U.S. Army / Maj. Marshall Howell

Our industrial strength is a deterrent

Technological change requires a more resilient defense industrial ecosystem. The Pentagon's new strategy will help.

The U.S. faces unprecedented threats to its national security. Our adversaries use coercive economic and trade practices to build their military power to levels not seen since World War II, while weakening the supply chains that U.S. industry needs to produce at speed and at scale the capabilities necessary for modern warfare. China’s aggressive civil/military fusion strategy harnesses commercial technologies in ways that threaten to outpace U.S. defense capabilities. To address these challenges and catalyze change, my office recently published the Department of Defense’s first National Defense Industrial Strategy (NDIS).

Production—making the tanks, trucks, aircraft, munitions, and other systems needed for modern high-intensity conflict, and providing the services needed to field and sustain them—is still vital. In the NDIS, we call for enabling a modernized, innovative, resilient defense industrial ecosystem that not only includes traditional defense industry, but also makes it easier for commercial, typically non-defense companies and new-technology developers to provide products and services. Drawing broadly on our manufacturing and technology industrial base will allow us to meet the pacing demands and future threats. 

Make no mistake: the road to creating the modernized defense industrial ecosystem identified in this strategy is long. Through recent world events, we have learned a great deal about the challenges within our current defense industrial base—but they are largely challenges of our own making. The “peace dividend” at end of the Cold War led to defense-industry consolidation and massive reductions in military manufacturing. The COVID pandemic and the wars in Europe and the Middle East also demonstrated that insufficient production and supply capacity are now deeply entrenched problems throughout all tiers of supply chains. This includes dependencies on raw materials and components which often trace to single sources or suppliers vulnerable to control or exploitation by adversaries. 

The pace of technological change requires a more resilient defense industrial ecosystem. Modern systems are more complex, have more sophisticated technology, and rely on a global supply chain for components and subcomponents more than the simpler weapons and gear of World War II—the last time we saw comprehensive industrial and military surges in the United States. Countering Chinese and Russian military and technological advances require new capabilities, such as autonomous weapons and heightened cybersecurity. Whether we are building Long Range Anti-Ship Missiles or developing drones, we need to be able to surge production of critical munitions and equipment as well as develop, scale, and field new innovative capabilities. We need a comprehensive, strategic approach to re-tool and fortify our supply chains.

The Biden administration is using industrial policy to address a host of threats to national security. Examples include microelectronics, through the CHIPS and Science Act, and green technologies, through the Inflation Reduction Act. 

But the use of industrial policy to secure the nation long pre-dates the electronic era. In the late 1700s, Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton and other U.S. policymakers sought to foster an economy to face an unfriendly world. Promoting American manufacturing, Hamilton wrote, “will tend to render the United States independent of foreign nations, for military and other essential supplies.”

Over 230 years later, the U.S. is at a new inflection point. The imperative for a defense industrial policy links back to the foundational debates on economics, trade, technological innovation, and national security. We must provide for the nation’s security by encouraging domestic production of important military and essential materials by transforming our current defense industrial base into a robust, resilient, and modernized defense industrial ecosystem. 

However, until now, the Pentagon did not have a strategic vision for defense industrial policy that revitalizes our defense manufacturing and technology supply chains to out-compete our adversaries. The NDIS aligns with our highest national-security priorities: securing against current and pacing threats while supporting our close international allies and partners. Through more than two dozen actions, the NDIS outlines a strategic vision to catalyze change. 

Enabling resilience and innovation is a tall order and requires that we be forward-looking, moving away from the past and beyond even the acute challenges of the present. Yet the Defense Department cannot address the challenges alone. To succeed, we must all—government agencies, Congress, private industry, research institutions, investors, allies, and partners—ultimately focus on pacing demands and the future needs of warfighters. 

As events around the world continue to show, we cannot afford to wait. A strong military supported by our industrial ecosystem deters potential adversaries. And should deterrence fail, our adversaries had best understand that the United States, supported by her industrial might, will fight—and win.

Dr. Laura Taylor-Kale is Assistant Secretary of Defense for Industrial Base Policy.