Cdr. Salamander has a blog post describing the similarities between 1914 and 2014 as regards the possibility of war and the attitudes prevalent then and now. I won’t cite the article because I’m not going to use anything from it. The topic merely sets the stage for this post.
Many commenters dismiss the possibility of war with
. The reasons are varied: the Chinese are just friendly world neighbors, our countries are so interconnected economically that they would never risk a war, the devastation would be too great for a country as reasonable as China, our military is more powerful than the next [however many] militaries combined so China would never attempt a war, and so on. China
Of course, history suggests that many of the same reasons for the unlikeliness of war were put forth prior to every war ever fought – and yet they were fought.
Well, fine, many of these commenters sniff and snort, if war does come we’ll win, of course. This, despite the fact that we have nowhere near the quantities of munitions, ships, planes, etc. to wage a protracted war – and there’s absolutely nothing to suggest that war with
will be short. Not to be discouraged, the commenters simply state that we’ll build more ships and planes and munitions and whatever else we need to compensate for attrition. After all, we did it in WWII so we’ll do it again. China
Unfortunately, this could not be more wrong.
Unlike the pre-WWII era when we had dozens of major shipyards already in existence, we currently only have a few. Likewise, the labor force has dwindled to just those few.
No problem. We’ll just build new shipyards and hire new workers.
This isn’t even remotely in the realm of reality. Shipyards capable of building modern ships don’t just spring up overnight. Even more limiting, the labor to build ships doesn’t exist today. The basic welding, pipefitting, and electrical skills no longer exist to anywhere near the degree they used to. We’ve farmed much of our skilled manufacturing labor out to foreign countries. High schools have largely abandoned vocational education programs in favor of the every-child-must-attend-college-or-be-deemed-a-failure philosophy. The pool of skilled labor just doesn’t exist and it can’t be reconstituted overnight.
Even if the shipyards and skilled labor could be magically created in a useful time frame, the more serious shortcoming is the dependence of modern ships, systems, and munitions on computer chips. Computer chips are already in short supply with periodic shortages a current reality. Ominously, computer chip manufacturing facilities are extremely complex and take years to build. If welders, electricians, and pipefitters are in short supply, the supply of computer chip engineers and technicians is even more limited.
In short, we would have no hope of ramping up ship, aircraft, and munition production in under five years and probably longer, much longer. While it’s a truism that war is a come as you are affair, future war will probably be a “fight with what you have because you aren’t getting any more”, affair. ComNavOps has already pointed out that numbers is the most important factor in winning a war and this inability to replace attrition makes numbers even more important.
An extension of the attrition and lack of replacement issue is that victory may come down to numbers of second rate assets. Think about it. Once both sides have blown up each other’s top of the line assets they’ll be fighting with second rate assets and whoever has more will likely win. That reserve fleet that the US refuses to maintain because, in part, the ships are hopelessly outclassed by modern standards, may turn out to be the highest tech still functioning after the initial stages of war. That entire class of Spruances that we sent to the bottom of the sea might look awfully good after the Burkes are destroyed. Those old supercarriers that we’re scrapping might be the class of the world at some point.
Consider that the
used WWII gravity bombs as recently as the Desert Storm conflict and we were lucky we had them in storage. Where is today’s vast storage of low tech munitions that we can call on in a pinch in the future? US
The Navy has made the conscious decision to travel the path of quality over quantity. For a short term conflict that’s a viable path. For a protracted war that’s the path to defeat.