Is America’s defense establishment learning from setbacks abroad?

British military historian Correlli Barnett famously coined the phrase “war is the great auditor of institutions,” in his 1986 book on Britain’s limited and ill-equipped wartime industrial capacity during the Second World War. Barnett posits that Britain did not adequately invest in and value industry, technology and innovation, while it concurrently expended capital on social welfare programs. Barnett argues that this deficiency at the war’s outset prevented Britain from transitioning to a wartime economy that could produce at scale and quickly adapt to the ever-changing needs of the battlefield. His argument essentially comes down to the notion that nations can’t straddle the fence when it comes to “guns or butter.”

In the past week, we’ve seen a series of troubling, but not surprising reports that some of the most expensive and technologically advanced weapons the U.S. has provided Ukraine are failing to hit their targets at staggering rates due to the almost ubiquitous employment of simple Russian Electronic Warfare (EW) countermeasures. Specifically, weapons such as the Excalibur and Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) rely on GPS to hit their designated targets. However, inexpensive Russian EW platforms can easily jam satellite signals and cause rounds to hit nothing of value. How has our domestic defense industry responded? Quite predictably, slowly and with a less than desirable success rate.

As a member of the Armed Services Committee, and the Subcommittee on Cyber, Innovative Technologies, and Information Systems (CITI), I worry that Barnett’s observation of World War II-era Britain may also characterize the U.S. today.

At a CITI hearing two months ago on the topic of the Department of Defense’s (DOD) checkered history with innovation, Daniel Pratt of the Hudson Institute stated, “once a conflict begins, adaptability and scaling drive outcomes.” Pratt then specifically noted the war in Ukraine and said, “the peak efficiency of a new weapon system is only about two weeks before countermeasures emerge.”

This begs the question: Is the Pentagon, given its incredible size and tendency to focus on endeavors other than warfighting, capable of shifting this quickly? The answer, at the moment, is most definitely no.

My concern over the DOD’s lack of urgency in comparison to that of our adversaries grows with each such report. Our adversaries are studying and watching how U.S.-produced weapons are performing in Ukraine. With every successful Russian effort to thwart U.S. weapons, the Pentagon and our defense industry must take note to learn, adapt and put in place measures to allow our equipment to be successful in battle.

National security is not an arena where hope is a strategy. Based on the Biden administration’s predisposition towards using the DOD as yet another medium to advance its social agenda, there’s a sense that this administration is simply hoping war is not in this country’s future. This is not only horribly naive, it’s bound to yield catastrophic, deadly results in the increasingly likely scenario that the U.S. does find itself in a hot war with one or more of our adversaries.

The prospect of future armed conflict with a near-peer adversary increases by the day for the U.S. The reports of our weapon failures in Ukraine should raise the alarm for our defense establishment and industry to prioritize innovation and lethality over domestic policies that masquerade as mission critical initiatives.

After all, any avid student of history should be reminded of the words of Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, who notoriously said, “you may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.”

Pat Fallon represents Texas’s 4th District in the U.S. House of Representatives. An Air Force Veteran, he is a member of the House Armed Services Committee and the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability.

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