Wall Street Journal: “US Is Not Yet Ready for Great Power Conflict” Yet Still Plots Against China

A vivid scene came in my first year Harvard MBA course, Business, Government and the International Economy, taught in my section by George C. Lodge, son of Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. George Lodge said he still remembered the day in 1968 when he realized there were limits to US power, that we could not fight a war on poverty, send a man to the moon, and fight a ground war in Asia at the same time.

The lack of that insight still seems widespread inside the Beltway, with belief in American omnipotence renewed by the fall of the USSR and then the further decline of Russia in the 1990s. A story initially published with a page-wide banner headline, The US is Not Yet Ready for the Era of “Great Power’ Conflict With China and Russia, curiously omits that it is the US that has been fomenting these clashes. And even though the URL banner on the article proper reads, The US is Not Yet Ready for the Era of “Great Power’ Conflict with China and Russia, the piece treats Russia dismissively, in passing, and treats escalating with China as a perfectly reasonable thing to do, not just now. We’ll turn to Russia in due course, particularly in light of Ukraine deciding Monday to try to break into the Bakhmut cauldron.

If you read the article carefully, you’ll see the reverse, that any meaningful improvement in US preparedness against China is based on hopium, like the US developing, manufacturing, and deploying new weapons that are on the drawing board or in early stages. Similarly, it fails to admit a huge weakness in the US dealing with China: that our Navy is badly overinvested in the floating pork known as aircraft carriers. Informed observers like Scott Ritter have said China has the capability to take them out without too much difficulty if they get within menacing range. Sinking only one aircraft carrier would result in roughly 6000 deaths, a humiliation the US would not tolerate. Ritter has long worried that our response would be to fire a tactical nuke at the Chinese hinterlands. Ritter is certain that China would immediately light up the entire US West Coast.

The point of this article may be to provide cover for a minor US de-escalatory move with China: that rather than having new House Speaker stir the Taiwan independence pot as Nancy Pelosi did with a visit to the island, the Taiwanese leader will instead come to the US to meet McCarthy.

Note the article repeats the CIA claim that China intends to invade Taiwan by 2027. Ex CIA analyst Larry Johnson has warned that the agency has outsourced a tremendous amount of its purported intelligence-gathering, which in Ukraine has resulted in the government retailing Ukraine propaganda. There’s no reason to think China will invade even it decides it has had enough. A blockade would do. That would also put the US, in the eyes of the international community, as being the aggressor were it to try to do anything about it, since just about no one recognizes Taiwan.

The belief among cynics was the CIA (or its pro-Taiwan sources) focused on 2027 as close to the end of the window when the US could challenge China over Taiwan, in light of the growth of the Chinese economy and among other things, its ship-building capability. But this piece implicitly throws cold water on this timeline and keeps hammering at the idea that the US can surpass China, when there’s no reason to think we can create and deploy a whole bunch of new-gen systems and upgrade our forces too.

The article is also heavily anecdotal, generally not a good sign in a story on a “hard” topic like geopolitics. It start with an Air Force lieutenant general realizing as a result of 2018 wargames that China had enough missiles to do serious damage to US bases in the region. It ominously continues:

Five years ago…the U.S. started tackling a new era of great-power competition with China and Russia. It isn’t yet ready, and there are major obstacles in the way….

Corporate consolidation across the American defense industry has left the Pentagon with fewer arms manufacturers. Shipyards are struggling to produce the submarines the Navy says it needs to counter China’s larger naval fleet, and weapon designers are rushing to catch up with China and Russia in developing superfast hypersonic missiles.

When the Washington think tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies ran a wargame last year that simulated a Chinese amphibious attack on Taiwan, the U.S. side ran out of long-range anti-ship cruise missiles within a week.

The military is struggling to meet recruitment goals, with Americans turned off by the long conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, potentially leaving the all-volunteer force short of manpower. Plans to position more forces within striking range of China are still a work in progress

Yet it lards that sober message with faith in eventual success via vaporware or hopium:

The U.S. military is still more capable than its main adversaries. The Chinese have their own obstacles in developing the capability to carry out a large-scale amphibious assault, while the weaknesses of Russia’s military have been exposed in Ukraine….

New tactics have been devised to disperse U.S. forces and make them less of an inviting target for China’s increasingly powerful missiles.

The Pentagon’s annual budget for research and development has been boosted to $140 billion—an all time high. The military is pursuing cutting-edge technology it hopes will enable the military services to share targeting data instantaneously so that U.S. air, land, sea and space forces, operating over thousands of miles, can act in unison, a current challenge….

Many of the cutting-edge weapons systems the Pentagon believes will tilt the battlefield in its favor won’t be ready until the 2030s, raising the risk that China may be tempted to act before the U.S. effort bears fruit.

We’ll interrupt this recap to point out that the US bizarrely assumes it will be able to gain meaningful ground on China, that China will either stand still or not progress as quickly. Yet if you look at the ASPI critical technologies study we cited yesterday, you will see China dominates in categories relevant to military hardware and battlefield coordination: advanced materials and manufacturing; artificial intelligence, computing and communications; defense, space, robotics, and transportation.

Back to the Journal:

Deterring China from invading Taiwan, a longstanding U.S. partner that Beijing claims as Chinese territory, defines the challenge….The U.S. needed to demonstrate it could prevent Beijing from seizing the island in the first place—a requirement included in the Biden administration’s National Defense Strategy issued in 2022…

A more recent wargame conducted by the Pentagon’s Joint Staff showed the U.S. could stymie a Chinese invasion of Taiwan and force a stalemate if the conflict was fought later in the decade, although high casualties on both sides would result. That simulation assumed that the U.S. would have the benefit of new weapons, tactics and military deployments that are currently being planned at the Pentagon.

So the US will only be able to fight China to a draw if US new wunderfaffen become operational soon enough and the US succeeds in executing a major revamp too.

More on capability-building:

The Army, which saw its electronic warfare, short-range air defense and engineering capabilities atrophy amid budget pressures and the previous decades’ wars, is moving to develop a new generation of weapons systems that can strike targets at much longer ranges. It is planning to deploy a new hypersonic missile in the fall though its utility against Chinese forces will depend on securing basing rights in the Pacific.

The Navy, which is confronting budget pressures, personnel shortages and limits to American shipbuilding capacity, is currently planning to expand its fleet to at least 355 crewed ships, a size still smaller than China’s current navy. In the near term, the U.S. will have around 290 ships.

A CBO report dated January 31, 2023 is much less bullish about hypersonic missiles, including their combat-ready date:

CBO reached the following conclusions:

Technological challenges must still be overcome to field hypersonic missiles. The fundamental remaining challenge involves managing the extreme heat that hypersonic missiles are exposed to by traveling at high speeds in the atmosphere for most of their flight (unlike cruise missiles, which fly in the atmosphere at lower speeds, or ballistic missiles, which mainly fly above the atmosphere). Shielding hypersonic missiles’ sensitive electronics, understanding how various materials perform, and predicting aerodynamics at sustained temperatures as high as 3,000° Fahrenheit require extensive flight testing. Tests are ongoing, but failures in recent years have delayed progress.

Both hypersonic and ballistic missiles are well-suited to operate outside potential adversaries’ antiaccess and area-denial (A2/AD), or “keep-out,” zones. The Department of Defense has developed a strategy to use accurate, long-range, high-speed missiles early in a conflict to neutralize the A2/AD zones being developed by potential adversaries, such as China and Russia. Both hypersonic missiles and ballistic missiles equipped with maneuverable warheads could provide the combination of speed, accuracy, range, and survivability (the ability to reach a target without being intercepted) that would be useful in the military scenarios CBO considered. However, many missions do not require such rapid strikes. For those missions, less costly alternatives to both hypersonic and ballistic missiles exist, including subsonic cruise missiles. Hypersonic weapons would mainly be useful to address threats that were both well-defended and extremely time-sensitive.

Again to the Journal:

The general [Clint Hinote] has pushed to equip cargo planes with cruise missiles to boost allied firepower, the use of high-altitude balloons to carry sensors and electric “flying cars” to carry people and equipment throughout the Pacific island chains—ideas that have led to experiments but so far no procurement decisions.

He thinks a future Air Force could rely more on autonomous, uncrewed aircraft and deploy fewer fighters.

Mind you, Russia went down that path a long, long time ago, resulting its layered offensive missiles and its best-in-breed air defense systems.

The cheery closing thought, from Hinote:

“I think we’ve got a recipe for blunting” a Chinese attack, he said. “I just think you have to reinvent your force to do it.”

Now if this article isn’t worrisome enough merely based on a careful reading for relying on magic technological saves or massive operational improvements, another big red flag is its few, scathing mentions of Russia. The article does acknowledge the danger of China and Russia cooperating and Russia’s strong capabilities in hypersonic missiles. But the references to Ukraine are dismissive:

…the weaknesses of Russia’s military have been exposed in Ukraine….

A conflict in the Western Pacific might also give Russia’s military, which has been badly battered in Ukraine, the confidence to carry out President Vladimir Putin’s goals of reviving Russian power in what it believes to be its traditional sphere of influence in Central and Eastern Europe.

Mind you, I do not believe this take is entirely or even mainly the result of Pentagon spokescritters hewing to the party line. My impression is most of them believe it. We discussed the latest Defense Intelligence Agency’s Worldwide Threat Assessment, particularly regarding its underestimation of Russia. If we can’t get that right, when we’ve been trying to gin up a war with them since 2014, why should we have any more confidence in our assessment of China?

The US is managing to talk itself into a different type of delusion with respect to Russia. Remember the Anthony Blinken interview with the Washington Post’s David Ignatius, which was widely depicted as presenting a peace plan? In fact it did no such thing. It was a formula for keeping the conflict going, just at a lower boil. As we wrote:

The Blinken/State vision seems to be:

US and NATO support Ukraine > *Magic* > War ends > US and NATO support Ukraine

We and others have speculated that Blinken’s peace gestures are insincere, merely to appease various constituencies that want to see the war end and also intended, if possible, to depict Russia as not interested in negotiating.

The latter claim is to a fair degree true, but that is due to the now-clear Western position that the most it is prepared to do is stop a hot war but continue arming Ukraine so as to restart at a convenient time. Russia recognized that it is at war with NATO and it needs a durable solution. Given the West’s stated lack of interest in a lasting peace, plus its pride over its duplicity, Russia has no choice but to keep going until it has prostrated NATO or alternatively, increased pressure on major fault lines (for instance, Douglas Macgregor has said NATO would fracture if Poland were to enter Ukraine).

Consider this section from a February Wall Street Journal story, in which NATO plans to make Ukraine an official, as opposed to de facto, NATO-lite member:

Germany, France and Britain see stronger ties between NATO and Ukraine as a way to encourage Kyiv to start peace talks with Russia later this year, officials from the three governments said, as some of Kyiv’s Western partners have growing doubts over its ability to reconquer all its territory.

U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak last week laid out a blueprint for an agreement to give Ukraine much broader access to advanced military equipment, weapons and ammunition to defend itself once the war ends…

A British official said another goal of the NATO pact would be to change the Kremlin’s calculus. If Moscow sees that the West is prepared to scale up its military assistance and commitments to Ukraine over time, it could help persuade Moscow that it can’t achieve its military objectives.

This must be one of the British officials that also believes (per British MoD press reports) that Russia has committed 97% of its armed forces to Ukraine and Wagner forces in Bakhmut are fighting with shovels

The West is completely open that it plans to keep arming Ukraine no matter what. It expects Russia to agree to a peace deal despite Ukraine being a ticking time bomb by design. It further expects Russia to negotiate when it’s becoming obvious that the US/NATO ability to supply enough artillery and equipment will drop off even further come sometime in the summer. Recall that the press has reported that Ukraine’s daily ammo fire has dropped from 3,000 to 4,000 shells to more like 2,000 and Ukraine is demanding 250,000 shells a month. Not only can the West not provide that, but even that is not enough to match Russia’s estimated 600,000 shells a month.

In addition, and due to the pressure of time, I was not able to confirm the sourcing, but in recent broadcast, Alexander Mercouris, citing a Western source (perhaps the BBC?) said Ukraine had only 300 artillery platforms, which he noted was down from about 1000 when the war started. If that it true, you can stick a fork in Ukraine. We pointed out that Russia had recently deployed a very effective counter-battery device called the Penicillin, which allowed Russia to detect the location of artillery fire using sound waves and ground impact. Unlike radar, the Penicillin does not put out signals that can be read, so it can’t be located and destroyed.

Since the Penicillin was put into production, various commentators have pointed out that Russia has been taking out many more weapons platforms. My impression from Dima at Military Summary is that the average is over 2 a day.

Even if only 2 a day, 60 platforms in a month is 1/5 of what Ukraine is alleged to have left. And as Brian Berletic has repeatedly documented, US weapons deliveries and the dollars attached to them keep falling, to the degree that the US has stopped disclosing the numbers of what it is sending, merely naming the type of weapon or support.

And so the delusion produces confused messages. Again from the February story:

President Emmanuel Macron of France and Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that he needed to start considering peace talks with Moscow when the three leaders met in Paris earlier this month, people familiar with the conversation said….

While London, Paris and Berlin see the possibility that Kyiv may have to seek talks with Russia after an expected counteroffensive this spring that could help it regain more territory, other Ukraine backers think there should be no negotiations as long as Russian troops remain on Ukrainian soil

Ukraine’s backers are acting like gamblers hoping they can wager their way out of big losses. No, Ukraine is not to sue for peace now. It’s to settle after a win, even if it were to prove to be a modest win, mainly for the sake of the face of its funders.

And how is that supposed to happen? Russian officials have reported that Ukraine is massing more troops, up from 25,000 to now over 30,000 in Zaporzhizhia, presumably to try an offensive to the south, aimed either at Melitopol or Mariupol. The wags speculate that Ukraine will assemble 40,000 and perhaps as many as 60,000 men, with the target time expected to be late March/early April.

But these troops will be short on tanks, ammo, and air cover. And Russia has been building major fortifications in the region since Surovkin took over in October, and per Alexander Mercouris, has about 90,000 there now. If an attack looked likely, Russia would almost certain increase its force level there.

And while Ukraine is supposedly preparing for its big, last ditch counter-offensive, it is also wasting more men and materiel in Bakhmut. Russia has achieved operational encirclement. Men can’t get out without serious survival risk. But Ukraine announced Monday it is still contesting Bakhmut, most experts believe by attempting to force open a transportation route. But even if they succeed, to what end? If they can get enough troops out to recover the cost of forcing open a corridor, that might be a worthy gamble. But if they think they can do more than further delay the full capture of Bakhmut, it’s more evidence they have lost their minds.

For much more detail on the grim state of play in Bakhmut, see Moon of Alabama’s new post Why Bakhmut Is Falling.

Now of course wars are uncertain, and perhaps Russia will make a spectacular blunder. But absent that, it’s hard to see any reason for Russia to end the war before its aims are met. And the US and NATO keep feeding more cannon fodder into the Russian killing machine.

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  1. Louis Fyne

    It’s not just machines based on hopium….DC (Dems + Establishment GOP) is losing war-making legitimacy among the deplorables.

    It’s been 7 years since H. Clinton said the quiet part aloud w/her dismissiveness towards the Deplorables—but like it or not the Deplorables (bottom 50% income, rural and ex-urban America) are at the very least a plurality of the military, particularly the enlisted ranks.

    Nothing like the disdain of the elites to make people realize that “war is a racket,” particularly given the Covid-era behavior of the elites.

    1. fresno dan

      I think you are exactly right. There really is no peace wing of either party, or apparently even a significant “realpolitic” wing. I have harped on this, but can there be a clearer action that shows the contempt that Washington holds flyover country in then the fact that East Palestine is not worth the President’s time?
      DC (Dems + Establishment GOP) is losing war-making legitimacy among the deplorables.
      Those are the only people who will fight a war – people with money won’t do it. Other candidates won’t speak it, but Trump will – how many people advocating war have served at real risk?

  2. The Rev Kev

    There seems to be a lot of hope tied up with a lot of new weapons designs. They may have to hold off with that war for a few years more. The only thing is the have to be designed, built and tested until they get the prototypes working. And then they have to learn how to manufacture them on an industrial scale. Then they have to be sent out to the military where the real work begins. Those troops have to learn how to use, deploy and maintain these systems. Anybody think that Raytheon contractors will travel to the first island chain in case a war breaks out? The military has to understand those weapons with their strengths and weaknesses and incorporate them into doctrine while setting up a channel of trained people to work these things. It is never an easy process as can be seen in a whole series of big ticket weapons programs the past few decades. And I am sure that I have only listed only a very few steps in getting this done. China, meanwhile, would be preparing and I am sure that they will lay the diplomatic groundwork so if the US goes gunning for China, that they will find themselves totally isolated.

    1. Polar Socialist

      There is a school of procurement where the nation sets out the strategy, military defines the doctrine and then procures weapons that are specified by the doctrine.

      Of course one doesn’t get the shiny, expensive, multipurpose, AI-based, media-sexy stuff that way, but something boring, simple and ugly. Stuff that works as intended, works efficiently and yet is often surprisingly flexible for secondary purposes, too.

  3. Stephen

    This article by Edward Luttwak in Unherd today is of slightly similar ilk.


    The comments (as ever there on these topics) are typically quite deranged.

    It’s an odd one though. He talks about alleged Chinese “problems” in recruiting and a pacific population. Fails to mention similar western “problems” other than over complex weapons. Does not draw an inference from his own observations that perhaps China is a pacific country that does not even want to be a military threat!

    Although claiming that Han Chinese are different from other humans because they prefer not to fight wars or join the army feels a very unsubstantiated perspective. When I last checked I did not see too many Europeans who want to fight a real war, even though many are quite happy to cheer other parties on from Twitter. It also ignores the fact that China suffered over 3 million military deaths in WW2: sounds like they are very prepared to fight if they have to.

    I wonder what “experts” such as this are paid for sharing their “wisdom”. So many of them also seem to have recent family connections in Eastern Europe that must create some form of bias.

    1. Louis Fyne

      kettle meet pot. (assuming everything asserted by that commenter is true)

      $35,000 enlistment bonuses (on top of free college) and enough young Deplorables (among others) are still not signing up for the US military when 30 years ago their fathers couldn’t even imagine getting an equivalent bonus

    2. BrianF

      while the weaknesses of Russia’s military have been exposed in Ukraine…. Pure propaganda and speculation. I don’t think Russia has gone to full war. It’s a SMO with different rules. What the SMO has proved is USA miscalculated especially with sanctions and logistics ( hell the WSJ all but admits that we ain’t ready and with a defense budget at 850 billion. . This will be the greatest defeat in our history. It may rival the collapse of Soviet Union itself. I believe when the Russians win it will be a huge problem for Europe going forward. This also assumes they aren’t stupid enough to engage in direct conflict which very well may lead to nuclear war.

    3. poobear

      If you think the Chinese will not sign up to fight a war, read “Korea: Where the American Centruy Began” by Michael Pembroke. When it came to fighting the US, the Chinese did it in big numbers in hand to hand combat and kicked ass so bad the the US had to resort to mostly fighting from the air for the rest of the war.

  4. David

    The basic issue here, I think, is the difference between an expeditionary force and a force in place, or, if you prefer, between attacking at a distance and defending. If for some unfathomable reason there should be a conflict between China and the US, it would have to take place a lot nearer China than the US. That means that, whilst the Chinese would largely operate from their existing bases and infrastructure, the US would have to deploy large forces at a distance, which is always tricky.

    Since nobody imagines the US will attempt an amphibious invasion of China, the conflict would be largely a sea/air one. However, the US would need to deploy ships and aircraft near to China, whereas the Chinese would largely base themselves on their existing infrastructure, and seek to operate under the air cover of missiles and aircraft. This is particularly a problem for airpower: effectively, if the US wants to deploy airpower near China in any large numbers it will have to use carriers. Modern aircraft are generally pretty poor at landing and taking off from the open sea. So for all their vulnerability it’s carriers or nothing, and ultimately it’s geography, not technology, that counts.

    We’ve seen effectively the same pattern in Ukraine. That country is far away, and the Donbas is even further. But the conflict is only a few hundred kilometres from the old Russo/Ukrainian border. Some things you can’t change.

    1. tevhatch

      The military “threat” is a tactic used to attempt another failed tactic. The USA hopes to provoke China to do something so vile that it will cause a world-wide reaction severe enough that countries will line up to jump over a cliff/self-immolate/self-defenestrate their own economies to protest China and enslave themselves to the USA. It worked on the Europeans (vis Russia), but that’s because the USA has coopted their political systems. I don’t think the USA’s hold over the rest of the world’s leadership is that strong, with the exception of a few remote pacific island nations with small populations (yes, that includes Oz/NZ).

      I suspect even the EU Quisling leadership may balk at full scale trade war with China, as there are not enough safe jobs with sufficient money and prestige for them in Washington based organs for all of them when the pitchforks come out.

      1. Piotr Berman

        “. It worked on the Europeans…”

        which is almost strange, given divergent economic interests. But outside NATO+, economic interests are clear, neutrality has larger monetary value than blessings from USA and allies. India reduced its inflation through access to critical goods at good price, fuels, fertilizers and few more, Brazil (and a lot of others) depend on Chinese market, and lesser countries are in similar situation.

        In the same time, the package of “ideas” that to varied degree is swaying NATO+ has few takers outside. Democracy vs authoritarians? Bulk of countries have multi-party elections etc., and USA determines who is naughty and who is nice? Perhaps USA checks it twice, but how… plus superior attitudes etc.

        NATO+ actions cause non-obvious reactions. Forcing Russia to sell oil and products with deep discounts creates customers who treasure those discounts. Blocking imports from China creates intermediaries who make great business making hitherto Chinese products from Chinese components, hence, Malaysian solar panels. Restoring Iron Curtain is difficult in globalized economy, it is too efficient to destroy without pain, while the current Grand Western Project promises exactly that.

        BTW, a short news item that Japan resumed import of Russian oil.

  5. John R Moffett

    What I see is a constant and monumental effort at military job security with the double aims of stirring up trouble in various locals, only to claim that the resultant trouble shows the urgent need for increased military funding. It always reminds me of the stories of volunteer “firemen” who get caught setting fires so they can show up to be the hero to help put the fire out, only on a much larger, more deadly scale.

    1. Peter

      I am amazed and mystified by some of these posts – I was in the Navy and did two tours of Vietnam and somewhat of a naval historian – here is what I can tell you, especially #1.

      1. War is insane in the end, especially today; both sides lose – WHY would anyone, most of whom know nothing about WAR they should like they are talking about a silly board game talk about a war in which EVERYONE DIES, and they die for a silly, egocentric reason/s?

      2. Before WW2, only one country really believed that aircraft carriers were the future, and that was Japan – the USA, on the other hand, thought slow, very vulnerable Battleships were the key – in WW One they were key, but as Pearl Harbor clearly demonstrated – Battleships had their day and not realizing this was a terrible tragedy.

      3. Today USA believes that Aircraft carriers are the new battleship; sounds familiar – well, I can tell you for 100% certainty that there are ONLY TWO TYPES of SHIPS (warships) – huh what? That is correct submarines and TARGETS, and the bigger the target, the easier the kill – are Carriers not the biggest targets? Major historical failure # 2 for the US. First, we stuck with old battleships, and now we are all in on aircraft carriers.

      Those who fail to learn the lessons of history will ALWAYS regret it.

      1. Bazarov

        It’s unfair to say that America is “all in on aircraft carriers.” I’d say we’re just as if not more so all-in on submarines, which you rightly point out are essential to modern naval warfare.

        We have the best submarine force in the world, comprised of 18 Ohio-class nuclear ballistic and over 20 Virginia-class nuclear attack submarines. All-together, this force represents the most powerful weapon in human history. If I was China, that submarine threat would haunt me.

        I’m sure our attack submarines especially could wreak havoc on the Chinese navy.

        1. tevhatch

          …could wreak havoc on the Chinese navy merchant marine.

          The problem for any attack submarine is survival after an attack. Once they launch any weapon, their general location is disclosed by weapons tracks, and counter-attack by active sonar software competent measures makes it a near mutual suicide pack to carry out an attack on a competent naval vessel, whether submarine or surface vessel, double down on that for any submarine operating with shore aviation range.

        2. Polar Socialist

          During a war 20+ of those submarines would be assigned to protect the cvarries strike groups from the enemy, so there would be less than 20 US submarines facing 48 PLAN destroyers, 43 PLAN fregates, 67 PLAN submarine hunters and 103 PLAN submarines.

          Or something like that. I believe the main strike force of the PLAN are the 82 missile boats that have range (barely) to the east side of Taiwan and enough firepower to saturate any defense. They are small and fast themself and not really worth for the submarine to take the risk – even a successful attack removes mere 1.2% of the Chinese force while exposing the sub to countermeasures.

          1. Louis Fyne

            during a real peer war, X number of submarines and/or surface ships also will be needed to escort the ammunition, fuel, and food replenishment ships that will be needed to sustain the US deployed combat ships. If it is a real war, those combat ships will not be able to dock to any port for months on end.

            Unless the Pentagon is actually willing to send an unarmed Navy oil tanker from Hawaii and/or Guam all the way to the Philippine Sea by itself.

            Spoiler: the US Navy does not have many oil tankers or support ships lying around in active service or reserve, and can’t afford to lose even one given how long it would take to build a replacement in one of the US shipyards left.

        3. Karl

          China recently landed a rover on Mars with very advanced science gear aboard for research. If they can do that, they can design and deploy effective long range smart anti-sub ordinance. They may not have it now (should we bet on that?) but almost certainly they are working on it.

          I can envision swarms of long distance guided torpedoes/drones doing to our subs what swarms of guided missiles/drones will do to our aircraft carriers.

        4. SteveW

          US may have the best submarines, but Taiwan strait is too shallow for stealth operations, simply too easy to detect with all the planted sensors.

      2. scott s.

        I can’t really accept your point 2. PH demonstrated that capital ship passive defense (mainly armor) could be defeated by air-launched weapons. But the overall fleet design was dictated by the naval armament limitation treaties entered into after WWI. Among other things limiting battleship displacement to 35,000 tons resulting in a complex trade study in offensive vs defensive capabilities. The resulting North Carolina class wasn’t even complete until after PH. As far as aircraft carrier design, I think a better interpretation is that the USN was experimenting with radically different designs within the imposed treaty limits. As the naval powers eventually blew out the treaty limits, the Essex class was a result of lessons learned. As far as “subs and targets”, I note the current employment of attack boats seems primarily as cruise missile batteries. The true capability of attack subs is counter-sub.

        Of course submariners like to play their green flare games, but I often wondered if we had popped a couple ASROC launched torps over the side if the submariners would still be as aggressive.

  6. upstater

    The US and NATO do have some significant strengths with ISR, which coincidentally are big ticket items for the MIC. I was impressed and it goes some way in explaining the relative slow, grinding positional warfare that has developed and lack of big arrow operations. Having said that Russia has the upper hand, but it will be considerable time to end. There is no place to hide for anyone. From Simplicius:

    US/NATO ISR Addendum: Deep Dive Into The Delta Leaks

    It would not be surprising to see China providing some of the same ISR and EW to Russia. A great laboratory for great powers, whether ascending or declining.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I don’t mean to come down on you but I am shocked and frustrated that that post is getting traction.

      This reads like a planted piece and has many incorrect claims and inferences . That plus the next post by the same author, touting Ukronazi imagery as Gen-Z ish, makes him look like a propagandist. Mark Ames called it “word puke”

      About the linked article:

      1. The reason Russia withdrew in Kharkiv is they saw Ukraine forces coming. Further, to discredit the claim that Ukraine had great intel/surveillance, they were surprised to find Russian troops were pretty much all gone and the rest got out more or less in their entirety.

      It had been LONG known and commented on by sites like Military Summary for months that both Ukraine and Russia had few troops in Kharkiv.

      2. Please tell me the evidence that Ukraine has any meaningful air force left, another claim here. The strike on Engels air base was with US refitted drone that “hid” by flying in a commercial lane and still got intercepted. If Ukraine had any real air force or air defense left, why did Biden have to ask Russia for permission to come to Kiev? And why did he not take a plane?

      Early in the SMO, that 40 KM of tanks decoy was utterly unmolested. Larry Johnson said that was proof of Russia’s control of the skies then. Russian doctrine is air superiority, not air supremacy. They don’t incur the additional resource cost to stop everything, just nearly everything.

      3. Having said that. Ukraine has had the Soviet S-300 air defense system, which is pretty good and Russian planes would be wary of that. But Ukraine is running out of missiles, witness its request for the inferior US Patriot. In addition, the strikes on the electrical grid has forced Ukraine to redirect most of its S-300 cover to protecting its remaining electrical assets.

      4. Doctrinally, Russia never uses its air force when missiles will do the same job. So by design, you don’t see much of the Russian air force save for close cover for combined arms operations. Clearing dense fortifications is not that. Admittedly Russia does have a gap in its offensive weapons in that it has too little in the way of long-range loitering drones for its current scale of operations. But it is in the process of remedying that.

      5. The setup is bizarre because it treats the Starlink drones as wunderwaffen, when every Western wunderwaffen has failed. And centering this on Bakhmut? Seriously? Bakhmut has not gone at all well for Team Ukraine. So WTF advantage is this producing, exactly, even assuming they fly over Russian positions as freely as this indicates?

      6. The piece also ignores reports of Ukraine complaints of Starlink signal jamming by Russia, of the service being unusable for comms. That was its key use and loss of that was a huge problem for Ukraine. That is also believed to be the reason for Musk trying to restrict its use in Ukraine, that he didn’t want the success of Russian interference getting more attention.

      7. If Ukraine has such superior surveillance, it also would not have been surprised by the Kherson withdrawal. US officials said they thought it would take at best a week, more like ten days, and Russia would wind up abandoning some equipment. Russia got out in 3 days and got all their working equipment out too.

      1. Henry Moon Pie

        “And why did he not take a plane?”

        That really is the $64,000 question. The conversations that must have led up to that deal! Maybe the U. S. position was weakened because the Russians knew that neither Tom Cruise nor Adam Kinzinger were available to fly escort.

        And how stupid are Joe and (presumably) Jill? It seems to me that there must be a lot people out there who see Biden as a good martyr candidate. It’s not like the whole thing of him running again isn’t a bit awkward.

  7. david

    Seems strange that the analysis is consistently about US Military hardware capacity and capability with an 80 mile distance from the mainland to Taiwan is given marginal value.

    So many advantages to proximity whether its launching mobile hypersonic pinpoint accurate missiles from land or sea. Then you have culture, language, approach to problem solving and race well understood in China about the opposition. All of which speaks to infiltration in so many approaches whether its buying the equivalent of the Hunter Biden family locally or a cadre of local democrats with insider information to trade for ??? Or local magnates who don’t care who runs the show, they just want to run their business quietly and will go with the CCP once the order is made in Beijing. The electric system can be disabled easier than Ukraine. Food comes from??

    Invasion isn’t necessary – the Taiwanese will flip the keys before they depend on the perfidy of the USA.

    Washington is again promoting just like in Ukraine, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Korea all of which went no where.

    1. TimH

      …the Taiwanese will flip the keys before they depend on the perfidy of the USA

      US treats its enemy badly, and its friends worse…

  8. Eclair

    Thank you, Yves. I was thinking only yesterday, that I missed having a subscription to the WSJ, as I did back in the ’90’s …. the daily paper edition. Keeping an eye on their editorials was edifying (if gut-churning), because so often what was hinted or suggested, however outlandish or unthinkable, came, mysteriously, to pass.

    So, we’re to downshift and brake, lightly, on the world domination stuff? Hold off for a few years, while we allocate $140 BILLION, annually, to Pentagon R&D; compared to a whopping $20 BILLION in funding from the USDOT for public mass transit systems, for example.

    Maybe if the US were invaded by a China/Russia coalition we would get high speed rail linking our major cities, which would all build efficient subway systems with museum-quality stations. And, our planes would run on time!

  9. voislav

    The situation is reminiscent of the Battle of Kursk. Ukraine needs the offensive to regain initiative and delay/prevent Russian offensive, not even accounting for the political pressure. Russian seems to plan to let Ukraine batter their best units against a prepared defensive line before launching an offensive of their own against now weakened force.

    Satellite photos are showing large buildup of fortifications from Zaporzhizhia all the way to Melitopol, so Russia seems to be preparing a deep defensive belt to absorb Ukrainian offensive. There are also reports of massing Russian forces in the Mariupol region and curiously Voronezh/Belgorod area. So it looks like the plan is to launch a follow-up offensive from both the south and the east after Ukrainian reserves have been neutralized.

    1. hk

      Complete with phoney “negotiations” just before? (Ribbentrop and Motov had a very brief meeting that went nowhere just before Kursk, after Germans “seized initiative” with their Kharkov counteroffensive (how history repeats in funny ways!). Apparently, Mussolini, who had no issues with USSR, insisted on negotiations.)

      1. hk

        Suppose one could add funny wonder weapons with similar names:. Panthers then, Leopard 2s now….

  10. Boomheist

    This is an excellent article, as are most of the comments. It is almost impossible to find comprehensive and thoughtful, non-propagandistic articles about the military situation in MSM or smaller outlets. I might even argue that the article here is in fact journalism as it should be practiced everywhere else.

    I noticed today someone writing in Daily Kos essentially making the argument that Ukraine has decided to leave Bakhmut for higher ground to the west as an entirely strategic move after pummeling the Russians, furthering the narrative that the entire war is going exactly to plan. In this view, Bakhmut has not fallen but is instead meaningless as a strategic location, and Russia is clearly losing.

    Regarding warships, let me make a small observation. I spent 2014-2016 working for the Military Sealift Command as a contracted sailor, manning reserve ships. These are a fleet of roll-on, roll-off vessels kept at a state of readiness such that if they are called to action, they can be spun up and fully manned and delivered to a loading port within, I believe, three full days. There are about a dozen such ships based around the United States. I know there are two in Baltimore, two in Violet Louisiana, and two here in Tacoma. There are also, and many dont know this, another dozen or so ships, most of which are in Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, also Military reserve ships, but these are ships each loaded with a full division’s inventory of vehicles and some ammo, up to 1,000 vehicles by the way, and I believe nearly a full crew, at anchor, literally ready to be given the order to depart for, say, the Persian Gulf and they can be underway within 24 hours. All these ships are crewed not by military personnel per se but instead by American sailors who would otherwise work on civilian cargo ships. This is because, I think as long ago as Reagan, a decision was made that because the military is Government and hence Woefully Inefficient it would be faster better and more proper to instead establish a public private partnership and contract with private companies (which were set up especially to take over these ships) thus reducing the number of enlisted sailors. Free Markets. By the way this thesis, now widespread, also moved to other areas, like I think contracts to provide food to overseas bases, etc).

    By sloughing off lots of ships to the private sector, from an accounting standpoint it looks like the Navy has shrunk. What is not so visible is that these reserve ships are now handled by companies trying to make a profit, squeeze supplies, and make money. I can assure you these ships, all of them, as any ship, are maintenance nightmares. Every three or four years the Navy and Military Sealift Command runs a test to be sure the ships can operate as contracted – staff up and leave the dock, make it to a port for loading within three days. Every time they have done this only about half, if that, of the ships meet the standard. They break down. They cannot get the manpower. Ships are nothing but maintenance sinks, especially ships that sit at the dock or at anchor. But the Navy, by casting off its reserve fleet to the private sector, was thus enabled funding to play around with modern new weapons and ships, and we all know how successful that has been.

    This is all a very long way of saying that while we may have, on paper, and even in fact on the water, a fleet of ships that appears ready to load and support operations far from the United States – which we will need were we to become more active in Ukraine or China – if push comes to shove and the calls are made, chaos is likely to ensue.

    So in the one tiny sector I personally served in, reserve ships, the public posture is we have a fleet of dozens of ships ready to carry multiple division’s worth of supplies anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice. But the real, true actual posture is these ships are held together with baling wire and hope, often don’t run as planned, and even beyond all that they are designed and outfitted for warfare as it was in 1989 when the US was last able to ship over armies and supplies to Kuwait. In between now and then one big difference is the development of these antiship missiles and drones, which along with being able to sink carriers could also sink most other ships as well….

    1. Louis Fyne

      thank you. I love “how the sausage is made” anecdotes like this which one can only find at sites like this.

      1. Karl

        If only our “intelligence experts” at CIA, NSA etc. read NC! We’d have a leaner, meaner, smarter foreign policy and military posture overall.

        Perhaps such a posture is not the real goal. Overly complex, expensive, hard-to-train/maintain — and very profitable — hardware may be the goal.

        This leaves the very real possibility that our wunderwaffen won’t actually work as advertised in a serious war. This would make our military useful for threatening and bullying only. Putting them to a real test in a battle with a peer adversary?

    2. hk

      Thank you for the anecdote. It does make me wonder how a military, or quasi-military force can be maintained on full alert on a budget for any significant duration of time at a large enough scale to fight a serious expeditionary war…in nominal peacetime. Sun Tzu starts the second chapter of his famous book by enumerating how costly it is to raise, equip, and supply an army (and what kind of sundries that people may not think about). I don’t think people ever read this far.

    3. The Rev Kev

      You can bet that the Chinese watch those roll-on, roll-off vessels as closely as the carriers. And in case of war, they will be a priority target. But thank you very much for this complete comment on this aspect of naval logistics which seems to have been neglected.

  11. MichaelSF

    The Army, which saw . . . atrophy amid budget pressures . . . The Navy, which is confronting budget pressures . . .

    I have some vague recollection that the DOD has been getting everything it asks for and often even more that it hasn’t asked for over the past umpty-ump years. Are the budget pressures from them losing track of trillions of dollars since it seems like they’ve been given plenty of money (and more money than the nearest group of competitors combined spends).

    1. tevhatch

      Every dollar of value to the tax payer is a dollar less in profit to the MIC, and of course a small fraction of that dollar profit for the MIC goes to congress critters, presidents, PMC and their families, both genetic and crime based. See the comment from Boomheist, and apply the same sausage making to manufacture of weapon systems as well as maintenance.

  12. MRLost

    What China (PRC) has – and has had for a very long time – that the US does not have and likely will never have, is patience. The Chinese government will continue to improve the lot of its citizens, excel in a long list of fields, and so forth until the people of Taiwan beg to rejoin the mainland because doing so will be a better choice for them.

  13. Louis Fyne

    another terminal imperial decline indicator….

    the Army is offering signing bonuses of up to $600,000 (sic) for enlisting physicians (cardiology, ER, vascular, ,etc)

    so looks like the military has an MD shortage too. And this is after considering that the Pentagon has its own med school.

    But hey, you pick fights and start wars with the militaries you have, am i right?

  14. Piotr Berman

    “he realized there were limits to US power, that we could not fight a war on poverty, send a man to the moon, and fight a ground war in Asia at the same time.

    The lack of that insight still seems widespread inside the Beltway,”

    Perhaps this is an unjust accusation. Clearly, one should not try to do many things at once, but if we postpone dealing with poverty and explorations of Cosmos, we can focus on war in Asia, preferably, not a ground war. For the first few years, a proper national mood has to be created, tamping down pro-Cosmos and anti-poverty sentiments by offering something more fascinating.

  15. Susan the other

    It is delusional for us to think that we could defeat China in any way whatsoever. The reason we do not hear about any goals associated with our threats of war is because the are no goals. Certainly there is nothing to be gained by violence except enforcing rules of conduct on China and Russia. So what are these rules? I’ve been reading that they are arbitrary and flexible which means there really aren’t any coherent goals, let alone rules. What exactly are we claiming to defend Taiwan from? Ukraine? If we “defeated” China how would we govern the Chinese? Or the Russians? The evidence is that we would impose the rules of financialized neoliberalism on them. But in fact we don’t want to deal with their economies because they are too socially just for our exploitations. And I’d submit it is also a fact that we do not have the organizations to govern anything, including our own severely neglected country.

  16. Willow

    China has already started a successful soft flipping of Taiwan based on recent elections. Taiwanese have seen what happened to Ukraine and prefer the least-worse option of being under CCP. With expectations Xi’s only going to be around for another 5 years.

    Both China & Russia are playing for the Global South, China won’t move first on Taiwan and will wait for US to make first move or be clearly seen as an aggressor. Possibly with US triggering a South Sea China physical clash or prodding North Korea into doing something stupid. North Korea making the first move has potential upside of keeping Japan out of any conflict initially. Putting US at a severe disadvantage. North Korea could use nukes to devastating effect while China hands remain clean. Taiwan seeing a weaken US would give up all pretense to independence. China moving into North Korea to provide ‘support’ and eventual long term ‘occupation’ provides very valuable strategic access to Sea of Japan. Making any conflict with US over the Korean peninsula more than worthwhile even if another Korea stalemate arises.

  17. HH

    When a nation becomes intoxicated by its past glories, there is no easy path to recovery. The modern history of Britain is a good predictor of the sad future of the U.S. After the Suez crisis, the British empire collapsed, but Britain had chronic delusions of grandeur reinforced by victory in a miniature war in the Falklands and bit player roles in U.S. military adventures. The long slow decline of the U.S. will follow a similar trajectory, with a fervent devotion to militarism persisting after repeated debacles. Not even a stinging defeat at the hands of China in the Pacific will put an end to the toxic exceptionalism that plagues America. Only a nuclear war can do that, a cure that is worse than the disease.

  18. Paul Damascene

    A balanced assessment of Russia’s actual military performance would attribute what are typically dismissed as military failings to political / strategic directives that sought benefits in non-military domains–all may have been worth attempting, some succeeded, & others nearly so.

    Ironically, stratagems that might have worked against a more analytically capable adversary–for example, going in fast & light in phase 1–failed in military terms by giving those prejudiced to despise and disrespect Russia the opportunity to successfully portray Russia as weak, and leading those who had been prepared for a crushing war of annihilation to that surprised conclusion.

    But consider an alternative: that military assessments of Russia’s performance are as fatally wrong in their way as the pre-incursion economic and geopolitical expectations of rapid economic collapse and geopolitical isolation.

    The one military domain where NATO military analysts do recognize a Russia far more powerful than pretty much all–including those who have in other ways seen Russia as unexpectedly weak–observers expected is in defense industrial capacity, where Russia’s state/corporate industrial organization is easily outproducing all of NATO in key sectors.

    Regarding other stunning and either overlooked or already forgotten military accomplishments, Russia:
    * virtually eliminated Ukraine’s air force and navy in the first 3 days.
    * operated, with moderate losses, in the most dangerous air-defense environment *any* air force has ever faced (an air defense nonetheless consisting of then-cutting-edge Soviet technology).
    * defied and essential rewrote military doctrine by successfully attacked with a 1:3 numerical disadvantage while imposing at least 5:1 loss ratios
    * rewrote the manual on urban warfare–w/ Chechens & VSU taking Mariupol relatively quickly and w/ manageable losses.
    * outflanked and outmanoevred NATO’s Maginot Line strategy–whereby Russia was to impale itself on a frontal attack on forces dug into 8 years of fortifications, winning somehow in 3 days, but at the cost of 200k men, or so.
    * shifted to attritional warfare, turning the Donbass into conveyer belt of destruction, w/ Russia staying close to logistical support while NATO sends enough materiel to demilitarize itself.
    * after a year, where it is increasingly clear it’s NATO vs Russia, Russia is actually in a much stronger overall military position vis-a-vis a confused NATO, largely bereft of ideas.

  19. dirke

    First up, a US newly deployed weapon system (say the F-35) is at least ten years out of date on technology. There’s a public misconception, that when these systems are designed that they will be a leading edge product. It generally takes about ten years to get from design to production. So the technologies are fixed in the design phase. The last real Air Force completion for a fighter was the YF-22 versus YF-23. The current procurement system is basically here’s a requirements list and pick a defense contractor to do it. As an engineer designing something, the main driving force is cost. How cheap can it be built (for max profit). You would not believe the amount of paper you have to do to get a part that’s needed and is not on the approved (lowest cost) parts list. There’s no requirement for easily up gradable components during manufacturing . So now the US is facing China and Russia that are fielding comparable or better systems, more current technology, to US ones. Also, the military leaders don’t really have clue on what technology can implemented in a timely manner. They also, don’t seem to understand that things have changed. The war simulations are still assuming that an US fighters can shoot down twenty of the enemy for ever one lost. In the 1980’s everyone new the greatness limitation in an military aircraft was the pilot. A pilot may be able to out think a computer, but there’s no way to out react one. A piloted aircraft requires around 5000+ of equipment. Also you have to reduce the performance to keep for killing the pilot. The greatest change is drones and smart weapons. Currently a Cessna 210 can shoot down a F-35 with right smart missile. The Russians figured it out quite a while go. The have a lot of older weapons platforms that have be upgraded to current technology weapons. This allows them to field a lot of hardware. The US has thousands of viable air frames just mothballed out in the desert. The Navy and Army have the same. Also, most the current systems have major problems. All the F-35 are currently grounded. Last I checked it had about 800 problems that needed to addressed. There’s another catastrophic problem that not being addressed. That is finding the scientists and engineers to design new weapons systems. What is currently viable in the younger generations can not do it. The ones of us that can won’t put with the stupidly of the current work environment. I’ve had every major defense contractor contact me in the last six months. So the US has out of date systems, new systems that are failures. And finally the existing systems are not ready combat. Also add in an military that is around 30% over weight. A lot the trained pilots left the military. To train a F-16 is ten million dollars an F-22 is a hundred million.
    Please take a look at the following links.


  20. Rob

    Of course, the unasked question in the WSJ article relates to the purpose and necessity of a war with China. Is it intended to block China from replacing the United States as the world’s economic and financial leader? Is it to prove to China that its days of kowtowing to the US are far from over? On both scores, the point of no return has been passed. China is the already world’s largest economy, and it is determined never again to bend the knee to any other nation. China has advanced weaponry and a population of nearly 1.5 billion, while the United States has outmoded weaponry and a population of about 0.33 billion. The war will be fought on China’s doorstep, but half a world away from the US’s. Guess which side the smart money will back?

    If such a foolhardy war is fought, the United States will be exposed, yet again, as a feeble giant stumbling towards a cliff. The American people will have gained nothing and lost much.

  21. MFB

    Clearly the United States cannot defeat China if a war breaks out. The more serious question is surely whether China can defeat the United States. Sending amphibious forces across the Pacific against a strong submarine resistance would be very difficult. Of course, such a war could easily go nuclear — which, I notice, is rarely discussed by U.S. warplanners, presumably because there’s no money to be made.

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