Is the United States Unprepared for a Major War?


Wesley Smith

January 25

5 min read

Foreign Policy



As the United States continues to arm and supply Ukraine, are we putting our own security at risk? While it is unlikely the U.S. will be attacked, what happens if we are? More in the realm of real possibility, what happens if China invades Taiwan? Is our support of Ukraine negatively impacting our ability to assist Taiwan in its own defense? It is important that we support Ukraine’s fight for freedom and ensure the stability of Europe and the security of NATO. However, we are depleting the U.S. arsenal as we do so, particularly because our own defense industry is not keeping up and the Pentagon’s procurement system is out of date.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), in a recent study, reveals widespread problems in the U.S. arms industry that would have a direct impact on the ability of the U.S. to fight a protracted war. Additionally, defense experts in the U.S. and Taipei point out the challenges the United States would face in defending Taiwan due to the number of weapons and ammunition supplies being provided to Ukraine and the lagging capacity of the U.S. armaments industries to replace the weapons and munitions.

Weapons inventories and ammunition supplies are historically low at the moment – but would fall dangerously low in a protracted conflict. For example, supplies of artillery rounds are very low, and manufacturers are not keeping up. The U.S. defense industry is operating in a manner designed for a peacetime environment. The Pentagon’s procurement system is antiquated and slow, with sluggish contract procedures. Presently, it lacks the capacity to surge in the event of a major war. That impacts not only our own national security but also the ability to come to the defense of our allies in Europe and in the Indo-Pacific region.

According to reports, the number of Javelin anti-tank missiles sent to Ukraine takes 7 years to replace based on today’s production rates. The U.S. has sent 160 155mm howitzers (artillery) to Ukraine. The manufacturer (BAE Systems) has not even started the production lines to replace these howitzers. Based on present procedures for ordering and producing Tomahawk missiles and long-range anti-ship missiles, it will take 20 months to have them back in our arsenal.

Our most likely area of military conflict in the near term is Taiwan, our ally that exists under a constant threat from the People’s Republic of China (PRC). A series of wargame exercises conducted by CSIS in recent months showed that in a conflict with China, the U.S. would run out of long-range, precision-guided munitions in less than one week. As an example of our slow contract and procurement system at the Department of Defense, the U.S. agreed to supply Taiwan with 19 billion dollars' worth of specific weapons in 2019. That order is still not complete over three years later.

Our Strategic Ambiguity doctrine regarding Taiwan is purposely unclear as to whether any ground troops would be involved in the event of a Chinese invasion. We do have a U.S. Marine detachment and Special Forces troops located there. It is unclear whether we would give Taiwan the ability to defend itself or get directly involved with U.S. military personnel. However, either of these strategies is negatively impacted by our present state of military readiness when it comes to weapons and ammunition.

There is another serious strategic and operational problem if China attacks Taiwan. In our support of Ukraine, that country is near several NATO partners and actually borders our ally Poland. We ship arms and supplies to Ukraine by rail and other ground transportation on a daily basis. Taiwan is an island. Resupplying and rearming Taiwan is a very different type of challenge.

China’s first act in a conflict with Taiwan would be to blockade the island nation. This would leave the U.S. and our allies with two options: 1) Resupply Taiwan by airlift and deal with China’s air defense systems, including the Communist nation’s air force, or 2) Confront the Chinese navy with our own navy in the waters surrounding Taiwan. Either of these options demands weapons platforms and munitions, of which the United States faces a rapidly depleting inventory.

In dealing with our enemies, it is vital that our leaders show resolve and purpose. In a military conflict, courage and military prowess are required. Well-trained, motivated, and brave military personnel will be imperative – and we have that in the U.S. Armed Forces. However, all of this is dependent on having the weapons and other military resources that ensure mission accomplishment and victory.

The President, Congress, and our senior military leaders must address the lag in weapons and munitions, the impact of the massive aid we are sending to Ukraine, and how all of this impacts the military readiness of the United States and our ability to defend ourselves and our allies. The procurement system at the Pentagon must be seriously examined – and fixed. So much is at stake in this uncertain world.

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