A year before the U.S. entered World War II, Gen. Douglas MacArthur warned: “The history of failure in war, or in any other human endeavor, can almost be summed up in two words: ‘too late.’ Too late in comprehending the deadly purpose of a potential enemy. Too late in realizing the mortal danger. Too late in preparedness. Too late in uniting all possible forces for resistance.”
With China’s military growing in size, scope and sophistication, American military leaders are echoing this very same warning.
Recently, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday said: “What we’ve seen over the past 20 years is that they [the Chinese Communist Party] have delivered on every promise they’ve made earlier than they said they were going to deliver on it.”
“So when we talk about the 2027 window, in my mind that has to be a 2022 window or potentially a 2023 window. I can’t rule that out. I don’t mean to be alarmist by saying that,” Adm. Gilday added.
In a speech last month, Adm. Charles Richard, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, cautioned: “As I assess our level of deterrence against China, the ship is slowly sinking. It is sinking slowly, but it is sinking, as fundamentally they are putting capability in the field faster than we are. … And that is a very near-term problem.”
To add to the urgency of the moment, the war in Ukraine has become a prolonged conventional conflict that has exhausted production lines for Stinger and Javelin missiles and illuminated the fact critical components are no longer produced in sufficient quantity to meet future demand. Supply chain issues and decades of offshoring further complicate our production issues. To confidently deter our nation’s adversaries, America’s domestic industrial base will need to produce historic levels of battlefield replacements for munitions, conventional capabilities and exquisite platforms.
In 2021, there were about 12.8 million manufacturing jobs in the U.S., according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which tracked data from 1939 onward. That’s a 34% decrease from the peak recorded number of 19.4 million in 1979.
Russia’s ongoing invasion in Ukraine proves that the Department of Defense’s strategy of integrated deterrence is a losing proposition. The Biden administration’s timid measures to prevent Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression and its haphazard scramble in response sent signals that were received loud and clear in Beijing. A similar message was broadcast during our chaotic and disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan just months before the war in Ukraine began.
If Adm. Richard is correct that our level of deterrence against China is a sinking ship, and if Adm. Gilday is correct that the U.S. may be called to project power 7,000 miles to defend against a forceful unification of Taiwan in the very near future, should we not heed the words of Gen. MacArthur and ensure we are not “too late?”
In order to maintain peace, we must implement a disciplined strategy that ruthlessly prioritizes the most critical threats, which include continued Russian aggression, as well as China’s desire to invade Taiwan and become a regional hegemon in South Asia.
To prepare to “fight tonight,” we must reassess the arduous and overly complicated acquisition process that has been built up since WWII, and remove major bureaucratic hurdles for commercially available capabilities. We must increase investment in land, sea, air and space assets that can be fielded in the next 12-24 months. Congress should provide funding to expand short-term orders of necessary weapons systems and equipment with functioning production lines. Existing orders to support the Taiwanese must be prioritized, and we must immediately address any backlogs.
To shrink the time frame from innovation to the deployment of new technologies, Congress must also continue to fund programs like Accelerate the Procurement and Fielding of Innovative Technologies that aim to address the Defense Department’s notoriously inefficient procurement process.
Furthermore, we must implement a whole-of-government approach to protect our economic and supply chain infrastructure against potential threats from the Chinese Communist Party. Every industry must look at the vulnerabilities of our dependency on China’s manufacturing base, many of which were exposed during the pandemic, and take measures to insulate themselves from a dramatic shift in China’s geopolitical posture.
To be prepared for tomorrow, we must secure and defend international leadership in the technologies of tomorrow. Cyber, space, intelligence and information are just as essential to enabling our warfighters as food, fuel and ammunition. Advanced technologies that outpace human cognition — like artificial intelligence, machine learning and quantum computing — will determine the victors of future conflicts. Modernization must not be sacrificed during this time of crisis, or we risk winning the battle to ultimately lose the war.
Our adversaries continually seek to exploit our free and open society using indirect and asymmetric approaches that influence populations and affect legitimacy to erode our global leadership. While deterring, we must continue to engage with our partners and allies to present a unified front on both the military and diplomatic stage. We must send a clear message to authoritarians around the world that we stand ready with an unassailable international coalition that is prepared to compete and win across the entire spectrum of competition and conflict.
These must be the priorities of the Department of Defense and the 118th Congress as reflected in the budget, authorization and appropriations process. Anything less will leave us all asking, again, why were we too late.
Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., is the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee’s defense panel.