Let us take Biden at his word (though one can reasonably argue he does not comprehend what he is saying most of the time) — World War III has started. We have not seen a comparable back flip like Biden’s reversal on sending M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine since Nadia Comaneci wowed the World with her performance at the 1976 Olympics.
Will Biden double down and answer President Zelenskyy’s impassioned calls for American-made F-16s? If past performance predicts the future then the answer is yes. But sending F-16s (or any other combat aircraft) to Ukraine is a real problem. Don’t take my word for it. Listen to Professor Justin Bronk, Editor of the RUSI Defence Systems:
First and foremost is the problem of Russia’s dense and highly lethal network of ground-based surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems. The skies over the frontlines in Ukraine are covered by multiple layers of air defence threats from large, long-range systems like the infamous SA-21 ‘Triumf’ (known in Russia as the S-400) to more numerous and mobile medium-range SAMs like the SA-17 ‘Buk’ and short-range SA-15 ‘Tor’.
The US has supplied significant numbers of the AGM-88 High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM) to the UkrAF. . . . but HARM has not come close to removing the threat from Russia’s air defences against Ukrainian jets.
This matters because any western jet that might plausibly be supplied to Ukraine will face the same major threat from Russian SAMs. Even the full might of Nato air power would require a serious campaign at scale to degrade Russia’s integrated air defence systems, and would take losses doing so. . . .
However, in the largely flat terrain of eastern and southern Ukraine there is a limit to how effective terrain masking can be, and in any case flying at very low altitudes would seriously reduce the effectiveness of combat aircraft in many key missions.
In other words, Ukraine needs the equivalent of the U.S. Air Force if it hopes to weaken Russia on the battlefield. That is not going to happen. If Ukraine succeeds in getting the planes and flying them in combat the most likely outcome is an astronomical cost in terms of air frames and pilots.
The Debbie Downer message is not confined to the Spectator. The Financial Times also is now raising a warning voice about problems ahead:
Financial Times announced the crisis of ammunition supplies in Europe due to the conflict in Ukraine
According to the newspaper, the record demand for ammunition creates a huge burden on the industrial capacities of Europe
The conflict in Ukraine has provoked a significant crisis in the supply of ammunition in Europe, as arms manufacturers seek both to replenish the national stocks of states and to ensure supplies to Kiev.
According to FT, the record demand for ammunition creates a huge burden on the industrial capacities of Europe. According to experts, Ukraine requires more than 5 thousand shells per day, the same amount as a small European state orders annually. Additional pressure on supply chains is created due to a lack of production capacity and a shortage of critical raw materials. In addition, the supply chains disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic have not yet been fully restored.
Morten Brandtseg, CEO of the Norwegian-Finnish defense company Nammo, told the publication that the demand for some components has grown so much that the delivery time to customers has increased from several months to several years. In an attempt to meet the demand and reduce the production and delivery time of ammunition, many companies have increased the number of production shifts and are hiring more employees. German Rheinmetall, in particular, plans to build a new plant in Hungary and restart enterprises that were previously decommissioned.
Let me translate. No matter what the United States and the rest of the NATO countries do to boost production of weapons and ammunition, help is years away.
One more prominent media outlet changes its tune about Ukraine. Moon of Alabama provides an excellent summary of a New York Times reversal in its view of the war in Ukraine, Outnumbered and Worn Out, Ukrainians in East Brace for Russian Assault. You can read it at his site.
What happens if Germany manages to send some Leopard tanks to Ukraine? Knowledgeable critics note that training competent tank crews will require several months before they are ready to drive on to the battlefield. Austrian Colonel Reisner suggested one novel solution to circumvent that problem:
I doubt that the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia had President Zelensky in mind when he wrote Casey Jones, but I think the lyrics of that classic tune fits the moment. There is trouble ahead and trouble behind.
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