mayor, Martins Stakis, said in an interview that he expects a wave of Russian reprisals, including cyberattacks, when the city dismantles the concrete obelisk and bronze statues of the Soviet memorial.

”Our security agencies are monitoring it very carefully and preparing for potential provocations from inside and from outside,” Mr. Stakis said. ”We just have to take a brave decision, deal with these provocations and move forward.”

But the damage won’t be inflicted only on concrete and bronze, and the danger is not merely from Moscow. The battle over the monument is sharpening ethnic and political tensions, fuelling hard-liners and driving a wedge between the country’s Latvian-speaking majority and its Russian-speaking minority, who represent about 25 per cent of its population [emphasis added].

…Many Latvians are still unhappy with the compromises that were made to placate Moscow after the Soviet Union’s collapse – including a 1994 agreement to preserve Soviet memorials, despite the emotions they evoke in Latvia, where many consider them symbols of Kremlin occupation.

That agreement was finally torn up in mid-May, when the demolition plan was approved. But many Latvians want speedier action.

On May 20, about 5,000 people marched to a park near the Soviet obelisk, demanding the immediate demolition of all such monuments. They also called for the expulsion of “disloyal” people who support Russian President Vladimir Putin and his invasion of Ukraine.

“Enough is enough,” said Ralfs Eilands, a popular Latvian musician who helped organize the march…

The march was a response to the events of May 9 and 10, when hundreds of Russian-speaking people laid flowers at the Soviet monument to mark the traditional Victory Day holiday. When a city tractor removed the flowers, a group returned defiantly with more. Some waved Russian flags, sang Soviet army songs, drank vodka and battled with police.

Many Latvians saw the flag-waving as an insult. Some, including Mr. Eilands, are demanding “local sanctions” – some form of direct action against those who support the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine…

The flag-wavers are only a tiny fraction of Latvia’s Russian-speaking population. Polls show that Mr. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has weakened his popularity here…

But even if the number of Kremlin supporters in Latvia is shrinking, the polarization between the pro-Moscow side and the Latvian nationalist side is worsening. Assaults on pro-Ukrainian demonstrators, apparently by Russians, have been reported in Riga recently. Some Latvian media have accused pro-war Russians of being a traitorous “fifth column” inside the country. At the May 20 march, some demonstrators carried a sign proclaiming: “Latvian land, Latvian rules [emphasis added].”

Authorities, fearing more clashes, have banned two planned rallies in support of the Soviet monument. Several Russian-speaking politicians were briefly detained when they tried to defend the monument. The obelisk is now surrounded by police cars, to discourage any further clashes…

“The tensions now are worse than they were even in the early 1990s,” said Miroslav Mitrofanov, a city councillor in Riga and a leader of the Latvian Russian Union, a political party that is largely supported by Russian-speaking voters.

His party is increasingly marginalized from the political mainstream. Riga today is filled with Ukrainian flags and pro-Ukraine banners, and even the city’s flower beds are arranged in the yellow-and-blue colours of the Ukrainian flag. The Russian embassy in Riga is surrounded by Ukrainian flags and anti-war placards, which portray Mr. Putin as an evil demon.

Mr. Mitrofanov tried to organize a march to defend the Soviet monument, but the city banned the event after the state security agency warned it could cause “public disorder” and national-security risks.

The bans on pro-monument marches have fuelled the feeling of victimhood among many Russian speakers here [emphasis added]

The government has found an effective way to weaken local support for Mr. Putin: After the war began, it banned all Russian state television channels in the country. The percentage of Russian speakers who support the invasion of Ukraine has dropped from 21 per cent in March to barely half of that number in late April [emphasis added].

Yet many people are still managing to watch Russian television, using illegal connections and satellite dishes. Many older people, in particular, are unwilling to quit their lifelong habit of watching Moscow’s nightly propaganda broadcasts – a habit that began in Soviet days…

“Many of us have lost our parents to Putin’s media,” said Deniss Hanovs, a Latvian professor who studies intercultural communication.

His 74-year-old mother, a devotee of Russian television, remains a supporter of the Kremlin’s war today, despite all his attempts to dissuade her. “I feel that I’ve lost her,” he said. “She was kidnapped by Putin, symbolically. It’s dangerous to let Putin into the brains of people.”

He believes, however, that Latvian nationalists are adopting the same intolerant tactics that the Soviet Union used against Latvia in the past. By demolishing monuments and threatening to deport Russians, they are damaging the inter-ethnic dialogue that Latvia desperately needs, he said…

Latvians take part in a march on May 20, in response to celebrations of the Russian Victory Day holiday.Gints Ivuskans/The Globe and Mail

Bad Vlad sure is a master strategist who knows how to win friends and influence people.

Canada leads NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence battlegroup in Latvia–NATO webpage here, Canadian Armed Force’s Op REASSURANCE here.

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

Where’s the US Army Going to Shoot its Missiles from in the Western Pacific? (Note Hypersonics)

(Images at top of the post are related to army’s long-range hypersonic weapon.)

Further to this 2020 post,

Who will be Willing to Host US Intermediate-Range Missiles in the Western Pacific?

Congress would like answers–from an article at Breaking Defence, note at end potential overlap with Marine missions:

Lawmakers worry Army doesn’t have basing agreements for long-range fires

“I don’t think it would be wise for us to wait to develop the kinds of weapons systems, we need for a future conflict until we had the diplomatic agreements signed,” Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said.

While the Army has hyped its foray into long-range missiles as part of its Pacific strategy, members of Congress expressed concern that the service is missing a critical element: the basing agreements with friendly nations there where the weapons would need to be effectively deployed to deter any Chinese designs on Taiwan.

During a House Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wisc., asked Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville whether the Army had sufficient basing agreements, only to have McConville defer to policymakers and say that “there’s discussions” ongoing.

Likewise, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth told lawmakers that there is “still conversations and work to be done,” but named Japan and the Philippines as allies the Army believes it has solid relationships with {Philippines? With Marcos fils to be new president?].

The Army leaders said they were wary of discussing potential specific basing locations for the Army’s long-range fires capabilities in the public hearing. Asked if he felt that Army was in where it needed to be to deploy the Multi-Domain Task Force (MDTF) — the service’s new theater-specific units that employ long-range precision effects, including missiles, cyber and electronic warfare capabilities — McConville nodded his head in the affirmative.

“There are possibilities for basing the MDTF, but I also think we have to have a pretty robust diplomatic effort with other countries in the region to try to open up opportunities for basing and access [emphasis added, good luck with any widespread basing],” Wormuth said, adding that “it’s remarkable” how Japan’s “threat perception has changed in the last few years.”

Gallagher said it was time for a full court press.

“At least in Indo-PACOM, this has to be our top diplomatic priority,” he said. “What we should integrate is the State Department moving heaven and earth to negotiate basing agreements with key allies so that we can deploy teams of Marines or soldiers in order to deny PLA invasion of Taiwan.”

Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., followed up on Gallagher’s questions by pressing the two service leaders “from where” in the region the service planned to launch its forthcoming ship-targeting Mid-Range Capability, raising skepticism because the earlier exchange pointed to the fact “there was not any identified basing locations that we [the US military] have access” to [emphasis added], she said.

“I don’t think it would be wise for us to wait to develop the kinds of weapons systems we need for a future conflict until we had the diplomatic agreements signed,” Wormuth said.

Long-range fires are among the Army’s key modernization priorities [emphasis added]. The MDTF will be armed with two of the Army’s forthcoming missile capabilities, the Mid-Range Capability missile and Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon. The Mid-Range Capability, McConville told lawmakers today, can fly “about” 1,000 km, while the LRHW has a range of about 2,775 km [emphasis added].

The Army established the first MDTF back in 2017, based out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The second MDTF is assigned to Europe, and the third MDTF, which will be officially established this year, will be based in Hawaii…

Meanwhile, the Marine Corps is also developing precision strike capabilities for its expeditionary advanced base operations concept [emphasis added, see this post: “How US Marines’ EABO Concept (deploying “Stand-in-Forces”) is Supposed to Work in Western Pacific, Part 2“]. That concept is a focus area for the Marines’ new 3rd Littoral Regiment, established to be highly mobile and low-signature, and equipped a ship-sinking missile battery. Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., asked the Army leaders if they were working with the Marines to develop some commonality and interoperability in the weapons systems.

Wormuth said that the Army is in “active discussions” with the Marines and sees the Multi-Domain Task Force and Marine Littoral Regiment as “complementary [emphasis added, really? two separate capabilities both needed?].” Both the LRHW and Mid-Range Capability are being developed in tandem with the Navy. First prototypes of both capabilities are set to be delivered in fiscal 2023.

And what targets are those “long-range” army missiles going to hit that could not be covered by missiles from USAF and US Navy aircraft (not to mention PGMs), and from navy ships and subs? Other related posts–those US services just can’t help competing with each other for missions and funding (as in fact is the case in a great many countries):

What’s the Poor US Army to do when the Main Adversary is the PRC?

Western Pacific, or, the US Services all Want to Try to Sink PLA Navy Ships–US Army Section

Western Pacific Maritime Cockpit: US Marines, US Army, US Air Force all Fighting–each other for Missions and Funds. Who’s “Stupid”?

Western Pacific, or, US Army vs US Marines for Missions, Part 2

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

“Canada is Back” Cartoon of the Day

Well, sort of. And so many people thought their prince had come–at the Globe and Mail by Brian Gable:

Ouch. As for that participation, PM Trudeau ponies up a general but no boots on the ground (second tweet). One shudders to imagine what allies must think:

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

The incredible Shrinking US Air Force, or, Waiting for NGAD

Further to this 2020 post,

US Air Force Trying to Shake, Rattle…(and note NORAD)

the USAF is in a touchy position, forced to make retirements from an increasingly aging fleet while awaiting in particular the new sixth-generation super-fighter (with its accompanying drones) and the new B-21 stealth bomber (which should be in service much sooner). All while facing seemingly ever-growing and more capable PRC forces. The frankness and depth of public discussion about US defence matters can only make a poor Canadian green (with spring!) envy.

1) First from an article at The Drive’s “War Zone”:

The Air Force Has Abandoned Its 386 Squadron Goal

The Air Force Secretary has poured cold water on the previous goal of a 386 squadron USAF and wants a posture based on the Chinese threat.

by Thomas Newdick, Tyler Rogoway May 4

The U.S. Air Force’s long-standing aspiration to increase the number of its squadrons to 386 by 2030 appears to have been dropped. The goal of an enlarged force, which was announced as long ago as 2018, is now deemed less important than fielding more capable platforms, with a particular eye on potential future conflicts with an increasingly advanced Chinese military. That, at least, is the view of the Air Force Secretary, the senior leader overseeing the Department of the Air Force, comprised of the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force.

The development was announced by Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall, speaking on a Brookings Institution webcast, under the title The future of American air power, on May 2nd, 2022. Among the highlights of a wide-ranging discussion were Kendall’s comments on Air Force size and structure and how these should be balanced, in the future, against capability levels which, in turn, will need to be optimized to meet the potential threat from the Chinese military.

“I’m not focused on counting end-strength or squadrons or airplanes,” Kendall said, but rather “I’m focused on the capability to carry out the operations we might have to support [toward] … defeating aggression. If you can’t deter or defeat the initial act of aggression, then you’re in a situation like we’re seeing in Ukraine: a protracted conflict.”

…the kind of Air Force structure that Kendall is proposing would be tailored very much for the kind of threat posed by China, not Russia [emphasis added], and which would involve fighting “several thousand miles away” from many established bases against an opponent that combines high-end weapons with innovative ways of employing them [see post on “Distributed Operations” noted at bottom of this one]

To…dissuade — and potentially defeat — a fast-expanding and increasingly sophisticated Chinese military, the U.S. Air Force needs to focus less on its size and more on fielding more capable and modern assets.

“An awful lot of equipment that we have is old,” Kendall said, pointing out that the average age of one of the service’s aircraft is 30 years, and that this number is growing every year.

Playing a fundamental part in modernizing the Air Force will be the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program, or NGAD, one of Kendall’s key priorities, or operational imperatives. He described NGAD as a family of systems [emphasis added] that will include not just a new manned platform, but also uncrewed combat aircraft, new weapons, connectivity architecture, and relationships to outside support.

…With NGAD, as well as the B-21 Raider stealth bomber and nuclear modernization efforts all ongoing, there are some seriously expensive programs that all require funds. Development of the B-21 alone accounts for $381 million in the latest Air Force budget request, plus another $1.7 billion to actually begin purchasing the aircraft…

The idea of rapidly fielding a new platform and then working to improve it incrementally once it enters the inventory is espoused by Kendall and it’s one that we’ve heard before. Broadly, it parallels the so-called ‘Digital Century Series’ approach that was the brainchild of Will Roper, the former Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics…

The biggest concern that is likely to come from Kendall’s emerging strategy is near-term risk, by retiring far more operational aircraft than the already ‘too small for demand’ Air Force is buying, and especially the idea long-term that quality will far supersede quantity in the aerial battlefield of the future [emphasis added]. No matter how capable a fighter or bomber may be, it can only be in one place at one time, and that is usually on the ground, with a substantial part of that time being torn apart for maintenance. In an expeditionary fight, where the U.S. is fighting thousands of miles from home, or even from secured airfields, quantity becomes a real issue in order to sustain the fight over the long haul. China will be fighting on its own turf without these strangling issues and its force is growing in both quantity and quality…

2) And from Aviation Week and Space Technology on the fighter force:

New Leadership Reimagines U.S. Air Force Fighter Fleet Structure

Steve Trimble Brian Everstine April 29, 2022

A new, long-term vision for the U.S. Air Force fighter fleet has gradually come into focus, and, if Congress approves, the changes for the tactical aviation portfolio could be stark.

A sixth-generation fighter to be acquired in the next decade by the Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program will cost in the “hundreds of millions” each and enter service in the 2030s alongside a phalanx of uncrewed Collaborative Combat Aircraft with autonomous control systems, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told a House Armed Services Committee (HASC) panel on April 26.

Until then, the Air Force plans to nearly halve a Trump administration plan to buy at least 144 Boeing F-15EX fighters as a short-term replacement for more than 200 F-15C/Ds, cutting the procurement program off after ordering only 80 of the Eagle II fighters in fiscal 2024.

Although the Lockheed Martin F-35A is the only feasible alternative as an F-15C/D replacement in the near term, the Air Force instead aims to slash planned orders for the stealthy, single-engine fighter over the next two years by as many as 34 jets, then ramp up orders after F-15EX procurement is completed in fiscal 2024. The 33-year-old F-15E fleet, meanwhile, emerges from the fighter reshuffling unscathed.

Finally, the Air Force wants to offset cuts to other fighter fleets with major upgrades to the remaining aircraft.

Controversially, the Air Force plans to retire all Fairchild Republic A-10s over the next five years, along with the 33 Lockheed F-22s that are not equipped to fight in combat.

In exchange, the Air Force would like to invest money in major upgrades. More than 600 Lockheed F-16s would be upgraded to the Block 70/72 standard, including Northrop Grumman APG-83 active, electronically scanned array radars and the Northrop Grumman Next-Generation Electronic Warfare suite.

Meanwhile, the surviving fleet of nearly 150 F-22s also is in line for new equipment. Gen. Mark Kelly, the head of Air Combat Command, may have previewed some of the options in an April 27 tweet that celebrated the anniversary of the first F-22 public demonstration routine in 2007.

Kelly’s tweet included a concept image of an F-22 equipped with pods mounted on outboard wing pylons carrying apparent infrared search-and-track sensors, low-radar-cross-section fuel tanks and a next–generation air-to-air missile. The F-22 supposedly receives the first operational Lockheed AIM-260 Joint Advanced Tactical Missile this year, but Air Force officials said during the April 27 hearing that the long-range weapon remained in development.

All of this fleet reshuffling would result in a 16% reduction in fighter fleet capacity through fiscal 2027, cutting a 2,138-strong fleet now down to 1,792 jets over the next five years [emphasis added].

Air Force officials are seeking to finance new fighter capabilities such as NGAD and F-35 Block 4 by retiring aircraft in the short term. The strategy has usually been met with resistance by Congress…

Kendall has proposed reengining the F-35. The Pratt & Whitney F135 is meeting specifications, but Block 4 electronic upgrades risk overwhelming the power and thermal management system. Pratt designed the 43,000-lb.-thrust engine to provide bleed air from the compressor to cool the onboard electronics [see this story at Breaking Defense: “How to save $40B on the F-35 Program: Cost, risk, and alliances are key considerations for F-35 propulsion modernization”].

…In written testimony submitted to the HASC, a joint statement from Kendall and current Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr., is explicit: “This [NGAD] family of systems will include a sixth-generation crewed platform as well as uncrewed combat aircraft and a cost-effective mix of sensors, weapons and communications systems.”

Kendall said he expects to be fielding the NGAD in the 2030s, but two lawmakers, Reps. Donald Norcross (D-N.J.) and Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), said they understood the program is delayed [emphasis added]

The sixth-generation fighter at the heart of the NGAD program is already expected to become the most expensive tactical aircraft ever developed. The price of “hundreds of millions” each cited by Kendall aligns with a 2018 projection by the Congressional Budget Office, which estimated a unit cost of about $300 million each for a future penetrating counter-air platform.

With such a high price per copy, the Air Force is trying to shift to a different approach for its fighter fleet.

…Air Force planners are internally debating how future fighter squadrons will be composed with crewed and uncrewed elements [emphasis added]. The newly branded Collaborative Combat Aircraft—formerly described as “Loyal Wingman”—builds on autonomous technology developed as part of programs such as Skyborg and Boeing’s MQ-28 Ghost Bat platform in Australia. It is “quite a few ways out,” Brown says.

Kendall has said he expects these aircraft to cost about half the price of the crewed platform, or potentially $150 million or more. In the short term, that is why the service is focusing on its four-aircraft mix of F-15s, F-16s, F-35s and the NGAD.

Challenges, challenges, challenges. But the RCAF can only wonder at how seriously the American administration and Congress take them. But they are a great power and we most certainly are not. Whether Canada even remains a middle power is open to real question.

And, boy!, does the US have vibrant, intelligent and well-informed defence media. A Canadian sighs.

Related posts;

US Air Force Planning for “Distributed Operations” in Pacific

US Air Force Planning vs PLA in Indo-Pacific

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

Biden’s “Buy American” Bad for Bigger US Defence Picture

From a piece at Breaking Defence, see end of post for the current situation regarding Canada:

How Biden’s ‘Buy American’ is undermining the arsenal of democracy

Responding to America’s protectionist policies, allies write new letter to White House pushing for waivers, according to a new op-ed from AEI’s Bill Greenwalt and Dustin Walker.

By   Bill Greenwalt and Dustin Walker on May 03, 2022 at 9:44 AM

In an effort to boost the US economy, President Joe Biden has pushed a broad “Buy American” agenda. But AEI’s Bill Greenwalt and Dustin Walker argue in the op-ed below that the White House is pushing away the defense industrial base of friendly nations, threatening to harm not only America’s relationships abroad at a crucial time, but its own military readiness.

The arsenal of democracy is making a comeback. As it did in past moments of global crisis, the United States is arming a sovereign nation in its struggle for survival against the depredations of a dictator. But it is not doing so alone.

In the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the US is coordinating with its allies and partners on the urgent production, modification, donation and delivery of military equipment from across the world to Ukraine. It is working to rapidly replace equipment donated from its own inventory as well as those of its allies and partners. As many European nations consider increasing defense spending in future years, the US is helping lead discussions on how best to bolster capabilities needed to deter and defend against Russian aggression. And it is attempting to glean lessons from the war in Ukraine to prepare itself, as well as allies and partners such as Taiwan, for the possibility of Chinese aggression. This new arsenal of democracy is a multinational effort.

Yet at a decisive moment in the war in Ukraine when defense industrial cooperation with America’s allies and partners has never been more vital, the Biden administration is moving in the opposite direction. The so-called “Buy American” regulations will harm relationships with America’s friends, risk American jobs and leave America’s military less prepared for the challenges posed by Russia and China [emphasis added].

With certain exceptions, the Buy American Act requires the federal government to buy domestic “articles, materials, and supplies,” when they are acquired for public use. In March, one week after Russia invaded Ukraine, the Biden administration finalized a new regulation requiring that 75% of the cost of products procured by the US government be made up of domestic components by 2029. That’s up from the 55% today.

In other words, despite its rhetoric, the Biden administration is cutting back defense industrial cooperation with allies and partners in the middle of a war in Europe. The concern is so great that allied nations have written a new letter [PDF] to the White House, pleading for more critical exemptions [emphasis added, as noted at start of the post see below for Canada].

The primary impact of this new regulation will be on defense. While the Buy American Act theoretically applies to all federal government purchases, in practice it most directly affects defense purchases, which do not receive the same broad exemptions as commercial goods do under World Trade Organization agreements and US free trade agreements such as the United States-Canada-Mexico Agreement (USMCA).

The Biden administration and proponents of so-called “Buy American” regulations claim they will help grow America’s defense industrial base and create more defense jobs. They will do neither. The Biden administration’s new regulation will aggravate relations with allies and partners and, over the long term, shrink the global market for US defense products [emphasis added].

Allies Call For Help

Last year, a group of military attaches representing 25 nations including the United Kingdom, France, and Germany wrote to lawmakers opposing an increased domestic content threshold under the Buy American Act. The Biden administration didn’t listen. As a result, just as many European nations are pledging significant annual increases in defense spending, Europe’s protectionists will need only parrot the Biden administration to argue that new resources should be spent to buy European products — not American products.

If Washington doesn’t “buy allied,” why should London, Paris, or Berlin “buy American”? For that matter, why should Seoul or Tokyo [emphasis added]?

Supporters of so-called “Buy American” regulations point out that some allies and partners have negotiated Reciprocal Defense Procurement (RDP) agreements [Canada below], which provide some exemption from the Buy American Act. However, 10 NATO states do not have these agreements. Nor do key Indo-Pacific allies and partners such as South Korea, Taiwan, India and Singapore. For those that do, the impact of these agreements is limited. RDP agreements do not guarantee allied participation in US defense programs. The opportunity to do so is often stymied by an intricate web of laws and regulations, as well as by a cultural hubris that finds it hard to admit that allied technology could ever be any good.

Still, even what constrained value these agreements do provide is at risk. Congressional supporters of so-called “Buy American” policies have passed multiple bills, including the recent bipartisan infrastructure law, pushing the last two administrations to limit the application of RDP agreements and reduce waivers and exemptions [emphasis added]. In an April 25 letter to OMB, the same group of allies that opposed the higher domestic content threshold in the first place are now pleading with the administration to preserve an “allied” exemption.

Will the Biden administration ignore allies and partners yet again?

‘Buy American’ Makes It Harder To Do Business

Beyond the risk to American jobs, so-called “Buy American” regulations will endanger national security by making it harder for the US military to access the capability and capacity it needs to stay ahead of Russia and China.

These regulations will shrink the number of defense suppliers willing to do business with the Pentagon, both at home and abroad, potentially choking off the US military’s access to critical technology. In order to prove they are meeting the Biden administration’s higher domestic content threshold, companies will be required to produce complex and expensive compliance documentation to the government [emphasis added. For those US companies that sell exclusively or primarily to the government, they will have no choice but to shoulder this enormous paperwork burden while passing the cost of compliance on to taxpayers.

But many other companies have a choice of whether to do business with the government, which is not their only or even primary customer. That’s especially true of innovative companies leading the way in emerging technologies in the commercial sector—technologies our warfighters need to stay ahead of Russia and China. These American companies may very well conclude that complying with so-called “Buy American regulations—not only through administrivia, but potentially by changing the content of their products—just isn’t worth the hassle [emphasis added].

… the Biden administration’s protectionist regulations will increase costs for taxpayers by reducing incentives for US allies and partners to buy US defense equipment, particularly countries with substantial defense industries of their own…

The US defense industrial base is currently too small to produce enough military equipment to meet the US military’s needs, particularly when it comes to ships and critical munitions. For example, it will take years to replace US Javelins and Stingers supplied to Ukraine. Allies and partners can help plug this gap, which is especially dangerous in light of China’s vast and growing defense production capacity.

How Biden Can Help The US Defense Industrial Base [here comes some special pleading]

…it’s time to invest in growing the defense industrial base to meet the needs of the US military as well as those of its allies and partners. Legislation proposed by Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., to provide $25 billion to modernize and expand America’s public and private shipyards is a good start. Similar legislation will likely be needed for munitions production not only to replace munitions sent to Ukraine but to ensure sufficient munitions stocks for the Indo-Pacific.

Finally, instead of making it harder to work with allies, the Biden administration could focus on eliminating our adversaries from our defense supply chain. China, for example, sells commercial dual use component parts that often find their way into US military systems and will not be restricted under the new Biden “Buy American” thresholds. These Chinese semiconductors, electronics, IT services and telecommunications—even in small amounts—are rightful targets of regulatory scrutiny and should be replaced through a targeted “buy allied” strategy [emphasis added]

China and Russia are no match for the combined technological and industrial might of the United States and its allies and partners. But we cannot marshal that collective power by indulging saccharine, populist schemes. Only in concert with allies and partners can America realize aspirations for a 21st century arsenal of democracy.

Bill Greenwalt, long the top Republican acquisition policy expert on the SASC, rose to become deputy defense undersecretary for industrial policy. A member of the Breaking Defense Board of Contributors, he’s now a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Dustin Walker is a non-Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a former professional staff member on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

As for Canada, this is from the federal government’s government-to-government contracting organization, the Canadian Commercial Corporation:

About Buy American and Exemptions for Canadian Businesses

Written by The CCC Team | February 21, 2022 at 8:00 AM

The Canada-U.S. Defence Production Sharing Agreement (DPSA [from 1963!]) gives Canadian companies access to U.S. DoD procurement opportunities.

Currently, the US government waives Buy American requirements for long-standing DoD bilateral reciprocal defence procurement agreements, such as the DPSA, as well as duty and fees on Canadian exports to the U.S. DoD…

Under the Canada-U.S. Defence Production Sharing Agreement (DPSA), Canadian companies have almost full access to the world’s largest military procurement market.

CCC is embedded in the U.S. Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement 225.870 (DFARS) to act as the prime contractor for Canadian exporters awarded U.S. DoD contracts over USD $250,000.The CCC has spent the last 65 years working closely with the U.S. DoD to connect American military needs with Canadian solutions.

If you’re a Canadian defence company looking to sell to the U.S., check out our step-by-step Guide to U.S DoD Market Entry and take the first steps toward doing business with the U.S. DoD.   

One hopes all that will continue. On verra. But note that the CCC only deals with the US government; what may be happening with company-to-company business? More here on the DPSA.

Meanwhile our Chief of the Defence Staff says this:

Canada’s top soldier says defence industry needs to ramp up production to ‘wartime footing

Problem is our industry doesn’t produce much in the way of finished defence equipment to “ramp up”, rather mainly components for foreign-made equipment (Pratt and Whitney Canada aeroengines are a top-end example of that–here’s an interesting story from 2012). Sometime in the early 2030s (see “4. Implementation” here) Irving Shipbuilding in Halifax will start producing new frigates for the Royal Canadian Navy; our perishingly slow shipbuilding industry is the least likely one able to “ramp up” anything.

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds