COVID-19 NEWS: Air Force Wants Allies to Help Bolster Supply Chains

By Mandy Mayfield

Air Force photos by Todd Cromar

To mitigate disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. Air Force is in talks with international partners about protecting supply chains, the service’s chief of staff said April 22.

“What I'm talking to the international air chiefs about is if we … can collaborate on this it might be that we can make better use of our money collectively as opposed to individually trying to do this,” Gen. David Goldfein said during a teleconference with reporters.

“For the Italians, for the [United Kingdom], … for South Korea, for companies that are invested perhaps in the F-35  and we all know that there are these tier-two and -three companies that are struggling right now  — how do we collaborate to be able to use our resources wisely?” he added. 

During the recently started conversations, the U.S. Air Force and allies are focusing on bolstering subcontractors.

“It's about the tier-two and tier-three suppliers to make sure that we keep that industry base alive,” he said. “And perhaps by collaborating, we can all contribute in a way that keeps things on track.”

Goldfein said he is also talking with executives from sub-tier contractors to discuss how the service can support them as they face inefficiencies due to disruptions caused by the ongoing pandemic.

“The smaller companies that are producing perhaps critical parts … that don't have that cash base and don't have that resiliency, are the ones that are graded at greatest risk,” he said.

Under the leadership of officials such as Will Roper, the Air Force’s assistant secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, the service is using authorities given to the department by Congress to quickly write contracts “to infuse the market with well-placed dollars to help these companies get through these rough times,” Goldfein said.

So far, the service has yet to see any programs reaching a critical stage where they go off the rails because they don't have the necessary equipment or parts, he noted.

“What we're really seeing is … the slowing down of the normal timelines,” he explained. Right now, cash flow is a leading concern. Defense Department leaders want to "rapidly put companies on contract to be able to keep this industrial base alive," he said.

The joint chiefs of all the services are focused on this challenge, he noted.

Goldfein's remarks come two days after the Pentagon's top weapons buyer disclosed that the department is anticipating months-long delays in major defense acquisition programs due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We do anticipate about a three-month slowdown … in terms of execution than we saw before,” Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord told reporters April 20 during a press briefing at the Pentagon. “We are just now looking at key milestones that might be impacted.”

The Defense Contract Management Agency and the Defense Logistics Agency are tracking the industrial base’s top defense contractors and sub-tier vendors.

“Out of 10,509 major prime companies, 106 are closed with 68 companies having closed and reopened,” Lord said. “Out of 11,413 vendor-based companies, 427 are closed with 147 having closed and reopened.”

Topics: Air Force News, Air Power, International

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