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US Can’t Keep Up With Russian Shell Output After Gutting Plants to Focus on Picking on Small Nations

© AP Photo / Matt RourkeA steel worker manufactures 155 mm M795 artillery projectiles at the Scranton Army Ammunition Plant in Scranton, Pa., Thursday, April 13, 2023.
A steel worker manufactures 155 mm M795 artillery projectiles at the Scranton Army Ammunition Plant in Scranton, Pa., Thursday, April 13, 2023.  - Sputnik International, 1920, 08.06.2024
The United States and its allies goaded Russia into a trillion dollar proxy ground war in Ukraine in 2022 after pushing to expand NATO up to the Russian border despite a three decade old pledge not to do so. The trouble for the alliance is, Russia has proven far more resilient than virtually all Western policymakers anticipated.
Lavish annual defense budgets and a steady stream of costly military misadventures across the globe over the past quarter century did not prepare the US military-industrial complex to fuel a high-intensity conflict against a peer competitor like Russia, a leading US business media outlet has acknowledged.
“Ground wars are still won with bullets and artillery shells. The US can’t make the latter fast enough,” Bloomberg wrote in a wistful piece entitled “America’s War Machine Can’t Make Basic Artillery Fast Enough.”
“Since the Cold War ended in the 1990s, the Pentagon has divested or neglected facilities once used to make everything from shells to explosive powder, and focused instead on transforming warfare with high-tech weaponry. What’s left is crumbling infrastructure, outdated machinery and a tiny workforce that can’t keep up with growing international demand,” Bloomberg wrote, referring to the rates at which Ukraine and Israel have been draining US stockpiles of basic 155 mm artillery shells.
The scale of the decline in physical production despite ballooning Pentagon budgets is staggering, with the outlet pointing out that before 2022, the US produced roughly 14,400 155 mm shells per month – over thirty times less the 438,000 per month defense planners estimated the US defense sector could produce in an emergency in 1980.
Another problem besides production capacity is the components that go into the shells – including black powder and TNT, neither of which the US produces domestically anymore in large quantities.
Pointing to the “strategic error” of the move away from the production of basic munitions, Bloomberg pointed out that the “higher-tech shells that were intended to replace the traditional 155 mm munitions failed an early test in Ukraine, when their targeting systems were thwarted by Russia.”

The Russian military and the country’s defense sector have demonstrated convincingly over the past two plus years that the Eurasian nation is not another smaller, poorer, less developed country that the US military machine can push around and bomb into submission, with now sacked former Ukrainian Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief Valery Zaluzhny complaining late last year that NATO textbooks and timetables proved less than helpful to planning for Kiev’s disastrous counteroffensive amid the inability to achieve overwhelming air and artillery support.

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Washington has committed over $5 billion to modernize American weapons factories to address planners “errors” and get production capabilities up to 100,000 shells per month by the end of 2025 (currently it’s estimated at 36,000 shells per month). Efforts also include a new $650 million TNT plant, to be built by 2026, if all goes to plan, and tens of millions of dollars more for the modernization of TNT and black powder-making factories.
But the US lack of defense production capability demonstrates a broader, systemic problem, according to Bloomberg, that being that “the US no longer focuses on making everyday things, even things that can be critical in a crisis,” whether it’s artillery shells, auto parts, generic drugs or baby formula.
Instead (and Bloomberg doesn’t mention this part), the neoliberal economic dogma of the Reagan-Clinton-Bush years built on financial and real estate speculation, jacked up health care costs and the nebulous service sector, has created what economist Lawrence E. Mitchell has characterized as a “speculation economy.”
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US officials and lawmakers have cast the crisis in Ukraine as an opportunity to “boost to the domestic economy,” Bloomberg noted, recalling Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell’s recent remarks that waging a proxy war against Russia provides “lots and lots of jobs” to American workers.
“I have a hard time seeing what’s wrong with doing this. It’s exactly what we need to do, not only for Ukraine but for ourselves,” McConnell said in April amid discussions in Congress about US assistance to Ukraine, which died down after GOP House Speaker Mike Johnson rammed Ukraine aid through his chamber after a 6-month deadlock fueled by a group of rebel Republicans including Thomas Massie, Paul Gosar and Marjorie Taylor Greene.
“I’ve heard the argument – I think it’s immoral, but I’ve heard the argument that, ‘oh this is a great deal, we just spend money and we’re grinding up Russia’s capacity to wage war, lots of Russians are dying’. We’re told that that’s a good thing,” Massie told Tucker Carlson in an interview this week.
“I have been in classified settings with the CIA, the secretary of state, the secretary of defense…and they’ve bragged about how many Russians have died and been injured. I asked them how many Ukrainians have died and been injured. They claimed they didn’t know. I mean that is just a flat-out lie. They said they would get back to me, and they’ve never gotten back to me. Not only are Americans being fed propaganda about this war, Congress is being fed propaganda by our State Department and our secretary of defense and our intelligence agencies,” Massie said.
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