Senate’s bipartisan innovation bill key to US leadership in 21st century technologies
Before the United States entered World War II, American industry raised the Arsenal of Democracy, the materiel that rolled off factory floors and saved civilization.
To win the future, to once again outfight and outproduce our rivals, America must raise another Arsenal of Democracy. But one designed for the 21st century.
Today, Russian tanks are rolling across Ukraine’s roads. Chinese bombs could fall from Taiwan’s skies next. Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping lead an illiberal alliance that seeks global primacy and rejects democracy.
This is a hinge point in history. We must be clear eyed about the threats China and Russia pose to America and its allies.
A great power struggle is underway. If we fail to prepare for it or build a plan to win it, America will forfeit the future. A world led by superpowers who do not share our values or value human dignity is a dangerous one.
When it comes to deterring our global adversaries, it is time for the United States to unleash private sector innovation while significantly boosting federal national security investments.
China and Russia have enhanced their naval and aerial strike capabilities and are making significant strides in cyberwarfare. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has successfully tested a hypersonic glide vehicle capable of delivering a nuclear weapon while avoiding the detection of the United States’ early warning radar tracking systems.
After years of decreases, military spending ticked up during the Trump administration, but this merely fixed past mistakes. It did not prepare us for the future.
Now many Democrats in Congress are once again calling for reckless reductions to the Pentagon’s budget. This reversal would be welcome news in Beijing and Moscow. It is paramount that our military remain the most capable in the world and that our men and women in uniform never have to fight a fair fight.
But as we endeavor to avoid another bloody conflict, it also is important that the outcome of this global contest be won in laboratories, across campuses, on assembly lines.
China isn’t only buying up military hardware. The CCP is investing heavily — $1.4 trillion through 2025 — on cutting edge technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), quantum computing, 5G, and advanced manufacturing.
America remains a leader in some of these fields but is losing ground fast. China has made considerable advances in technology over the past two decades, evidenced by increased patent publications in AI, gold medals at international science competitions such as the International Olympiad, and universities producing four times as many STEM degrees as our own. The CCP has wisely bet that technological superiority equals global supremacy.
Our new Arsenal of Democracy must be built to outcompete and out-innovate our global rivals economically and militarily.
The current semiconductor crisis, which halted production of major domestic industries, is an illustrative example. America is almost entirely reliant on other nations for high-tech computer chips that power our smart phones, automobiles, household appliances, and military platforms. U.S. semiconductor production, once accounting for nearly 40 percent of the world’s supply, has dropped to just 12 percent, while China’s has jumped from four percent to nine in five years. The vast majority of chips, however, are produced in Taiwan, which the CCP covets.
This is a very real economic and national security vulnerability. Rising prices caused by the chip shortage are hurting Americans’ pocketbooks and savings, but 90 percent of the chips used in our military technology are made overseas.
If we are to lead the world, we must lead the world in 21st century technologies.
Last year, the Senate passed the United States Innovation and Competition Act, legislation I co-authored with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). The bill would increase American research and development in domestic semiconductors, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, robotics, cybersecurity, and hypersonic technology, and create tech hubs across the country.
Unsurprisingly, the Chinese government has lobbied against this bipartisan bill. The CCP does not want it to become law.
The House and Senate are now working on a final version of the legislation, which my colleagues understand must resemble the strongly bipartisan Senate approach. President Joe Biden has signaled his willingness to sign it once it reaches his desk.
This is a call to action for those of us who are charged with keeping the American people safe and secure. Prior generations have answered this call, and if we fail to do so in the critical moment, America will surrender our position of global leadership.
Young is the senior senator from Indiana and is a member of the Foreign Relations and Commerce committees.
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