The Midwest and the National Reserve of the US military industry

(To Leonardo Chiti)

Historically, metallurgy and the production of weapons have always been close relatives, a bond which, however, in the age of information technology, of pushed electronics and of composite materials, has undergone recalibration but has not disappeared. The periodic rise of trade war winds related to the import-export of steel is a sign of how much importance certain sectors of the "old economy" still hold.

Last February 15 the main European steel producers were mobilized, with the support of workers and trade unions, to request a regulatory intervention of the European Union to protect continental steel production with the introduction of a tax on imports , grown by 25% in the last year.

The steel producers of the Old Continent point in particular against the Chinese steel that would benefit from a policy of dumping due to the fact that China, the world's leading producer, being in a slowdown has recorded a decline in domestic consumption by pouring the surplus production on the international market thus putting pressure on steel prices whose price per tonne fell by 40% during the 2015.

In expressing its support for the initiative of European sector operators, the French Minister for the Economy, Emmanuel Macron (photo), told France 24 microphones that: is in progress a battle between the world's largest steel producers and Europe must equip itself with the appropriate weapons at the level of competition.

For many centuries the making of weapons consisted essentially of a crucible, bellows, hammer and anvil for the forging and re-banding of blades, spikes and a variety of armor, armor and helmets, so it was natural that the places of production - that they were villages, city centers with the presence of numerous "workshops" of blacksmiths and gunsmiths, or the first industrial settlements - were located near the woods (important for the supply of wood), territories rich in iron ore and later (with the development of steel production) of coal, an ideal combination for steel companies.

Not forgetting in this context the importance of the proximity of sources of water supply, given that for their operation (like almost all other industrial sectors), steel plants need considerable quantities of water.

This has in turn influenced the localization of the steel consumer sectors given that between the metallurgical, mechanical and arms production sectors there is a close contiguity of supply chain that can be found also in the history - in particular obviously in the initial phase - of the installation of the respective plants .

The main American carboniferous basin, made up of high quality litantrace, extends for a thousand kilometers on the western slope of the Appalachian Mountains, from Pennsylvania to Alabama, while the largest iron ore deposits are found in the Great Lakes District, in particular between Lake Superior and Lake Michigan, and in the northeastern states.

These geological features have been a fertile ground for the steel industry that has always been well represented in the northern Appalachian area and in the port centers of the great lakes (Detroit-Toledo, Lorain, Cleveland, Erie, Chicago), favorably located with respect to ferrous deposits and coal.

Although the times in which the nickname "steel city" was earned have passed (today we tend to emphasize the fact that it is the birthplace of Andy Warhol or that here Henry John Heinz invented his famous ketchup) For decades, Pittsburgh has been the world capital of steel, so much so that at the end of the 19th century metallurgy magnate Andrew Carnegie was considered the richest man in the world.

At that time, Pennsylvania had the highest industrialization rate in the United States, with Philadelphia holding the record in the mechanical sector. The legacy of that tradition still maintains a certain importance with the US Steel (176 ° place in the Fortune 500 ranking of the main US groups), which still has its headquarters in Pittsburgh.

In the second half of the twentieth century, the subsequent renovations that affected the metal sector have deeply affected the social fabric of this area and the latest data seem to highlight the need for further restructuring.

According to the World Steel Association, for the USA the 2015 closed with the registration, in the month of December, of a decrease of 16,3% (over one million tons less), compared to the same period of 2014. An evident acceleration of a downsizing trend that in the last 15 years has seen the annual production of US steel go from 91,5 million tons of 2003 to about 75 millions of 2015.

Observing its location we note that Pittsburgh is (not by chance) on a sort of border line between the main industrial areas of the United States, an ideal position to supply steel production centers in the Northeast and Midwest. Pittsburgh is located in southwestern Pennsylvania and is the westernmost offshoot of the Appalachians and then declines to make way for the great central plains stretching as far as the eye can see as far as the Rockies.

In this region is the Middle West, crossed by the Mississippi which borders the western portion (North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri) and the eastern portion. Of the latter are the states comprising the area of ​​the great Laurentian lakes - Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio - which contend with the Atlantic coast the record for the most important industrial region in the United States.

In general, from a purely technical-industrial point of view, the defense sector does not have its own specificity, being the result of the combination of a plurality of productive activities, in many cases representing the advanced point in terms of technological innovation.

In the framework of the dynamics of relations between powers, science and technology become a tool for the struggle between them and this is the underlying reason for the dual nature of all innovation in these fields. Any country possessing a chemical industry can produce chemical or bacteriological weapons, and how difficult the distinction between civil and military production of atomic energy has recently been very clearly reiterated by the international tensions around Iran's nuclear energy, which is currently attenuated (except of course for Israel), from an agreement with which, at least, time has been gained.

Likewise, despite all the differences that must be taken into account (on average military production is more complex), the construction of tanks, ships and warplanes, as well as space and satellite vectors, presupposes the existence of a strong mechanical industry.

According to reports by Richard Overy, at the beginning of the 40 years German diplomats communicated to Berlin that the United States was totally unprepared for a possible engagement in war and that the mobilization of their industry to a level that could support the war effort , it would take years. In reality, the conversion of the American industrial apparatus towards war production took only a few months, from February of the 1942 to the autumn of the same year.

The American production of military vehicles developed in the central-western states, around the great lakes [...] If in the 1941 there were produced more than three and a half million cars, during the war the production fell to the incredible number of 139 cars. This decline freed enormous industrial capacity for the war effort. In the 1945 industry provided one-fifth of all military equipment in the country, including almost all vehicles and tanks, one-third of the machine guns and nearly two-fifths of aeronautical supplies. Only Ford produced more weapons in Italy during the war ("The Road to Victory: Why the Allies Won the Second World War", the Mill, 2011).

As a military supplier, Ford had already made its mark during the First World War as at the end of the conflict the most used motor vehicle by the Allies was, with 125.000 unit, a variant of the Model T. During the Second World War the The Michigan company distinguished itself particularly by its participation in the production of the four-engine bomber of the Consolidated, B-24 Liberator, which was the most constructed allied bombing aircraft of the conflict with around 18.200 specimens.

The B-24 entered the fight in April of the 1942 and was used mainly in the theaters of the Pacific and the European Mediterranean side also in the roles of maritime patrol, anti-submarine, transport and training.

The initial complexity of the project (a B-24 was composed of 30.000 main parts for a total of 1.550.000 elements), which was based on the application of automated production techniques developed by the organizational model of the Fordist assembly line, had brought 'edge of the bankruptcy, but after the necessary adjustments to the culmination of production reached an assembly rate of a bomber every 63 minutes.

We understand well the strategic sense (in addition to the obvious economic and political reasons of a more immediate nature), the operation of rescue and relaunch of the Detroit auto industry (in particular General Motors and Chrysler), undertaken by the Obama administration in the 2009 . In the same way as the armed forces, the defense industry must also have its own reservists ready to mobilize when required by the level of commitment on the battlefield.

Even if the rescue as a whole has succeeded, it seems that the government intervention was not enough to reverse the sign of a decades-long decline affecting the city of Detroit, deeply marked also by the latest crises and subsequent restructuring of the 2000 years. Suffice it to say that in the years' 50 the inhabitants of Detroit were 1,86 million and today they are around the 700 thousand, with the metropolitan area that still stands on a respectable figure of 4,3 million.

To combat the tendency to depopulation, the city administration has launched a series of measures ranging from the recovery of some areas through urban redevelopment projects, to the provision of incentives for the purchase of houses and tax relief for those who intend to invest or open a business in the city. However, the road to the often announced Detroit rebirth continues to rise, as the buildings are being demolished at a rate of 150-200 per month, as part of a plan that is expected to last several years.

The situation of Chicago in neighboring Illinois is quite different, where however problems are not lacking if one considers that, despite the times of Al Capone are far away, there is still a crime rate among the highest in the United States.

Among the large American urban areas is ranked third by population - 2,7 million inhabitants in the municipality and 9,5 in the metropolitan area - behind New York (8,4 and 23) and Los Angeles (3,9 and 12). A further proof of its importance, Chicago was the political gym and the springboard to the presidency for Barack Obama, from whose entourage comes the current mayor (in office by 2011), Emanuel Rahm, head of the cabinet at the White House between January 2009 and October 2010.

In Chicago, Boeing established its headquarters after the acquisition, in 1997, of McDonnell-Douglas, whose historic headquarters are located in St Louis, Missouri, which has become the largest production center for the Pentagon supplies, of the group led by Dennis Muilenburg.

McDonnell is responsible for the first US Navy boarded jet, the FH-1 Phantom (photo), which was set up in the 1943 and made the first flight on 26 January 1945. It was the first jet aircraft to deploy on a aircraft carrier as the Ryan FR Fireball (which had made the first flight in June of the 1944), was a hybrid equipped with a radial propeller engine and a turbojet.

The same designation will be used for the most famous F-4 Phantom II entered into service at the US Navy in December 1960, succeeding to appear well in Vietnam despite the difficult situation of the American armed forces in the Indochinese theater. From the outset the potential of the F-4 was evident as a multi-role fighter and several versions were realized: from hunting for terrestrial (F-4C), reconnaissance (RF-4) and anti-radar (F-4G) , for a total production of about 5.200 specimens.

Douglas is best known for its range of commercial DC-series aircraft (Douglas Commercial), among which the most famous (and most probably the most successful) are DC-9. Among the first models of the series was the DC-3, the first aircraft in history to make the journey profitable with passenger tickets only, a feature that immediately made it a model much loved by airlines, and that at the end of the years 30 allowed him to establish himself as the standard of US passenger air transportation.

In the history of this company there is no shortage of noteworthy military productions, among which the C-47 Skytrain made for the US Army and the US Navy with the name R4D (photo) stands out. It was the military version of the DC-3 that had made the first flight at the beginning of July of the 1933 and in the 1940 it was selected as a standard military transport for the American armed forces.

During the Second World War the C-47 experienced a very high intensity of use in the transport of troops and launch paratroopers, so as to gain a leading place among the means commonly considered of greater importance for the victory of the allies. 10.700 units were made, plus other 2.000s licensed in the Soviet Union and also used by the RAF English squadrons with the designation Dakota.

The destinies of the two companies cross at the end of the 60 years with the acquisition of the Californian Douglas by the McDonnell of St Louis. The 27 July 1972 is witnessing the first flight of a sample of pre-series F-15 Eagle that will enter service at the USAF in November 1974.

This supersonic supersonic supersonic supersonic manifold was the first hunter with a thrust-to-weight ratio equal to the unit or higher, which allowed it to rise with exceptional speed and even vertically. Despite the fact that it was thought of in terms of air combat, its design was also suitable for the development of a multi-role version with which McDonnell-Douglas responded to the Air Force's request for a "dual role" fighter.

This requirement was met with the design of the F-15E Strike Eagle (photo) that entered service within the USAF in the 1988. Keeping the air-to-air capabilities of the predecessor intact, the Strike Eagle can be used indifferently in attack and air combat missions.

From an alliance with Northrop, in which the MDD was able to enhance its long-time experience in boarded airplanes, the F / A-70 Hornet was born in the second half of the years' 18. Entered into service at the US Navy in the 1980, and elaborated later in a series of improved versions, the Hornet is a twin-engine supersonic fighter with equal air-to-air and air-to-surface combat capabilities. In the 1992, with the aim of replacing both the F-14 in the role of fleet defense fighter and the first F / A 18, the F / A-18E / F Super Hornet program was started with the first training department during the 2000.

With the acquisition of Hughes, in the 1984, the rotary wing and in particular the AH-64 Apache joined the McDonnell-Douglas family, which in the 1976 won the US Army competition for a new helicopter. 'attack and combat, whose version A will enter service in the 1986.

Lastly, the location of the Midwest in the epicenter of US agro-food production offers the opportunity to consider a further aspect of a general nature: in its historical development, economic development proceeds by differentiation, between agriculture and industry, between different sectors within these and then between companies within the same sectors.

However, this process does not generate activities that function as watertight compartments, mutual influences and mutual determination are the rule. The industrialization of the war is the result of a centuries-old technical and scientific evolution that embraces a wide variety of productions, among which also the agricultural machinery.

In the 1890, Benjamin Holt (1849-1920), a native of Concord, New Hampshire, develops "Old Betsy" (photo), a tractor that has the particularity of moving on tracks ("caterpillar" in English) instead of on wheels. The Caterpillar group (54 ° placed in the Fortune 500 US Business ranking) has its headquarters in Peoria, Illinois, and is a world leader in the "construction and farm machinery" sector.

The structure of the track and its width increase the support surface of the tractor avoiding the sinking (or reducing the risk), in case of soft or muddy ground. A very useful feature in the construction of the first self-propelled guns (self-propelled artillery) and tanks.

Two requirements could therefore be reconciled: the robustness of the vehicle and its mobility, which allowed the construction of tracked trucks suitable for supporting fire-resistant and heavy-duty guns and at the same time reinforcing the elements of passive defense with thickening of the armor.

As is known, the first operational use of the tank occurred at the end of the summer of the 1916 in the Battle of the Somme, whose fights began the 1 ° July after seven days of bombardment of the German positions by the Allied artillery.

Here the British put in action the first "tanks", precisely in the ruins of the village of Flers, the 15 September 1916. Two years later in front of Amiens, they realized the first major breakthrough by armored vehicles in the history of modern wars (John Keegan, "The Face of the Battle", the Assayer, 2001).

A quarter century before Benjamin Holt laid the groundwork for the transition from tractor to tank. "Old Betsy" therefore represents the contribution of the mechanization of US agriculture of the great central plains, to the mechanization of armies.

(photo: web / World Steel Association / General Dynamics Land System / US Army Signal Corps / US Navy)