US must strengthen its defense industrial base

FILE – In this image provided by the U.S. Air Force, Airmen and civilians from the 436th Aerial Port Squadron palletize ammunition, weapons and other equipment bound for Ukraine during a foreign military sales mission at Dover Air Force Base, Del., on Jan. 21, 2022. The longer Ukraine’s army fends off the invading Russians, the more it absorbs the advantages of Western weaponry and training. Military experts say that’s exactly the transformation President Vladimir Putin wanted to prevent by invading Ukraine in the first place. (Mauricio Campino/U.S. Air Force via AP)

From the largest invasion in Europe since WWII, to the “no limits” alliance between Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, we are witnessing a dynamic shift in global stability. To maintain global order and peace, the United States must be able to support our allies and partners both diplomatically and militarily, including through the provision of weapons and systems necessary to defend themselves.  

Following Russia’s latest unjust invasion, the U.S. is supplying critical weapons systems to Ukraine. Those shipments are being fulfilled mainly through what is available in America’s military stockpiles. In certain circumstances, U.S. support has come at the expense of assisting other allies and partners. 

While it’s imperative we support Ukraine, we are realizing the challenges this creates for the U.S. defense industrial base. These challenges include restarting and improving production lines mothballed over the last decade and those shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic. Other challenges include the struggle to secure our supply chain of necessary critical minerals and semiconductors, along with a lack of young, skilled labor to replace those who have retired or soon will. Furthermore, we are generally not applying today’s best technologies and software.  

For example, the FIM-92 Stinger man-portable air defense system, of which production lines shut down in 2005, due in large part to a lack of robust orders from the U.S. and international partners. As of this month, the United States has provided more than 1,400 Stinger systems to Ukraine, with foreign partners also contributing their own stocks of Stingers. These weapons are in high demand now, but the necessary component parts are no longer manufactured. And parts that remain in stock are already committed to fulfilling past Stinger orders.  

Further, a sale of Stinger systems for Taiwan that I approved in 2019 has yet to be delivered. With some experts forecasting a potential Chinese invasion of Taiwan in the not-too-distant future, these, and other weapons must be delivered as soon as possible. However, projections estimate these delays could extend for many years. This delay exemplifies a failure of attention to properly maintain our arsenal of democracy and our ability to arm our allies and partners.  

To ensure the best fighting forces possible, our military and our allies need weapons and systems well beyond Stingers and other legacy systems. To do that, among other things, we need to apply the latest software applications for systems and processes, novel drones, robotics, improved electromagnetic capabilities, and other advanced weapons systems and platforms.  

We must also embrace the leaders and new companies that can quickly help us meet today and tomorrow’s security needs, especially as they relate to the global malign threat of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). They will be critical to the rejuvenation of our defense industrial base because they draw on one of America’s best and longest established strengths: innovation. Many startups and other growing companies hesitate to have the Pentagon as a customer because others have encountered unnecessary obstacles and overly burdensome bureaucracy that significantly limit their chances for success. The profit potential in the commercial sector is significant, and the desire to avoid the legion of headaches due to government bureaucracy cannot be underestimated.

However, there is both strategic and financial gain to engaging the commercial sector in supplying our allies in Central and Eastern Europe with new U.S. weapons and systems. Currently, countries such as Poland are giving Ukraine their legacy Soviet and Russia systems. Now, we must backfill our allies’ supplies. By using advanced U.S. systems, our allies will become familiar and dependent on them and continue to buy American systems in the future.  But we must be able to fill orders quickly and efficiently. 

Changing how our government does business for national security will ultimately require collaboration across traditional prime contractors, small and medium businesses that make component parts, institutions of higher education, innovative start-ups, and the Departments of Defense and State, and the Intelligence Community.  

The full-scale invasion of Ukraine has highlighted this challenge for the defense industry. Should more conflicts around the world erupt, the U.S. cannot afford to have outdated processes that impede our procurement of necessary weapons systems. We must rejuvenate our aging systems with American innovation, while setting the stage for new, best-of-breed systems. 

To help bring about needed changes and furthering recent legislative accomplishments, I would strongly urge the Rules Committee to make two important amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in order. The first one is an amendment I have offered that would help to modernize the defense industrial base. The second is a bipartisan amendment offered by Rep. Kim (R-Calif.), which would give Congress more insight into the delayed shipment of weapons to Taiwan and other regional allies. I will continue to work with members on both sides of the aisle to draft additional solutions for action this year and next Congress.  

Michael McCaul represents the 10th District of Texas and is ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Tags defense industrial base Vladimir Putin Xi Jinping

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