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Why is America’s military machine so damned slow?

The Pentagon: built in just 16 months. Getty

The American military has a big problem, says Nadia Schadlow in The Atlantic: it’s too damned slow. China is building high-end weapons systems and equipment “five to six times faster” than the US. Maintenance delays for naval vessels are resulting in “the equivalent of losing half an aircraft carrier and three submarines each year”, according to one retired admiral. Replenishing the stocks of some of the weapons systems we’ve sent to Ukraine will take at least five years, just to get back to levels that “were already inadequate to sustain a major conflict”. As things stand, if China invades Taiwan and the US intervenes, we’ll likely “run out of certain munitions in less than a week”.

It wasn’t always like this. During World War II, government contractors managed to build the Pentagon, “still by far the largest office building on Earth”, in just 16 months. The army engineer who oversaw it, Leslie Groves, was then charged with directing the Manhattan Project to build an atomic bomb – and somehow got the job done in about three years. The Apollo programme put humans on the Moon in less than 10 years; during the Cold War, entire generations of intercontinental ballistic missiles “came and went within a decade”. Back then, of course, big projects weren’t held up by “sprawling bureaucracies and stifling regulations”. Crucially, though, they could be commissioned with very strict timelines – something that doesn’t happen any more. And this has to change. Time restraints not only focus the minds of policymakers, they also “drive decision-makers towards more creative approaches”. Until we start “incorporating time into our strategic calculations, we will always be too late”.