American military leaders are going public about how their complaints about smart bomb and missile shortages are being ignored. In 2015 over 25,000 smart bombs and missiles were used by American (mostly) and allied (NATO and local Arabs) warplanes operating over Iraq and Syria. Nearly all weapons were supplied by American firms and American politicians and military leaders can’t agree on how to get the money to replace bombs being taken from the war reserve stocks (large quantities of munitions and spares stockpiled to keep the troops supplied during the initial month or so of a war).
This is not a new problem. It was a major and widespread problem in 2011 when NATO warplanes provided air support for Libyan rebels. In the aftermath of the 2011 campaign NATO countries noted the importance of smart bombs and guided missiles and the tendency of European nations to maintain meager stocks of these (and many other) munitions and spare parts for the aircraft that deliver them. NATO nations did not start acquiring smart bombs until after the Cold War ended, about the same time their procurement budgets were cut sharply. European defense spending continue to shrink, and war reserve stocks are still not a high priority. In Europe the attitude seemed to be that the Americans would be able to supply smart bombs in a crises. For a long time that was the case, but with the Americans now running down their own war reserves and deadlocked over what to do about that (which is currently “not much”) American allies are getting anxious.
In 2011 the situation was made worse by the fact that the NATO air forces delivering most of the bombs in Libya had already used many of them in Afghanistan over the last few years. The now chastised NATO air forces are still trying to deal that the 2011 mess and now they find that their safety net (dependable emergency deliveries from American war reserves) is rapidly disappearing.
All this was yet another reminder that cutting corners in maintaining war reserve stocks was false economy. But the smart bombs and missiles are expensive. About 30 percent of the cost of the NATO Libya operation was for these high-tech weapons, with the rest of the expense being operational costs (fuel, spare parts, and personnel expenses). But if you don’t have the smart bombs to deliver there is no action, except for the imaginative stories conjured by my political and military leaders to shift the blame onto someone else.