Endless Arms Flow to Ukraine Raises Worry over U.S. Military Readiness Against China

In this Nov. 9, 2017, file photo, an American flag is flown next to the Chinese national e
AP Photo/Andy Wong

There is growing worry in Washington that endless weapons support to Ukraine is hurting the U.S.’s ability to deter China from invading Taiwan and win if a conflict with China did break out.

A recently-published think-tank analysis warned that as it currently stands, the U.S. would run out of long-range, precision-guided munitions in a war with China over Taiwan in less than a week — a problem that author Seth Jones called one of “empty bins.”

“The United States has been slow to replenish its arsenal, and the DoD has only placed on contract a fraction of the weapons it has sent to Ukraine,” Jones, a senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) wrote, adding:

Effective deterrence hinges, in part, on having sufficient stockpiles of munitions and other weapons systems. These challenges are not new. What is different now, however, is that the United States is directly aiding Ukraine in an industrial-style conventional war with Russia — the largest land war in Europe since World War II — and tensions are rising between China and the United States in the Indo-Pacific.

Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder pushed back on the report, telling reporters, “I am confident that, regardless of what the situation is worldwide, as we’ve done for a very long time, the United States military will be able to be prepared to support whatever requirements we’re asked to support.”

However, defense experts and members of Congress are expressing increasing concern.

Elbridge Colby, a senior defense official in the Trump administration, tweeted recently: “Despite protestations to the contrary, it’s increasingly clear that Ukraine is indeed a distraction from our stated priority: Asia, China, and Taiwan. We can admit it and try to adapt. Or we can deny it and pay the price later.”

He added, “It’s especially important to reckon with reality because 1) the war in Ukraine doesn’t look like it’s going to end anytime soon and 2) the military balance over Taiwan is deteriorating.”

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), who sits on the Armed Services Committee, tweeted after the Biden administration announced it was sending tanks to Ukraine: “Another Forever War — while China runs rampant, undeterred.”

And Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH), a Marine veteran, recently told Fox & Friends:

We have sent so much of our munitions down, so much of our military-grade equipment down, if we have to fight a war against China – which I think is far more likely and, frankly, it’s a far more dangerous opponent — that’s what worries me, is that the focus on Russia comes at the expense of China.

“Unfortunately, we cannot fight two enemies at once, and whether we fight the Chinese — God forbid, directly, or indirectly – down the road over the next 20 or 30 years, we need to focus where the real problem is. In my view that’s China,” Vance said.

Although current U.S. policy on Taiwan calls for maintaining “strategic ambiguity” on whether it would intervene militarily to defend it if China does invade, Biden has said repeatedly that America would commit troops if China did so.

At the same time, China has become increasingly aggressive its territorial claims over Taiwan, a democratic island nation off the coast of China founded by Chinese nationalists who fled the mainland after losing a civil war with Chinese Communists.

NBC News reported Friday that Gen. Mike Minihan, commander of Air Mobility Command (AMC), wrote a memo that predicted that U.S. forces would be at war with China in 2025. He predicted that the U.S. and Taiwan would both be distracted by presidential elections in both countries, giving Chinese President Xi Jinping an opportunity to move on Taiwan.

“My gut tells me [we] will fight in 2025,” he said.

Mike Pompeo, former secretary of state and Central Intelligence Agency director, agreed “our military should get ready.”

“I don’t know if 2024, 2025 is the moment, but we should be doing the hard work, getting our military space systems, our cyber systems, all of those lined up, and then working our tails off to continue to build on” working with allies and partners in the region to deter China from invading Taiwan,” he said.

“It’s possible to do — I pray that President Biden and his team are up to that task, and they are serious about it. I have seen some evidence that they’re working on it, but not not remotely fast enough, or seriously enough,” he said.

On December 25, China launched its largest incursion to date into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), sending 71 Chinese military aircraft into the ADIZ in a span of 24 hours, with 43 of them also crossing the median line of the Taiwan Strait, the unofficial border between China and Taiwan, as Breitbart News reported.

Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu recently suggested that 2027 was the most probable year for an invasion, if Xi is still in power and if China is facing domestic problems.

A recent U.S. government report found that the war in Ukraine is already slowing U.S. efforts to arm Taiwan, according to Stars and Stripes.

“The diversion of existing stocks of weapons and munitions to Ukraine and pandemic-related supply-chain issues have exacerbated a sizable backlog in the delivery of weapons already approved for sale to Taiwan, undermining the island’s readiness,” the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission said in its November report to Congress.

The Biden administration’s recent decision to send M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine could also slow the delivery of tanks to Taiwan.

There is only one plant in Lima, Ohio, that assembles then, and it is already full of new tank orders for Taiwan and Poland. Taiwan ordered 108 M1A2 tanks in 2019 and the first ones are expected to be delivered in 2024, and Poland ordered 250 M1A2 tanks that will be delivered starting in 2025, according to Politico. The new tanks to Poland are to replace 250 older T-72 tanks it gave to Ukraine last year.

CSIS’s Jones warned in his report that the U.S. industrial base is currently not set up to support a protracted war with China, let alone two adversaries at the same time — a long-held planning assumption for the U.S. military.

He also warned the manufacture of U.S. weapons is dependent on materials from China — a significant vulnerability for not only the U.S., but for those dependent on the U.S. for weapons. For example, he pointed out that China has a near monopoly on rare-earth metals critical for manufacturing various missiles and munitions. In addition, China has also tacitly aligned itself with Russia in its war with Ukraine, which could affect its incentive to supplies these materials to the U.S.

“The U.S. defense industrial base is not adequately prepared for the competitive security environment that now exists. It is currently operating at a tempo better suited to a peacetime environment,” Jones wrote. “These problems are particularly concerning since China is heavily investing in munitions and acquiring high-end weapons systems and equipment five to six times faster than the United States, according to some U.S. government estimates.”

Navy leaders have also recently expressed worry that arming Ukraine could make it difficult for the U.S. Navy — which is focused on the Indo-Pacific — to adequately arm itself.

Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro — a Biden appointee — told reporters, “With regards to deliveries of weapons systems for the fight in Ukraine…Yeah, that’s always a concern for us. And we monitor that very, very closely. I wouldn’t say we’re quite there yet, but if the conflict does go on for another six months, for another year, it certainly continues to stress the supply chain in ways that are challenging.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who supports arming Ukraine, has called for the industrial base to ramp up. However, according to CSIS, that will not be a quick process.

“The history of industrial mobilization suggests that it will take years for the defense industrial base to produce and deliver sufficient quantities of critical weapons systems and munitions and recapitalize stocks that have been used up. It might take even longer to materialize facilities, infrastructure, and capital equipment, making it important to make changes now,” Jones wrote.

Meanwhile, he wrote, “Timelines for a possible war are shrinking.”

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