United States not battle-ready for China

The United States weapons industry is unprepared to fight a prolonged war against China, according to a study from a think tank based in Washington, D.C.

While the infusion of Americans arms into the Ukrainian-Russian conflict has been credited with helping the Ukrainians stave off a complete Russian takeover of the country, widespread problems in the U.S. munitions industry has been exposed, according to the study.

The study also said weapons inventories have fallen and defense companies are not able to quickly replenish them.

“The bottom line is the defense industrial base, in my judgment, is not prepared for the security environment that now exists,” Seth Jones, a senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told The Wall Street Journal. Industry is now functioning in a way that is “better suited to a peacetime environment,” he added.

The study, which considered input from senior military, defense, and congressional officials, as well as industry leaders, revealed how fast the U.S. military would exhaust its supply of munitions in a possible conflict with China.

“How do you effectively deter if you don’t have sufficient stockpiles of the kinds of munitions you’re going to need for a China-Taiwan Strait kind of scenario?” Jones told the Journal.

For more than 20 years, the U.S. focused on insurgency warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other places, which is heavily reliant on troops. The conflict in Ukraine, however, is a more traditional war that is more dependent on heavy armaments.

Though conflict with China in the Indo-Pacific would look different from the mainly land war occurring in Ukraine, it would still require the U.S. to draw from its arms stockpiles.

According to the study, the problems facing the weapons industry are partly the result of outdated military contracting procedures and slow-moving bureaucracy that are affecting the Pentagon’s ability to create an effective deterrent in the Indo-Pacific region.

“These shortfalls would make it extremely difficult for the United States to sustain a protracted conflict,” the report said. “They also highlight that the U.S. defense industrial base lacks adequate surge capacity for a major war.”

The depletion rate of weaponry by the Ukrainians is demonstrating the difficulties the U.S. industrial base could face in supplying munitions for an extended conflict over Taiwan. Based on fiscal 2022 production rates, the number of Javelin shoulder-fired missiles sent to Ukraine since August is equivalent to approximately seven years of production, according to the study.

Current stocks of the Harpoon coastal defense system, considered an important piece of Taiwan’s defense strategy, are at medium levels, though they might not be adequate for wartime, the study said.

“The history of industrial mobilization suggests that it will take years for the defense industrial base to produce and deliver sufficient quantities of critical weapons systems and munitions and recapitalize stocks that have been used up,” the report said.