The US Must Scale Up Military Production ASAP

Matthew R. Bishop
4 min readJan 12, 2023

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US M142 High-Mobility Artillery Rocket. Public Domain.

Matthew R. Bishop — January 12th, 2023

The United States won the great and terrible war of the world in 1945 largely as a result of its superior industrial capacity and its ability to out-produce the enemy in terms of guns, ammo, artillery, aircraft, seacraft, tanks, armor, and just about everything else that actually wins a hard fight.

Today, US production capacity lags dangerously behind the necessary threshold to win such a war should it occur again in the near-term future. And the chances of such an event are — most unfortunately — high.

Nearly 80% of international relations scholars recently sampled expect an imminent invasion of Taiwan by China within the next ten years — with a significant portion warning the invasion is actually likely within the next twelve months. In most war-gamed scenarios, a Chinese victory in Taiwan requires the Chinese to attack Japanese bases hosting US defending forces. The UK has a defense pact with Japan, and Australia has alliances with both. India, fresh out of its border skirmishes with Chinese forces and a formal party to the Quad alliance, will be quick to join on the side of the US, UK, Australia and Japan. France may be eager to join this alliance, as well. This immediately becomes World War Three: China against Australia, Japan, France, India, the US and the UK. With six parties having already declared a defensive war against China, our alliance is likely to continue growing, perhaps proceeding to include Germany, Canada, and so on.

That may be terrible news for the Chinese, but it’s also bad news for Americans, whose military stockpiles are already dangerously depleted from the horrific war in Ukraine, a conflict where the use and consumption of ammo and munitions severely outpaced any official projection. In less than one year, the United States has shipped to Ukraine more than 5 years’-worth of Javelin missiles and more than 13 years’-worth of Stinger missiles. According to a recent CSIS defense survey, of 15 critical munitions, the United States now has an “adequate” supply of only 5 of the 15 surveyed. With trends remaining at their current pace, the United States could entirely run out of some critical munitions supplies in only a matter of months. And that’s just for defending Ukraine — we haven’t yet begun to factor Taiwan into this equation.

In any conflict with China, munitions will be consumed at much higher rates than they have been in Ukraine. While the US enjoys a short-term advantage in the quantity and quality of available weapons, it lags far, far behind in the over-time production of those same items, and it loses in any realistic long-term war game. Simply put, it will be impossible for Americans to endure such a rapid loss of military hardware and still emerge victorious on both fronts unless our military production capabilities are resurrected to their 1940s-1960s levels. To accomplish this, a full-scale mobilization and the federal nationalization of the private defense industry may be necessary in the near-term future.

Throwing money at defense contractors won’t solve the issue. The United States is already throwing mountains of cash at contractors to push out munitions, ammo, and other goods as fast as they can. The real issue is that’s still not enough. What we need, in fact, is more production lines, more factories, more manufacturers, etc. — and we need it yesterday, not tomorrow.

Private contractors, wary of unreliable trends and imperfect projections, have been hesitant to invest in the construction of new production facilities. This hesitation is a lethal vulnerability, and our adversaries will exploit it unless it is resolved. Such a resolution may require the nationalization of the private defense industry if no other sufficient agreement can be reached.

This is not a burden that the United States must bear alone. Key Western powers around the globe, from Canada to Germany to Japan, have already offered significant contributions — in the case of Japan, pledging to double its military budget, increasing it by a literal 100%. Germany, among others, have already doubled their contributions to NATO’s common defense in Europe. Historically neutral powers, namely Sweden and Finland, have also now pledged themselves to the common defense of the West.

Nonetheless, for the sake of caution, the United States should proceed as if it needs to bear this burden alone, and increase its production capacity accordingly. In order to truly guarantee victory, the US should assume a scenario where all key Western allies are either conquered or neutralized, and proceed from there as a starting point.

I write this article with the grave understanding that war is never desirable. This is especially true in the case of any world war where the number of civilian casualties may be incalculable. But appeasement and bribes have never before stopped an aspiring global dictator, from Genghis Khan to Hitler to Putin, and they are as unlikely to do so now as ever before. The West cannot afford to meet this moment with anything other than hard realism.

No one was prepared for the pace at which the Russia-Ukraine war has run through military hardware, munitions and equipment. That it has done so suggests any future conflict between the United States and China will outpace the production demands of every previous war — including World War Two. The United States must be fully equipped for such a scenario before the fighting begins.

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Matthew R. Bishop

Matt is an author, journalist, international affairs writer, and a federal civilian crisis responder for the United States.