Home Analysis Observations of an Expat: War is Expensive

Observations of an Expat: War is Expensive

Observations of an Expat: War is Expensive
Image Courtesy: Epthinktank
The war is expensive. How much bang can the Ukrainians get for their American bucks? The Ukrainians were literally running out of bullets to hold back the Russian steamroller.

By Tom Arms

The $61 billion in in military aid that the US Congress voted for Ukraine this week is in the nick of time. The Ukrainians were literally running out of bullets to hold back the Russian steamroller.

But war is expensive. How much bang can the Ukrainians get for their American bucks?

Let’s start with the workhorse of the battlefield—the humble 155 mm artillery shell and the Howitzers that fire them. For the past few months a steady stream of shells from North Korean and Russian munitions factories has meant that the Russians have been lobbing five times as many shells into the Ukrainian frontline than the Ukrainians have into the Russian.

It has been working. The Russians have gradually pushed forward all the way along the 620-mile front and have captured the town of Aadvika. But the release of the American aid means that the Ukrainians can now start firing back at an anticipated rate of 8,000 shells a day.

Each basic 155mm shell costs $3,000. The all-singing, all dancing precision-guided variety can set you back as much as $130,000 a shell. The Anglo-American built howitzer that fires them costs $4 million.

Ukraine has been pressing for fighter aircraft because they can be used to defend against the increasing and crippling Russian attacks on the country’s infrastructure

The howitzers have a range of up to 20 miles, which puts them near the front and in harm’s way. The popular HIMARS (the acronym for America’s High Mobility Artillery Rocket System) is deadly accurate up to 186 miles. This means its mobile launcher (cost $20 million each) can be fired from relative safety. But make each shot count. The missiles cost $434,000 each.

Army.take3_NATO has been reluctant to provide F-16 fighter jets (price $50 million plus approximately $4 million for each air-launched cruise missile). But the Americans have given the Ukrainians thousands of Avevex Phoenix ghost drones at $60,000 a drone. These can be used for reconnaissance or to carry a high explosive on suicide missions.

Ukraine has been pressing for fighter aircraft because they can be used to defend against the increasing and crippling Russian attacks on the country’s infrastructure. But there are other means, including: the Patriot missile defense system and the shoulder-launched Stinger missiles.

The former is a complex and box-like missile system which can detect, track and destroy missiles, drones, and planes. It is a powerful air defense weapon and the price tag proves it– $1.09 billion for the unit and $4 million for each missile fired.  Worldwide, there are 250 launchers in 18 countries, including Ukraine. The Patriot ground to air missile system has many billions of dollars for its American manufacturer Raytheon Missile and Defense.

The Patriot missiles have a range of 60 miles and are mounted on a specially-built lorry so that they can be constantly moved. They are therefore difficult for the enemy to locate and destroy. The shoulder-launched Stinger is an anti-aircraft ground to air battlefield weapon.  It has a range of two to three miles and is effective against helicopters and attack drones.

The-potential-directions-of-the-Ukraine-War-in-spring-2023The war in the skies is important, as are the naval battles in the Black Sea. But in the end wars are won by boots on the ground and leading the men wearing the boots are tanks. The Russians have on the one hand enjoyed a clear superiority in tank numbers, but they have also suffered severe losses. At the end of February, the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, estimated that Moscow had lost 8,800 tanks and armoured vehicles. Almost all of them were destroyed by shoulder-held Javelin anti-tank weapons. A Javelin launcher costs $200,000 and each missile is $400.

One of the main reasons that Moscow lost the Cold War was Mikhail Gorbachev’s failure to improve Soviet living standards while at the same time matching the US on defense spending

The Ukrainian tank force is much smaller and President Zelensky would love to obtain more American M1 tanks, German Leopard and British Challengers. The problem is that the NATO countries do not have a large stock of tanks, plus it takes time to build the tanks and they lag behind Moscow in their armaments industries. A tank will set you back roughly $20 million.

Putin has increased defence spending to 7.5 percent of GDP. The factories are turning out more than 1,500 tanks a year. Russia’s shell production is 5 million a year and another million are being provided by North Korea. In the past year, 520,000 new jobs have been created in the Russian defense industries and the armaments factories are operating 24 hours a day. 3.5 million Russians are currently employed in the death business and the Russian military-industrial complex is on the verge of overtaking the energy industry as Russia’s prime economic growth engine.

One of the main reasons that Moscow lost the Cold War was Mikhail Gorbachev’s failure to improve Soviet living standards while at the same time matching the US on defense spending. President Ronald Reagan exploited America’s greater economic resilience by increasing US defense spending from 4.94 percent in 1978 to 6.63 percent of GDP in 1986. But in 1980, the public was inured to increased defence spending by 30-odd Cold War years. Now we have had 30-odd years of peace dividend and the move from welfare to warfare state will be a difficult pill for democracies to swallow.

World-ReviewWorld Review

Here’s the problem facing the US Supreme Court: Should US presidents—in and out of office—have total or partial immunity from criminal prosecution for acts they committed while in the Oval Office?

Or does the failure to provide this blanket immunity expose past presidents to political vendettas by their successors or other political opponents?

Or would Donald Trump’s appeal for blanket immunity—in the words of Justice Elena Kagan—“turn the Oval Office into a sea of criminality.”

This week the Justices heard oral arguments from lawyers representing Trump on one side and Special Prosecutor Jack Smith on the other. The latter is attempting to bring the former president to trial for his role in the 6 January Capitol Hill riots.

The Justices will now go away and ponder the arguments and issue a decision several weeks from now. Court-watchers are split on what the decision is likely to be. Quite often one can determine the outcome from the questions the Justices ask. Not so, this time as the Justices are painfully aware of the impact of their decision on the actions of future presidents as well as those of Donald Jesus Trump.

Many observers think the Supreme Court will issue a split decision. This would please the Trump team as it would mean referral back to the lower courts and delay, delay, delay.

As the Justices ponder, they may consider the words of pamphleteer Thomas Paine, whose 1776 “Common Sense” had a major impact on the American War of Independence and the constitution which the Justices are sworn to protect. “Where,” wrote Paine, “is the King of America? In America the law is king. For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law ought to be king; and there ought to be no other.”


The British government has declared itself the final arbiter of reality. It has decreed that if it says that a country is safe then it is safe, regardless of whether it is or not.

Most everyone–except for the government of Rishi Sunak– agrees that Rwanda is not safe. Freedom House judges it as “not free”. Human Rights Watch says that protesting refugees have been fired on by Rwandan police. Others have simply disappeared. The Rwandan government is supporting the M23, a violent faction in the Democratic Republic of the Congo which has been accused of war crimes.

For all of these reasons—and others—the UK Supreme Court in November ruled that the Sunak’s plans to send asylum seekers to Rwanda was “unlawful” because Rwanda is not a safe country.

So the government passed a bill which decreed that Rwanda is safe and the UK Supreme Court cannot say otherwise if the UK government say it is. A clear blow to the traditional independence of the British judiciary and its much vaunted respect for the rule of law.

Fortunately the legal story has not ended. The Rwanda Bill is expected to face more legal challenges. The first is based on Britain’s Refugee Act. The next one could be related to the International Refugee Convention which commits its signatories—of which Britain is one—to provide refuge to those in need.

There is also the Convention Against Torture which prohibits the return of any individuals (including refugees) to countries where there is a risk of torture or inhumane treatment. Finally, some human rights lawyers think that there are gaps in the recently passed Rwanda Bill.

In danger is not just human lives. The independence of Britain’s judiciary and the rule of law is also under threat. These have been at the core of the British political system for centuries. Britain, in fact, has been responsible for exporting these values around the world. That it is now undermining them is an ultimate sad irony.


China is up in the see-saw politics of the tropical Indian Ocean paradise of the Maldives.

Normally the 500,000 residents of the low-lying archipelago of 1,192 sun-soaked coral-reef islands are more absorbed with mixing mai-tais for wealthy tourists. Or, if they want something to worry about, rising sea levels.

This week, however, their focus shifted to regional super power politics as the Maldivian electorate voted overwhelmingly to oust a vehemently pro-Indian government for a passionately pro-Chinese administration.

China and India have for decades competed for control and influence in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea. India because it is that country’s maritime backyard. China because it is an important link in the sea route that carries oil to China and its manufactured goods to Europe. The Maldives straddles both the equator and those sea lanes.

To protect what they perceive as their vital strategic interests, both countries have lavished billions of dollars on schools, hospitals, roads, airports and defence projects in an effort to win friends and influence voters. They have also assiduously courted the islands’ politicians who have predictably divided into a pro-Chinese camp (The People’s National Congress or PNC) and the pro-Indian camp (The Maldivian Democratic Party or MDP).

The PNC’s leader, Mohammed Muizzi, won the presidency in September. But his attempts to move the Maldives away from India and towards China were blocked by an MDP-controlled parliament. All that changed this week when the PNC won a super-majority of 66 out of 86 seats in parliamentary elections.

President Muizzi’s first post-parliamentary election act was to announce the immediate expulsion of an Indian team of pilots and technicians who had been providing air and maritime security for the islands. India, said Muizzi, is “a bully.” China, the president added, would replace India with “free military assistance.” Muizzi also announced the award of several infrastructure projects to Chinese companies and the arrival of 12 Chinese-built ambulances.

The shift to Beijing is unlikely to be the end of the story. The pro-Chinese faction were also in power from 2013 to 2018 when they joined the Belt/Road Initiative and signed a free trade deal with China. Then the MDP claimed that the government was leading the Maldives into a Chinese “debt trap.” The result was that from 2018-2024 the pro-Indian faction took command and the security deal was signed with Delhi. In most countries, foreign policy is a distant also-ran in elections. In the Maldives it is the only-ran.


Tom Arms Journalist Sindh CourierTom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democratic Voice and the author of the “The Encyclopaedia of the Cold War” and “America Made in Britain.”

Read: Observations of an Expat: Poor Bibi



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here