Thursday, March 23, 2023

Don't Mind the Gap

I'm going back a few months to grab a story, but I'm just doing that because it was one of the first links that came up on a search. Insider, August 29, 2022:

The US has provided Ukraine with so much weaponry to fend off Russia's unprovoked [sic] invasion that Pentagon stockpiles for some munitions are "uncomfortably low," defense officials told The Wall Street Journal. Lower levels of 155mm ammunition, which can be fired from US-made M777 Howitzers, have some officials especially concerned, the Journal reported on Monday.


I haven't seen any change in that refrain.

I also see no particular reason to believe that refrain, especially when I see some people use it as the basis for a claim that Russia has and/or can produce effectively unlimited amounts of ammo with no sweat, and the US/EU/NATO countries can't.

Here's why:

  • Prior to World War 2, the US practice was for war materiel industries to pop up, or existing industries to repurpose, when there was a war -- then shut down or go back to previous purpose when the war ended. While there was some of that after World War 2, in effect the US has remained on mostly a wartime industrial footing ever since.
  • The US armed forces, and the military-industrial complex, always whine that the US is dangerously low on stuff, and they're always lying. That's done on both a routine basis ("boost spending or our guys will be pointing their fingers and saying "bang bang" by next week"), and in discrete campaigns (see, for example, the "missile gap" and the "bomber gap").
  • Production/manufacturing isn't entirely fungible -- I can't just flip a switch and cause an aspirin factory to start turning out 7.62x39 ammo -- but a lot of manufacturing can be repurposed over short time frames. Factory floor space is factory floor space. Conveyor belts are conveyor belts. Lathes and presses, etc. can be reconfigured to produce different things, and their operators don't need much retraining to produce Item B instead of Item A. If the US wants ammo, there are companies which can, and will, switch to producing ammo.
  • In terms of industrial capacity, let's look at GDP. Of the top 10 countries by GDP, Russia ranks ninth. Of the other nine, six are NATO members, including the US, which alone has a GDP nearly 12 times that of Russia. In terms of industrial output in particular, Russia doesn't even make the top 10. But five NATO member states do. And, btw, Japan is on the top 10 in both lists.
Do the US/EU/NATO countries currently have more ammo and/or the ability to manufacture more ammo, than Russia? Maybe, maybe not.

Do the US/EU/NATO countries have the ability to produce more ammo that Russia over anything resembling the long term? Absolutely. A lot more, with a much smaller diversion from other things as a percentage of their economies.

Whichever side you prefer would win this war -- if you have any preference at all -- the simple fact is that the Russians had a short window to do so. Getting bogged down in an "attrition" scenario versus "the West" slammed that window shut, because warm bodies are no longer the paramount criterion of attrition. Logistics -- making stuff and getting it to the battlefield -- is.

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