National Security at an Inflection Point
The National Defense Authorization Act of 2016 offers some positive reforms that will improve the acquisition system, and Congress is building on this work with additional efforts this year. Further, after facing five straight years of declines that amounted to a 25 percent reduction in real defense spending, Congress agreed to a budget deal that provides an uptick in funding. These were important first steps toward navigating a world that is growing more complex and dangerous.
Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter continues to emphasize what he calls the “five strategic challenges” that the United States faces. These include the return of great power politics with a resurgent Russia and ever more assertive China, both of which are engaged in major efforts to field new military systems that degrade U.S. technological advantages. A persistent threat of regional conflict with Iran and North Korea continues. Meanwhile, the March terrorist attack in Brussels, along with the preceding attacks in Paris, demonstrate the continued potency of terrorist groups like the Islamic State.
The Defense Department’s preferred remedy includes shifting investments toward developing new operating concepts and technologies. In releasing their 2017 plans, defense leaders emphasized a willingness to reduce force structure in order to ensure that U.S. military forces remain ready and equipped with the most capable systems in the world. If the defense strategy and programs the current administration favor continue, the military is likely to undergo significant transition over the next decade, even while remaining actively engaged in combat. However, the permanence of these plans is not guaranteed, and we expect a vigorous debate on many national security priorities during the ongoing political campaign season.
The National Defense Industrial Association will continue to play an active role in this discussion as a trusted and reliable partner in national security. It is in a unique position to represent the broadest cross section of the defense industrial base with over 1,600 member companies across all 50 states. It will continue to bridge the gap between the government and industry to ensure that our companies are able to bring innovative security related technologies and solutions forward.
Yet even as the international security environment grows more complex, new regulations limit and constrain the interaction between government and industry executives. This makes NDIA’s role ever more important. Going forward, the association must do more than simply provide a conduit for the exchange of information. We need to create new opportunities to enable deeper collaboration focused on improving the acquisition process to provide the U.S. and partners the right technologies and capabilities.
To this end, NDIA recently began a new meeting series that brings together smaller groups of industry executives and government officials focused on international security cooperation. The aim of these meetings is to create a collaborative forum where industry and government can work on mutually beneficial solutions to improve the international sales process. I expect to build on the success of these events to work on other issues where executive dialogue can improve acquisition and policy outcomes.
Much of the transition we face this year is focused on politics and the outcomes of the presidential and congressional elections in the fall. The current election cycle has only one clear certainty. Next year, the country will have a new president. Many key congressional leadership positions will also transition at the start of 2018. NDIA stands ready to begin work with the new administration and incoming members of Congress to provide a source of continuity on national security issues. The end of a demanding political campaign season will bring challenging issues associated with governance. During the transition period for a new presidential administration and Congress, NDIA will play a valuable role promoting national security and the broader interests of the entire industrial base.
The change in administration and new congressional leadership will offer opportunities for us to engage with stakeholders.
NDIA has always been a leader in promoting national security. Moving forward, we will increase the value that we provide to our stakeholders by becoming key thought leaders in the national security conversation. During the past two years, NDIA played an important role in stimulating new acquisition reform ideas. This work will continue and grow to include other national security policy areas with an initial emphasis on the supply chain, the national security workforce and global sales.
Beyond these issues, NDIA will continue to be a strong voice for national security. While the 2016 budget deal provided welcome relief from top line uncertainty, we will continue to advocate that our leaders create a long-term deal that provides stable and adequate defense spending. At a time when some of our technological advantages are waning, the association will participate in the dialogue that brings forward innovative new ideas to support national security.
While there are dangers during times of transition, there are many clear opportunities to strengthen the nation and industrial base. NDIA is embracing these opportunities. We have a seat at the table, and we will use it to promote national security, represent industry and increase the value equation to our stakeholders.