Looking Forward from AUSA's Annual Exposition

The military is fielding weapons and systems for a decade from now. That equipment might not even be cutting edge today.

After three days of AUSA and days afterwards of follow-up with folks, I finally had an opportunity to sit down and process what I’d seen and heard there. To be at a place and get impressions is one thing. To sit back and hazard a guess at what (in a broad sense) it all meant is another thing altogether. I’ve been back from a training mission in Ukraine since May and I’m still not sure how to explain that trip to people.

A recent article, published on the first day of AUSA by Breaking Defense, helped bring some of those thoughts about the exhibition into focus for me. That article discussed procurement in terms of lessons the military was learning from the war in Ukraine. I thought about that, and the presenters and exhibits, and the pamphlets, and all of it. Here’s what I think.


Our Military Is Not Prepared for War

The Army is fielding weapons, systems, and equipment for a decade from now, when they were needed years ago

Our military is not prepared for war. Maybe no military really is; certainly not a military that hasn’t fought in a war recently or at all. Let’s use a troubled and contentious phrase and claim here that by “war” we don’t mean a never-ending series of squad and platoon level encounters in the mountains of Afghanistan, or a couple months of hard fighting against an incompetent and overmatched foe as was the case in Iraq. Let’s say a “real war” such as exists in Ukraine — two countries, Russia and Ukraine, of roughly equal strength, vying over the future of a country (Ukraine) and people (Ukrainians). Our military is not prepared for a war like that.

It’s not because the troops are badly trained. They’re exceptionally well trained and prepared. It’s not because NCOs are poor leaders or incompetent. No NCO corps in the world can match that of the U.S. in terms of knowledge, enthusiasm, or professionalism. It’s not because of the officer corps, who, like the NCOs with whom they work hand-in-hand, keep the lights on and the generators running.

I’m not sure that the problem is any specific individual’s fault, or class of individuals. If I knew who to blame, I wouldn’t be writing this, I’d be sending them a note urging action. Politics, regulations, the market — weird incentives we’ve built into procurement and decision-making — the difficulty of pairing visionary thinking and leadership that is at its greatest strength in humans in the 30s and 40s with the sober wisdom of experience one does not attain until their 50s or 60s (if ever) — a shattered supply chain that has been optimized until it’s a world-class liability, and no cheap or straightforward way to fix even a single link of it — all of these things conspire to rob the average fighting unit of their fair due on the hypothetical battlefields of the near (potentially very near) future.

This is what I observed at AUSA, overall. A sense of whistling past the graveyard. Large overengineered solutions to problems that a Ukrainian with a high school degree and a drinking problem already solved for the equivalent of $15 a day in someone’s garage in April of 2022. Drones that cost $10k a pop on the cheap end, that can’t be fully (as in 100%) “made in America,” while the Chinese are already sunsetting equivalent drones that retailed for $1750 last year. The Bell VTOL platform which is set to replace the Blackhawk helicopter and when encountered in person looks like a giant and ungainly target.

What else — so much AI promising aid and assistance that AI cannot deliver — no combat commander at the general officer or colonel level worth anything would ever delegate important decision-making that could potentially affect the lives and health of their soldiers to a computer program. And decision-making is the only thing they every really need help with (speaking from my experience as a commander a decade ago). Can AI help anywhere? Absolutely, it’s a great tool for analysis. Let the S2 and the S4 use it. Next AUSA there should be 3-4 tables talking about AI solutions, and they should be pitched at support staff. Chuck the rest of it in the trash, where it belongs.

There were bright spots! Yesterday I covered Sig Sauer’s XM7 and XM250 platforms, which look great and I expect will perform as promised. As I mentioned in an earlier post, REPKON, a Turkish company (why not American?) has a revolutionary (if somewhat unfortunately) almost fully automated system for mass producing artillery ammunition. Both GM and Rheinmetall demonstrated autonomous mobile ADA platforms suitable for armored columns which are being developed both to be effective against CCA and drones, and also expendable.

Other companies, seen individually, are working busily to provide the military with the best systems they can, according to the specifications they’re given. I’m not trying to point fingers, here. I see and understand that everyone is working as best they can to provide the military with what it requests.

But what I saw (and felt) was lacking was any real overarching vision for our military in the present, and in the future. We know what we were doing during GWOT — police work, for the most part, plus a little fighting up front, and on the margins (again when I say “a little” I mean relative to a quiet day at the front in Ukraine, which is part of what I would call a “real war”). We knew what we were doing to fight the USSR, which was basically how we beat the Nazis.

German engineering was one of several bright spots at AUSA.

It feels to me like somewhere along the line, we became so focused on developing technology for its own sake, we forgot to just concentrate on doing the basics effectively. We’re busy, nobody can accuse equipment manufacturers and developers of slacking off. But when it comes to producing simple stuff for the military — as my high school basketball coach would have said, chest passes, pick and roll, nothing fancy — I didn’t see much of it. Combined Arms is a nearly-unbeatable approach to warfare — but it requires plenty of ammo for dependable machines crewed by capable soldiers and led by knowledgable NCOs, within the framework of a plan conceived and executed by smart and wise officers. The right people (recruiting troubles aside) are there, in the U.S. military, or will be, in the event of a war. Do they have the right equipment to win? I worry that at present, they do not.

Worse, I don’t get the sense that there is any serious effort underway to understand what victory would require. So business owners and companies are left to develop products in a conceptual vacuum, hoping that trends (such as — sorry, I just threw up a little in my mouth, AI) in the civilian sector will lend their idea of what could or might be useful credence. A bold and clear vision is needed. None is forthcoming at present — at least, none that I saw in the aggregate at AUSA, or can see in the stories and white papers I read by day. We are at a dangerous moment, and the worst thing would be to delude ourselves about that. War — real war — has never been nearer. And our enemies are also busy.


United Airlines missed its profit projections, citing the war in Israel and rising fuel prices as the chief stumbling blocks and demonstrating that, contrary to popular belief, war isn’t always good for business.

An ambitious railway project in Mexico could transform how countries cross between the world’s great oceans.

At some point, in some places, home insurance will make living in some places impossible for all but the wealthiest people. That point is now for one Florida town.

The U.S. government is cracking down on what can be sold to or in China, and that’s hitting semiconductor and chip producers hard.

Goldman Sachs’s exit from private lending led to a 33% drop in revenue. You see a company intentionally and deliberately take a haircut like that, it’s usually because they know something.


A U.S. sailor and cook organized the murder of a romantic rival in Jamaica. I think we put her in the wrong MOS.

A DoD OIG report found that improperly stored equipment is being damaged to the tune of $1.8 billion. That’s bad, right? Even worse: the inspection considered $1.97 billion in equipment. So 92% of what they looked at was in bad shape.

Pregnant women in the U.S. Army to get free maternity uniforms.

2,000 troops on standby for potential intervention in the Israel / Hamas conflict as tensions continue to escalate.


U.S. veteran organizations that were stood up to help Afghans and then began helping Ukrainians now poised to help evacuate Israeli citizens.

3.5 million of the nearly 100 million gallons of spilled fuel contaminating the Red Hill Depot area in Hawaii has been removed. It’s a start.


Ukraine has received ATACMS missiles from the US and is already using them to very good effect, knocking out 9 Russian helicopters, an ADA system, an unknown number of ammunition depots and a bunch of technical soldiers in occupied territories. Russia started its war with around 200 working military helicopters and little capacity to build more, so that’s 5% of their force gone. That, as they say, is a bingo.

Also in Ukraine — Russia attempts to seize the initiative in the east, with an attack against the heavily fortified Ukrainian-held city of Avdiivka. The attack has not gone according to Russian plans.

A controversial but necessary American visit to Israel comes as the region continues its descent toward a likely broader war. The contested destruction of a hospital is in the foreground. A summit including Jordan, Egypt, the PLA, and President Biden was cancelled. If you’re looking for signs, that ain’t a good one.

The far-right wing of the Republican party felt certain that their gambit was about to pay off with ally and January 6 denier Jim Jordan standing for vote. Turned out their celebration was premature.

This article promising how generative AI will revolutionize search and sales reminds me of the closing lines from Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises.”


Not really sure this constitutes humor but I appreciate The Onion’s attempt to make an extremely bleak situation a little better by laughing. Again, not sure they pull it off. Might just be too soon.