The Ultimate Arms Deals: Why Washington is So Eager to Support Ukraine
I thought the Afghanistan bug-out was the ultimate arms deal.
Biden abandoned billions of dollars of weapons, leaving them behind for the Taliban to enjoy. Which meant that our military – Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines – were out a lot of weapons and vehicles, aircraft and drones, and God alone knows what else. When you’re in the middle of a bug-out, it’s hard to find the time to go take an inventory of equipment you’ll never see again. Why we didn’t use a little C-4, which we were probably abandoning as well – to render all of those vehicles inoperable (a fancy term that means terminally broken) I’ll never know. There must have been an angle.
The actual value of what was left behind was all over the map.
A quick review of contemporary headlines range from a CNN claim that we left behind $7 billion worth of materiel – a lot of money, equipment-wise, for sure. However, FactCheck.org insists that the Republicans “inflated the cost” of what the Taliban seized, claiming that $85 billion is too high an estimate. They came in with a marginally-deflated number, $82.9 billion.
Which is not far from what President Trump said in Alabama on August 22, 2021: “They’ve left $83 billion worth of equipment behind, including brand new Apache helicopters, thousands of Humvee vehicles with armor guard, equipment that nobody has ever even seen before, it was so sophisticated.”
A few days later, Trump expanded on his perspective of the weapons left abandoned.
“In addition to the obvious, all equipment should be demanded to be immediately returned to the United States, and that includes every penny of the $85 billion dollars in cost. If it is not handed back, we should either go in with unequivocal military force and get it, or at least bomb the hell out of it,” Trump said.
Whatever the loss, when the military loses a weapon, it’s time to go back to the manufacturer to get it replaced. Tankers without a tank aren’t much good to the Army, just as pilots without planes aren’t doing a whole lot for the Air Force. So it does matter how much weaponry assigned to the U.S. military – exempting those given to our Afghan “allies” – was left behind and need to be replaced.
One of the joys of that – at least to military equipment manufacturers – is that the replacement is not just brand-new, but almost always progressively enhanced in capabilities – and price.
Getting back to Afghanistan, the Government Accountability Office reported that between 2003 and 2016, the U.S. supplied Afghan defense and security forces with an arsenal that included 208 aircraft, 42,000 pickup trucks, 22,000 Humvees, nearly 9,000 MTV cargo and transport trucks, nearly 1,000 mine resistant ambush protected vehicles, nearly 200 armored personnel carriers and hundreds of thousands of rifles, pistols, machine guns, grenade launchers, rocket propelled weapons and night vision goggles. More had been provided between 2016 and August of 2021.
If those weapons came out of military stock – vehicles stored in armories waiting for the military to need them to fight our enemies du jour – they will be replaced with newer ones. However, new-built weapons ordered for Afghanistan were already written off. Their loss didn’t hurt America’s military preparedness.
Regardless of what was given to the Afghans on our side during the war – but later captured by the Taliban – and what was abandoned – in good condition or totally junked – is up for debate. What’s not up for debate is that our armed forces – after turning over used-but-workable weapons and vehicles to our Afghan allies, or abandoning them in the desert for the Taliban to find -- had to go back to our military-industrial complex with orders for replacement equipment. Remember, a soldier without a rifle, a sailor without a ship, or a pilot without an airplane isn’t worth much to America’s defense. Naturally, we have to replace that equipment.
Normally, equipment has a projected life-cycle, and is not replaced until it has ended its projected combat lifetime. A USS Virginia-class nuclear submarine is projected to last 42 years. If the Navy wants another one faster, it has to prove that the need is greater than had been planned. But if the Virginia is accidentally rammed while docking and essentially ruined, the Navy will go hat-in-hand to Congress asking for the funding for a replacement sub – and will probably get it.
But what about Ukraine?
It’s hard to pin down, because that number of weapons required seems to grow astronomically, every time Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky showed up in his olive-drab t-shirt to justify how his country – in defending against and defeating the Russians – is somehow supporting international democracy. But wait, that’s a polemic for another time.
Last summer, The Hill reported that “the Biden administration has committed nearly $13 billion worth of military assistance to the Ukraine since Russia invaded six months earlier.” This support is made up of either state-of-the-art or recently downgraded – but still useful – arms and equipment. Because it takes so long to order, build, and ship brand-new equipment, everything sent came out of military armories, or even from active-duty units.
What are those weapons? Are they antiquated hand-me-downs? Not likely. We’ve shipped – and this is far from a comprehensive list:
- High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems
- 1,500 Tube-Launched, Optically-Tracked, Wire-Guided antitank missiles, known as TOW, which can destroy a tank up to 5,000 yards away.
- 155mm Howitzers – 126 cannon and 806,000 artillery rounds, along with 126 tactical vehicles to tow the Howitzers into combat
- National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems – an advanced system that can knock down a Russian MiG more than 100 miles away.
- Seven hundred Phoenix Ghost Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems – combat drones – these are attack drones, not recon systems. These kill tanks, troops and anything else worth killing.
- Seven hundred Switchblade Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems – light, short-ranged combat drones designed to attack troops and “soft-skinned” vehicles.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, and to date – check out the list in The Hill article – the Biden administration has committed at least as much to the Ukraine as was lost in Afghanistan when we bugged out. Maybe a lot more. Say, between Afghanistan and the Ukraine, the total is close to $175 billion in equipment. That's equipment that must be replaced before our military services will be ready to once again defend America.
Which means that this is a gold mine for the American military-industrial complex. Setting aside Hunter Biden’s ties to the embattled nation, why was Biden so eager to support the Ukraine? And why was Congress so eager to support the Ukrainians with American-built, top-shelf weapon systems? Because defense contractors have factories and other support operations in virtually every congressional district in America. Because replacing those weapons means high-paying jobs at a time when we’re teetering on the edge of recession – if we’re not already there.
Don’t believe me? Will you believe the military? How about Defense.gov?
Here’s what they had to say, in an article published in September 2022.
Because so much gear has been pulled from U.S. military units, that equipment must now be replaced in order to sustain America's own readiness, and the Defense Department has already contracted with an array of manufacturers to give back to military units what was taken from them in order to support Ukraine.
‘As we work with industry to accelerate production on both replenishment systems and direct procurements under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative or USAI, we're using a number of tools to get the funding moving, and the contracting happening quickly,’ Bill LaPlante, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, said during a briefing today at the Pentagon.
Maybe abandoning billions of dollars in equipment in Afghanistan was the right thing to do. I don’t see how that’s possible, but maybe it made sense. Maybe it was all worn out and needed to be replaced. Why it then wasn’t dynamited is beyond me.
And maybe it makes sense to support the Ukraine with state-of-the-art military equipment, including artillery, ammo, combat vehicles and so much more. And maybe the massive building blitz of replacement state-of-the-art equipment makes national defense sense, or even anti-recession sense. In 1934, FDR bought the Navy a couple of aircraft carriers, the famous USS Yorktown and USS Enterprise, because it meant jobs for unemployed blue collar workers, and there’s nothing wrong with putting skilled workers back to work, is there? Or maybe it just makes sense to kowtow to military equipment manufacturers, companies who’ve been known to support politicians who support them.
What’s clear is this. Every vehicle, weapon and artillery shell we give to the Ukraine will be replaced, brand-new, at taxpayer expense. And maybe – just maybe – the degradation of Russia’s military might, and its fearsome reputation, which has been shattered, is worth billions of dollars. Time will tell, if we listen closely.
Ned Barnett, a military historian who’s appeared a number of times on the History Channel, is currently working on a near-future novel about how the Chinese Communists tried to invade Taiwan after persuading North Korea’s dictator, Kim, to launch the Second Korean War, a battle that tied up almost all the US military forces that might otherwise defend Taiwan. In addition to being the author of 40 published books, including ten historical novels set in the skies over the Pacific at the start of World War II, he works with other authors as a ghostwriter, writing coach, editor and – perhaps most important – as a marketing and promotion expert who can help books become bestsellers, and writers dreams into profitable writing businesses. He can be reached at email@example.com or at 702-561-1167.