The larger problem is financialization. Step by step, this conquered all areas of society. And finally it also reached the holy grail of the military-industrial complex. With financialization came the neoliberal market doctrines of capacity reduction, downsizing, “lean inventories,” and cutting costs wherever possible. They are the real drivers of the supply bottlenecks that are rampant everywhere.
Ukraine war: why is the Pentagon actually running out of ammunition?
by David Goeßmann
[This article posted on 4/21/2023 is translated from the German on the Internet, Ukraine-Krieg: Warum geht dem Pentagon eigentlich die Munition aus?.]
Ammunition is loaded onto pallets at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, in the U.S., to be flown to Ukraine.
Ukrainian soldiers have hardly anything left to shoot. How can this be, when the USA and NATO countries grant Ukraine almost every wish? About supply bottlenecks in the military-industrial complex and what’s behind it.
The situation seems bizarre. Western journalists have been reporting for months that Ukraine does not have enough ammunition. Military officials there repeatedly complain about the lack of bullets.
As early as ten months ago, the vice-chief of Ukrainian military intelligence, Vadym Skibitsky, warned that they were losing the artillery war because they had nothing to shoot with. According to Skibitsky, Ukraine consumes 5,000 to 6,000 artillery shells per day.
We have used up almost all of our [artillery] ammunition and now use NATO standard 155-caliber shells.
Little has changed in that regard to this day. The Washington Post reported from the front lines just over a month ago that soldiers in Ukraine were running low on ammunition. They lacked artillery shells.
Ukrainian Lt. Col. Kupol described the situation to the Post as serious. There was a shortage of simple mortar bombs and shells for U.S.-made MK-19 grenade launchers.
How can this be? After all, Ukraine has been supplied with tens of billions of dollars worth of weapons by the U.S. military superpower and highly armed NATO countries for over a year. How then can there be a shortage of ammunition?
The astonishing answer is that the U.S. in particular, but other NATO countries as well, are apparently incapable of providing the ammunition they need. This is according to Mike Lofgren, who worked for a long time as a deputy assistant for the Republicans in the U.S. Congress and who has been sharply criticizing the political course of both parties in books for some time.
For example, he says, stockpiles in the U.S. are emptying fast. This is because they are not well stocked and there is no replenishment.
Since the beginning of the war, the U.S. has delivered 1.5 million artillery shells (155-mm) to Ukraine. This is actually a very simple projectile – a shell that has been around since the First World War.
Nevertheless, the U.S. military has been worried for months that ammunition supplies are running low. That’s because annual U.S. production of 155-mm ammunition is less than one-tenth the amount supplied to Ukraine.
Even if production were increased, it would take five years to replenish supplies, he said, because the lead time for building new production capacity in a country with a devastated industrial base – the projectiles are made in a century-old factory – is too long.
The same is true for other types of ammunition. For the Javelin anti-tank missile, it takes 5.5 to eight years to replenish stocks; for the Himars guided missile, 2.5 to three years; and with regard to the Stinger anti-aircraft missile, it takes as long as 6.5 to an incredible 18 years. Lofgren’s conclusion:
Despite all the money given to the Pentagon, the Department of Defense is unable to supply a third party with weapons for a conventional land war of moderate size and intensity for more than a year without depleting its munitions stockpile.
Consider this: the U.S. has an annual, ever-growing military budget of currently about $850 billion. But while Russia fires an average of 20,000 rounds per day against Ukraine, the Ukrainian army can respond with only a third of that amount. According to Lofgren, this is because the U.S. has to ration supplies because it is unable to produce more ammunition.
Supply shortages everywhere, with system
Overall, the Pentagon in the United States appears to be operating more and more ineffectively. For example, despite growing Pentagon budgets, the number of major military equipment is steadily declining. Thus, for fewer and fewer warships and fighter jets, U.S. citizens have to pay more and more.
The inefficiency has not fallen from the sky, but is part of a larger problem that has been consuming the U.S. economy in particular for decades. It goes by the name of financialization. Step by step, this conquered all areas of society. And finally it also reached the holy grail of the military-industrial complex.
With financialization then came the neoliberal market doctrines of capacity reduction, downsizing, “lean inventories,” and cutting costs wherever possible. They are the real drivers of the supply bottlenecks that are rampant everywhere today. Mike Lofgren puts it this way:
It is a commonly held view that Wall Street and the Pentagon have a kind of symbiotic relationship – if not a conspiratorial bond – from which both benefit. By mimicking the fashions of classical economics – zero inventories, just-in-time deliveries, wiping out small producers to reduce alleged overcapacity, treating labor as a liability rather than a value – the military bureaucracy engages in a kind of unilateral disarmament while the stocks of defense contractors soar.
To be sure, disarmament itself is desirable and necessary, mainly in the United States. After all, military interventions and wars should no longer be the answer to conflicts in the 21st century. Even the Ukraine war will be resolved diplomatically in the end. Better sooner than later.
But disarmament in the spirit of market radicalism does not lead to a reduction of the military-industrial complex, but rather turns it into an economic subsystem of neoliberal society, in which military assets also function as financial investment vehicles.
Thus, the Pentagon has mutated into a sprawling, highly inefficient tax-money-wasting machine – apart from the intrinsically nonsensical and astronomical sums for the U.S. military, which undermine the American welfare state and public infrastructure because there is then no money left for them.
Beyond the Pentagon, a rather late victim, neoliberal logic has long since left its traces of disaster all over the United States. They show up in broken and dysfunctional infrastructure like public transportation, electricity, hospitals and schools.
From the constant train derailments with sometimes devastating consequences that I have reported elsewhere, to the lack of hospital beds that led to health disasters in the Covid pandemic, the artificially created supply shortages are everywhere.
They were exacerbated by the pandemic measures and the Russia sanctions that created a fossil fuel crisis, but the roots of sputtering supply shortages in affluent societies like the United States run deeper. They extend into neoliberal policies that have transformed the material satisfaction of basic needs into a secondary appendage.
The Pentagon’s ammunition supply problems are thus not an isolated or accidental occurrence, but have a system and point to a system. Thus, undersupply and partial supply collapse becomes the new social normal. Lofgren sees the ideology of a capitalist realism at work in this. It has …
pounced on such diverse forms of human activity as running the railroads, stocking cooking oil on the shelves of Safeway [the largest retailer in the U.S.], supplying the Ukrainian front, or saving lives in an emergency room. Is it any wonder that issues like climate change are treated so poorly?