Industrial Readiness Requires Steady Commitment

By Lawrence P. Farrell

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 ago.

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 current crisis.

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.

Topics: Industrial Base, Training, Defense Department

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