Industrial Readiness Requires Steady Commitment
by Lawrence P. Farrell, Jr.
As the United States undertakes an extended campaign against global
terrorism, the changing landscape of the nation’s security
invites an examination of the readiness of the nation’s defense
industrial base and some of the factors that affect its health.
Further, we must consider the importance of communicating these
facts to the American people and the Congress, while they are focused
intently on the military instrument of national power.
We define military readiness as well-trained personnel manning
systems that are immediately available for combat operations. This
implies a sustained resource commitment over time that supports
a robust training tempo. It also implies a sustained resource commitment
to maintenance and supply activities so that systems will be available
in adequate numbers to meet mission requirements.
With some exceptions, we characterize industrial base readiness
in a similar fashion. A healthy industrial base is underpinned by
sustained resource commitments to design, development, and production
programs. These long-term commitments, on one hand, ensure that
we deliver the future systems that will maintain our technical edge
and contribute to future readiness. On the other hand, they help
secure the requisite industrial and technological skills, so that
the industrial base will be able to deliver, over time, those systems
that guarantee victory for our armed forces.
It is important to remember that any call to arms is a “come
as you are” event for the forces themselves. They will deploy
and fight with what they have on hand. The systems on hand were
designed, perhaps, 20 years ago, developed and prototyped about
10-15 years ago, and entered into production less than a decade
Their fighting edge is underwritten by high-quality training and
periodic upgrades to these systems. The same is true of the industrial
base. It responds with the skills at hand and with existing production
lines. The industrial response involves the acceleration of existing
production or the modifications and upgrades of in-service systems.
New capabilities are not available in the short run.
As mentioned above, the industrial base at its best is designing,
developing and producing systems that will be used several years
into the future. These realities generally are not well understood
by the American public and, as a result, do not receive consistent
treatment by the U.S. Congress.
The point to be made is that our preparation to deal with unexpected
threats to our security is almost always accomplished in times of
relative peace, when the nation’s attention is focused on
other priorities. It also is a time when it is difficult to sell
the need for stable resource commitments to defense.
These facts are well understood by those government professionals
who are responsible for planning and executing the defense and national-security
budgets. They also are well understood by the defense industry,
which must compete in the capital, equity and human resource markets
for the financial wherewithal and human skills to develop the needed
systems for our armed forces.
These points are difficult to make in times of relative peace—and
resources often are difficult to come by. This stands in sharp contrast
with the reaction seen in times of emergency—when an immediate,
highly effective military response is expected. Higher demands,
consequently, are placed on the industrial base. During a short-run
emergency, the industrial base will be expected to accelerate the
delivery of supplies and equipment and to undertake those modifications
and upgrades of those systems and capabilities most needed for the
Initially, pressure is felt at the subcontractor-level. The subcontractors
make the components and subassemblies for full-up systems. These
“subs” tend to be the smaller firms and don’t
always have the robustness to surge, like a larger firm. Also, smaller
component suppliers have, in the past, needed financial help and
lines of credit from larger contractors in order to ramp up production.
To sum up, the best time to make the arguments for industrial base
readiness is during emergencies. Those of us in the business of
national security and defense need to take the time to make our
argument. The news media will be asking questions about military
readiness and industrial capabilities. We should use this opportunity
to turn the discussion to the critical role of the industrial base
and its contributions. Further, to be able to serve the nation,
the industrial base needs adequate and stable resource commitments.
One final point. We should make the argument that the inadequate
funding support that the Defense Department has received during
the past several years has forced our military services to mortgage
their future, in order to underwrite near-term readiness. If the
current trends continue, we run the risk that the technical edge
we now enjoy will erode, and the U.S. industrial base will be shorn
of the skills needed to design, develop and produce those systems
for the future force.
I welcome your comments on the issue.