Congressional Amendment Opens Floodgates for War Profiteers and a Major Ground War on Russia

Yves here. Sadly, the fact that arms merchants have already made out like bandits from the Ukraine war has emboldened them to seek even more. But this is stunning. An amendment billed as replenishing weapons sent to Ukraine will have the US build up massive new stores of outdated weapons systems….apparently to fight a ground war with Russia. As if our arms are performing all that well in this field test.

By Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J. S. Davies. They are the authors of War in Ukraine: Making Sense of a Senseless Conflict, available from OR Books in November 2022. Medea Benjamin is the cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, and the author of several books, including Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Nicolas J. S. Davies is an independent journalist, a researcher with CODEPINK and the author of Blood on Our Hands: The American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq

If the powerful leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senators Jack Reed (D) and Jim Inhofe (R), have their way, Congress will soon invoke wartime emergency powers to build up even greater stockpiles of Pentagon weapons. The amendment is supposedly designed to facilitate replenishing the weapons the United States has sent to Ukraine, but a look at the wish list contemplated in this amendment reveals a different story.

Reed and Inhofe’s idea is to tuck their wartime amendment into the FY2023 National Defense Appropriation Act (NDAA) that will be passed during the lameduck session before the end of the year. The amendment sailed through the Armed Services Committee in mid-October and, if it becomes law, the Department of Defense will be allowed to lock in multi-year contracts and award non-competitive contracts to arms manufacturers for Ukraine-related weapons.

If the Reed/Inhofe amendment is really aimed at replenishing the Pentagon’s supplies, then why do the quantities in its wish list vastly surpass those sent to Ukraine?

Let’s do the comparison:

–           The current star of U.S. military aid to Ukraine is Lockheed Martin’s HIMARS rocket system, the same weapon U.S. Marines used to help reduce much of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, to rubble in 2017. The U.S. has only sent 38 HIMARS systems to Ukraine, but Senators Reed and Inhofe plan to “reorder” 700 of them, with 100,000 rockets, which could cost up to $4 billion.

–           Another artillery weapon provided to Ukraine is the M777 155 mm howitzer. To “replace” the 142 M777s sent to Ukraine, the senators plan to order 1,000 of them, at an estimated cost of  $3.7 billion, from BAE Systems.

–           HIMARS launchers can also fire Lockheed Martin’s long-range (up to 190 miles) MGM-140 ATACMS missiles, which the U.S. has not sent to Ukraine. In fact the U.S. has only ever fired 560 of them, mostly at Iraq in 2003. The even longer-range “Precision Strike Missile,” formerly prohibited under the INF Treaty renounced by Trump, will start replacing the ATACMS in 2023, yet the Reed-Inhofe Amendment would buy 6,000 ATACMS, 10 times more than the U.S. has ever used, at an estimated cost of $600 million.

–           Reed and Inhofe plan to buy 20,000 Stinger anti-aircraft missiles from Raytheon. But Congress already spent $340 million for 2,800 Stingers to replace the 1,400 sent to Ukraine. Reed and Inhofe’s amendment will “re-replenish” the Pentagon’s stocks 14 times over, which could cost $2.4 billion.

–           The United States has supplied Ukraine with only two Harpoon anti-ship missile systems – already a provocative escalation – but the amendment includes 1,000 Boeing Harpoon missiles (at about $1.4 billion) and 800 newer Kongsberg Naval Strike Missiles (about $1.8 billion), the Pentagon’s replacement for the Harpoon.

–             The Patriot air defense system is another weapon the U.S. has not sent to Ukraine, because each system can cost a billion dollars and the basic training course for technicians to maintain and repair it takes more than a year to complete. And yet the Inhofe-Reed wish list includes 10,000 Patriot missiles, plus launchers, which could add up to $30 billion.

ATACMS, Harpoons and Stingers are all weapons the Pentagon was already phasing out, so why spend billions of dollars to buy thousands of them now? What is this really all about? Is this amendment a particularly egregious example of war profiteering by the military-industrial-Congressional complex? Or is the United States really preparing to fight a major ground war against Russia?

Our best judgment is that both are true.

Looking at the weapons list, military analyst and retired Marine Colonel Mark Cancian noted: “This isn’t replacing what we’ve given [Ukraine].  It’s building stockpiles for a major ground war [with Russia] in the future. This is not the list you would use for China. For China we’d have a very different list.”

President Biden says he will not send U.S. troops to fight Russia because that would be World War III. But the longer the war goes on and the more it escalates, the more it becomes clear that U.S. forces are directly involved in many aspects of the war: helping to plan Ukrainian operations; providing satellite-based intelligence; waging cyber warfare; and operating covertly inside Ukraine as special operations forces and CIA paramilitaries. Now Russia has accused British special operations forces of direct roles in a maritime drone attack on Sevastopol and the destruction of the Nord Stream gas pipelines.

As U.S. involvement in the war has escalated despite Biden’s broken promises, the Pentagon must have drawn up contingency plans for a full-scale war between the United States and Russia. If those plans are ever executed, and if they do not immediately trigger a world-ending nuclear war, they will require vast quantities of specific weapons, and that is the purpose of the Reed-Inhofe stockpiles.

At the same time, the amendment seems to respond to complaints by the weapons manufacturers that the Pentagon was “moving too slowly” in spending the vast sums appropriated for Ukraine. While over $20 billion has been allocated for weapons, contracts to actually buy weapons for Ukraine and replace the ones sent there so far totaled only $2.7 billion by early November.

So the expected arms sales bonanza had not yet materialized, and the weapons makers were getting impatient. With therest of the world increasingly calling for diplomatic negotiations, if Congress didn’t get moving, the war might be over before the arms makers’ much-anticipated jackpot ever arrived.

Mark Cancian explained to DefenseNews, “We’ve been hearing from industry, when we talk to them about this issue, that they want to see a demand signal.”

When the Reed-Inhofe Amendment sailed through committee in mid-October, it was clearly the “demand signal” the merchants of death were looking for. The stock prices of Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics took off like anti-aircraft missiles, exploding to all-time highs by the end of the month.

Julia Gledhill, an analyst at the Project on Government Oversight, decried the wartime emergency provisions in the amendment, saying it “further deteriorates already weak guardrails in place to prevent corporate price gouging of the military.”

Opening the doors to multi-year, non-competitive, multi-billion dollar military contracts shows how the American people are trapped in a vicious spiral of war and military spending. Each new war becomes a pretext for further increases in military spending, much of it unrelated to the current war that provides cover for the increase. Military budget analyst Carl Conetta demonstrated (see Executive Summary) in 2010, after years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, that “those operations account(ed) for only 52% of the surge” in U.S. military spending during that period.

Andrew Lautz of the National Taxpayers’ Union now calculates that the base Pentagon budget will exceed $1 trillion per year by 2027, five years earlier than projected by the Congressional Budget Office. But if we factor in at least $230 billion per year in military-related costs in the budgets of other departments, like Energy (for nuclear weapons), Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security, Justice (FBI cybersecurity), and State, national insecurity spending has already hit the trillion dollar per year mark, gobbling up two-thirds of annual discretionary spending.

America’s exorbitant investment in each new generation of weapons makes it nearly impossible for politicians of either party to recognize, let alone admit to the public, that American weapons and wars have been the cause of many of the world’s problems, not the solution, and that they cannot solve the latest foreign policy crisis either.

Senators Reed and Inhofe will defend their amendment as a prudent step to deter and prepare for a Russian escalation of the war, but the spiral of escalation we are locked into is not one-sided. It is the result of escalatory actions by both sides, and the huge arms build-up authorized by this amendment is a dangerously provocative escalation by the U.S. side that will increase the danger of the World War that President Biden has promised to avoid

After the catastrophic wars and ballooning U.S. military budgets of the past 25 years, we should be wise by now to the escalatory nature of the vicious spiral in which we are caught. And after flirting with Armageddon for 45 years in the last Cold War, we should also be wise to the existential danger of engaging in this kind of brinkmanship with nuclear-armed Russia. So, if we are wise, we will oppose the Reed/Inhofe Amendment.

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  1. timbers

    It’s been in the back of mind for some time that given how long this war is turning out to be, that at some point the West is going to fire up production of weapons Ukraine can use…and a war of attrition will no longer be attrition. So, that leaves the West needing to find a way to replace Ukraine soldiers and there are signs that is in the works, too.

    Lots of grift but there are items that will make things more unpleasant for Russia. Hope the folks in the Kremlin take notice that a war of attrition lasting long enough to allow the West to restart production is not really a war of attrition at all.

    Hope Russia does something big and quick when the call up is complete: take out Star Link, electric grid, transportation, and open a new front to insert troops. A slow grind lasting another year gives the West too much time to restart production and find more troops.

    1. NN Cassandra

      Yes, this is the wrinkle on the theory that by slowly grinding down Ukraine Russia is depleting NATO stocks. It makes sense if you plan to drive to Paris next year, otherwise you are just alerting NATO to the fact they currently can’t wage war on Russia, direct or proxy, and giving them chance to fix this. The systems may be older and there will be lot of corruption and looting, but if in eight years whatever remains of Ukraine again attempts to recapture what land they lose now, and instead of tens of individual items US will be able to supply hundredths or even thousands, then that would seems like a problem for Russia.

      1. OnceWereVirologist

        Ukrainian demographics are terrible – some of the worst in the world. The biggest age group is the 30-40s who’ll have aged out of their best fighting years 8 years down the track. The 8-18 demographic is no more than half the size, if that, and a large proportion are being raised abroad, possibly never to return. If NATO wants to force the Russians to fight a 20-year quagmire, Afghanistan-style, they’re going to have to find their fighters somewhere other than Ukraine.

        1. Polar Socialist

          Last year there was a story in Russian media about how only about half of the Ukrainian kids who start school actually graduate from that school – young families emigrated at such a high rate.

          The same article claimed that Ukrainian population statistics are pure estimates and wishful thinking for the last two decades. That’s why the government was so keen to give citizenship to anyone with Ukrainian roots – except if you happened to live in Russia.

        2. NN Cassandra

          Ukrainian demographics are terrible, but it’s still big country and they certainly can cobble up like another 200’000 bodies in couple of years. It won’t be enough to march to Urals, but supplied with abundant equipment it will be serious threat to Russia borders.

          1. OnceWereVirologist

            In order to be in a position to fight again 10 years down the track the Ukrainians have to hold the Russians to a stalemate now (assuming you don’t think they can outright defeat the Russians). And if they manage that, surely they’ll be looking for their promised rewards – EU & NATO membership plus a trillion dollars for reconstruction. If they’re given the run-around on that – as I think they will be – I would hope that they’d wise up rather than act as cannon fodder for yet another proxy war that they’ll be in an even worse position to actually win, no matter how much military equipment they’re gifted.

    2. Polar Socialist

      Coincidentally there’s currently air defense alert declared throughout Ukraine. And reports of incoming missiles/drones in multiple cities. There’s talk about four waves of missiles, Ukraine claims ~100 but has not stated any number as intercepted.

      Emergency blackouts are also declared in several regions. Internet and mobile networks down in large areas.

      1. Polar Socialist

        Sorry for answering to myself, but the strikes are still going on (three hours now) and there are unverified reports that Ukrainian Armed Forces HQ has been hit.

  2. digi_owl

    This is really turning into another Vietnam style quagmire, with “advisors” running the circus into the ground.

    How long before they are officially paying the other kind of PMC (aka out and out mercs) to go to Ukraine? Or is that already happening?

  3. chukjones

    I was reading the NPR story on book banning, and recall the bit saying that libraries were the last place one could be called a “patron” and not consumer to be sold goods. I also very much felt as I was merely a consumer being sold what was on the shelf at my local for profit hospital as I was trying to schedule a procedure. I wanted so much to be seen as an individual with unique needs, but no. We in the USA USA no longer have a say in what we get of the niceties of life. But no problem finding the cash to upgrade the weapons of war. Makes me despair for our country and our world. Peace for us all is still too much to ask.

  4. Peter

    Hmmm, let me think. History does repeat, but only if the current listeners are not familiar with history. First was the mighty army of Napoleon, a truly great general, I have heard. He thought he would march his mighty army into Russia in the winter and destroy them – he got crushed. Then came the mighty Wehrmacht German Army led by their invincible thousands of tanks and their all-powerful air force. They invaded Russia in the Fall, thinking it would be a very quick war – but it drifted into winter, and they, too, got crushed.

    See anything that might make one at least a tiny bit wary?? Or are we among the insane who repeat things repeatedly, thinking they will be different this time – they will NOT!

    There is not need to ramp this up and then bring us a great victory as it did in Vietnam, Iraq and Afganistan – please let us use just a tiny bit of good old American – Common Sense, Please

  5. John

    So Reed and Imhofe are the public invitation to the hogs to line the trough? War Emergency? Did I miss the declaration of war or is this supposed to be an implied declaration?

    Our government is a joke. The oligarchs get what they want and give not one f— about the law or the people.

  6. Maxine

    The war of attrition takes an interesting turn. I would like to point out to everybody else in the comments that increased defense spending means decreased spending in other sectors, except if the White House does the taboo thing of raising taxes in the USA.

    And increased production means increased fuel consumption, and the States are suffering a disel crisis in the Northeast as it is. Not to mention that the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is at a historic low.

  7. Lex

    All well and good to loot the treasury for MIC profits but I don’t see any of it as realistic for changing capability on the ground. The production timelines are going to be long. Many of these items require chips in short supply (perhaps we could scavenge washing machines). And more than anything, these weapons need people to operate them. Maybe the plan is that in a terrible recession lots of people will sign up for the military?

    I get that there’s a persistent myth that the US can ramp up industrial production on a whim; I just don’t see the reality of it. The Freeport LNG facility was supposed to reopen in October, now it won’t be until December. And this is something that could make literal piles of money immediately. Moreover, the defense contractors are all run as modern, financialized US corporations. Do they even have the capability or desire to become serious industrial capitalists anymore?

    Americans are sure that the USSR was defeated because it entered an arms race it couldn’t win. The underlying motif of that was that the USSR concentrated on the arms race and neglected domestic needs, leading to a strengthening of internal contradictions which eventually fractured the state. True or not, we are apparently incapable of taking a lesson from history even as we present it to ourselves.

    1. eg

      I was wondering the same thing — how long does it take to make the stuff in the quantities listed here? Can it impact the current war in any way or is it for something else, say outfitting every nation on Russia’s border? Or is it just an opportunistic grift with precisely zero utility?

    2. Bart Hansen

      “Maybe the plan is that in a terrible recession lots of people will sign up for the military?”

      And why the minimum wage could not be increased even to a measly $15 per hour.

      1. hunkerdown

        Jim Banks, chairperson of the Republican Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, so quoth in about as many words on Twitter:

        Student loan forgiveness undermines one of our military’s greatest recruitment tools at a time of dangerously low enlistments.

        Jim Banks · 11:14 AM · Aug 25, 2022

  8. Steve H.

    >> As the famous American strategic thinker, John Boyd opined repeatedly, “The strategy is simple… It is: Don’t interrupt the money flow, add to it.

    If we/they only produce weapons that are ineffective against a certain foe, that foe will not regard the production as a threat.

    However, those weapons will work just swell in a Hutsi v Tutu scenario. My working hypothesis is that global decompensation is being driven by global warming. Russia has the best data and considers this an existential threat. If six billion people gotta go, whom’s it gonna be? So those weapons will have a ready market.

    Hmm. Does this logic extend to aircraft carriers?

  9. The Rev Kev

    All those weapons aren’t for the Pentagon. I would guess that they are actually meant to be sold to nations bordering Russia and China – countries like Poland, South Korea, Finland, Taiwan, Lithuania, Japan, the Ukraine, etc. So it will be like an arms bazaar of mostly second-rate gear. By shifting into cold war mode, they will create the demand among all those nations to have those weapons to defend themselves with against Russia and China. Doesn’t matter if they are fit for the modern battlefield or not so long as they are pointed against those two countries.

    It may not always work as planned. Poland was going to order 500 HIMARS systems but then decided to opt for 300 South Korean-made K239 Chunmoo systems instead. Seems they realized that it will take the US years and years to ramp up production and make these systems. Maybe cost was a factor too with the HIMARS system. Those vehicles cost about five million bucks but each of the six GMLRS rockets cost about $100,000 each-

    1. Paul Jurczak

      Poland has many ambitious armament purchase plans and a long history of cancelling them. Means of paying for this largesse are in doubt. The recent borrowing cost for Polish government was around 9%. The wishful thinking there was that 300+ tanks given to Ukraine will be replaced by a gift of a most modern version of Leopard 2, which doesn’t even exist in suitable numbers.

  10. David

    I have a feeling that these politicians are labouring under two widespread misapprehensions. The first is that ramping up military production in the US is in fact feasible. It isn’t. As I’ve set out at length elsewhere, and I’ll spare you the details here, in most western countries the skills, education, trained manpower, machine tools, places to build factories et. simply don’t exist, and would take a decade and unimaginable amounts of money to reconstitute.

    The other is that the US could hope to fight a major air-ground war in Europe against Russia with some possibility of success. It can’t, again absent a decade of retraining, re-equipping, massive increases in munitions inventories, massive new production, expansion of the military, ruthless culling of prestige projects, wholesale replacement of the senior leadership and extensive development and training of operational concepts for high-intensity warfare, just to name the most obvious requirements. The US political system has to realise that if their military goes up against the Russians in Europe in the foreseeable future, they will lose.

    My impression is that the military understand this. That’s why I discount ideas that this is turning into another Vietnam. The fact is that, unlike sixty years ago, when the US could bring superior military capability to bear on the war, now it can only bring inferior military capability. Indeed, US forces that might be deployed to face the Russians have less combat capability than the UA forces that have been destroyed already.

    So I suspect that if this is about anything at all, it’s about a bunch of politicians supposing that money itself can change reality, and demanding that stuff they’ve read about in the newspapers be magically produced in huge quantities and shovelled into the hands of a country whose military is on its last legs.

    1. Kouros

      Why is nobody talking about the elephant in the room? How fast would the US/EU be overwhelmed in the military industrial capacity if China decides to help Russia?

  11. Jack

    Also look at this weapons purchase against the backdrop of the lack of readiness across the board of the US forces in general. Example; US having to purchase 100,000 rounds of 155mm from South Korea to send to Iran. 100,000? Russia fires 60,000 rounds a day in Ukraine. The US had to borrow small arms ammunition in the last Iraq war because we ran out. A recent GAO study found that many US aircraft were not mission capable to fight in war. The Navy can’t get their ships out of the shipyards. All of the services are having problems meeting their recruitment goals. The US government has turned into a black hole of graft and corruption.

  12. Anonymous

    Russia can’t physically go deeper into Ukraine at this point, I think that is obvious? If they tried to go into Europe, that is WW III, and the step short of that is cutting their supply lines. This is a black hole, the only way out is through negotiation. A new Iron Curtain line to be sure, but that would be more stable than the current situation.

    1. Jams O'Donnell

      “Russia can’t physically go deeper into Ukraine at this point“.

      At this point, no, but once the ground freezes, they can probably go as far as they like. By January the Ukranian banking system, electricity and gas will be on the ropes, plus by then the army too will have run out of power. It won’t do to underestimate what Russia can do once the new wave of recruits are in the field.

      Remember the goals set by Putin? The Ukraine must be de-Nazified, nullified and made incapable of joining NATO. This has yet to be achieved. Plus Russia really needs to control the Black Sea coast and any infrastructure which the newly attained oblasts are dependent on.

      Finally, Russia has to be sure that the end of this episode will not lead to another one further into the future, otherwise all this will have been in vain.

  13. Tom Stone

    I don’t think that point gets enough emphasis, globalist ideologues and global corporations which are wealthier than most Nations are the ones who expect to benefit from the “Ukraine” war.
    Risking Nuclear Armageddon to increase profits is just one of those risks we have to accept…

    1. flora

      No wonder the B admin doesn’t want to end the war. Maybe we’ll be shoveling money into Ukraine for the next 20 years, like Afghanistan. So many people and corporations getting so much richer, and with increased wealth so much more powerful.
      Too bad about all the dead people. We killed some folks.

  14. Insouciant Iowan

    BAE, whose new building was recently lauded by Cedar Rapids’ leaders, and longtimer Collins Aerospace (Raytheon) are local manifestations of the US’s military industrial complex. Ours is but one Congressional district to be so blest to aid in delivering our nation from a shortage of arms. Much of the US’s old weaponry has been shipped to Ukraine. Now, the guns and bullets pantry is scantily furnished.
    One wonders if the movement of arms to Ukraine is the stimulus for such a massive authorization of arms as proposed by Senators Reed and Inhoff. If arms for Ukraine are lacking mayhaps that owes to the widely rumored blackmarketeering of around half or more of what’s been sent. Or perhaps it is that the US has some 700-800 military bases the world over that must be supplied. Or, further, could it be that the US’s position as world leader in arms sales is somehow in jeopardy?
    Not only are US warmakers willing to battle Russia to the last Ukrainian, they also threaten war with Russia and China; occupy about one-third of Syria to, um, protect aka, steal, its oil; plant more military facilities in Greece lest Turkey become too unruly; stoke conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan; enable Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen; and . . .. I’ll suspend for now. The list is too long.
    Cedar Rapids and everyone of most of 435 Congressional districts will continue to get their military subsidy. Nevermind the suffering that goes with it: shoddy Healthcare; low wages; continuing deterioration of roads and bridges; fouled streams and waterways; drinking water made less safe and increasingly privatized; collapsing sanitary and storm sewers; further declines in education; and more. And that’s just in the USA. It’s a wearisome catalogue. Continued militarization of the US adds insult to match injury, worldwide.
    Democracy’s been saved. God help anyone who gets in its way.

    1. Jams O'Donnell

      You’re right about the US infrastructure (as well as all the rest) – but do the US people not care about their infrastructure? Does no-one speak out about it?

      Not that we in the UK can shout about being aware, either. The brainwashing is potent.

      1. Hepativore

        The average US citizen cares very much about the sorry state of its infrastructure. The problem is that now it is in such a state of disrepair in many places that it would take billions of dollars to fix, which many municipal and state governments do not have, and the various senators, governors, as well as politicians at the federal level who are in charge of putting together projects to address these issues do not care, and only pretend to do so whenever an opportunity presents itself for another financialization scheme.

        The elites do not care how much the average citizen complains about the state of our infrastructure, because the elites never plan on using any of it. They live in their own bubbles of gated communities, private jets, personal water systems, and yachts. Who cares if the plebs have to contend with a little lead in their water, now and then? Let the peasants drink Perrier.

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