Year in Review: 2021 Brought Challenges

By Nick Jones

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America remains at a crossroads. Thankfully, despite the shared challenges of the last year, providing for the common defense remains a unifying core value within our country. The national security of the United Stares depends on a healthy, resilient and productive defense industrial base.

Closing out 2021, the defense industrial base is facing multiple headwinds. Despite hopes to the contrary, the COVID-19 pandemic remained with us, causing supply chain shortages for critical defense components like microelectronics and labor disruptions created by renewed coronavirus outbreaks. We are hopeful the worst of the pandemic is behind us, and we are grateful for the first responders, health care professionals and defense acquisition personnel involved in vaccine procurement that got us to this point. They are a core pillar of our industrial base that is sometimes overlooked.

Our nation’s superiority in all domains of warfare should not be taken for granted. Our national security is earned through hard work, wise investments, continuous planning and smart risk-taking within government, academia and industry.

We are in a strategic competition, and Chinese and Russian aggression remain a significant concern. These competitors do not limit their scope to traditional domains of warfare.

Foreign-originated threats to our computer systems and intellectual property continue. Ransomware attacks, like the Colonial Pipeline hack in May, are a growing concern. Such attacks add to the tsunami of data points that highlight the need for cybersecurity regulations capable of implementation by defense contractors, at a reasonable cost, without creating barriers for new entrants or causing conditions that create disincentives to participation in defense markets. The Defense Department’s recently announced Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) 2.0 is a hopeful sign that the concerns we and our members have voiced over the last two years will be addressed.

At NDIA, we’ve continued to move out on our goal to leverage the expertise of our members and deepen the thought leadership of our association.

In July, the Emerging Technologies Institute, NDIA’s own think tank, was rolled out with Dr. Mark Lewis as the inaugural executive director. ETI is tasked to provide leadership, raise public awareness, and conduct independent research about technologies that are critical to our nation’s economy and our national defense. Through Dr. Lewis’ leadership, ETI is off to a great start.

We’ve also established the NDIA Business Institute, which we will grow as the go-to place for defense industry professionals to receive high-quality education and training. Already, the institute has secured a partnership with Carnegie Mellon University on a cybersecurity course, and the University of Dayton School of Law to provide intellectual property training. It has also hosted several well-attended courses on business development. In the new year, it will continue to expand its course offerings and add educational partners.

Like many of our members, NDIA has continued to cope with a remote work environment. At our headquarters, we are now coming into the office twice a week. Meanwhile, many of our members and government stakeholders remain in a remote work or hybrid environment. We are excited to see each other in person more frequently and look forward to reuniting face to face with many of our colleagues and friends very soon.

Despite the challenges of remote work and COVID-19 safety protocols, NDIA continued to execute many events including the second virtual Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC) and in-person formats for the recent Undersea Warfare Fall Conference and the 32nd Annual NDIA SO/LIC Symposium.

Women In Defense also led several impactful events this year. The Women Inspired to Serve (WISE): Share Your Map event in March, featured practical career advice from Michèle Flournoy, NDIA’s 2021 Dwight D. Eisenhower Award recipient, and Ellen Lord, former undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment.

We also held the National Security AI Conference and Exhibition virtually in March, which served as an outbrief of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence’s report. The virtual conference included a virtual Q&A session with Dr. Eric Schmidt, the former executive chairman of Alphabet Inc., and a keynote by Bob Work, chairman of NSCAI and former deputy secretary of defense. We are looking forward to a successful Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC) to close out the year.

Our divisions and chapters have significantly stepped up to the plate. The expertise of our members and dedication of our working groups have made significant contributions to a wide range of issues including microelectronics, supply chain risks, cybersecurity, COVID-19, government property, cost accounting, and many more. The contributions of our members help our warfighters and aid national defense.

Finally, the association’s magazine continued its history of excellence under the leadership of Stew Magnuson, the editor-in-chief of National Defense. The magazine won best digital entry, best training, simulation and readiness story, and best land systems story at the recent Defence Media Awards — more awards than any other publication. National Defense is now available in print at Barnes & Nobles and Books-a-Million bookstores. We hope that this will prompt more awareness of key defense issues within the American public and a greater appreciation for the work of our member companies.

Nick Jones is director of strategy at NDIA.

Topics: Defense Department

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