Report identifies risks to U.S. defense supply chain

5 Min Read
Report identifies risks to U.S. defense supply chain

Urgent action is needed to reduce the U.S. military's dangerous dependence on foreign suppliers for the raw materials, parts and finished products needed to defend America, according to a new study prepared by Brigadier General John Adams (U.S. Army, Retired). 

Remaking American Security: Supply Chain Vulnerabilities & National Security Risks Across the U.S. Defense Industrial Base was authored by Guardian Six Consulting President Brigadier General John Adams and released May 8, 2013, at a Capitol Hill event led by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) and Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio).

The report finds that U.S. national security and the health of the nation's defense industrial base are in jeopardy because of an over-reliance on foreign suppliers for critical defense materials. Foreign sourcing puts America's military readiness in the hands of potentially unreliable supplier nations and undermines the ability to develop capabilities needed to win on future battlefields. The report calls for action to increase domestic production of the natural resources and manufactured goods necessary to equip our military.

"America's vulnerability today is frightening," says General Adams. "This report is a wake-up call for America to pay attention to the growing threat posed by the steady deterioration of our defense industrial base. Excessive and unwise outsourcing of American manufacturing to other nations weakens America's military capability. As a soldier, I've witnessed firsthand the importance of our nation's ability to rapidly produce and field a sophisticated array of capabilities. There is a real risk that supply chain vulnerabilities will hamper our response to future threats." 

Examples analyzed in detail in the report include:

•The United States is completely dependent on a single Chinese company for the chemical needed to produce the solid rocket fuel used to propel HELLFIRE missiles. As current U.S. supplies diminish, our military will be reliant on the Chinese supplier to provide this critical chemical—butanetriol—in the quantities needed to maintain this missile system. HELLFIRE missiles are a widely used, reliable, and effective weapon launched from attack helicopters and unmanned drones. They are a critical component in America's arsenal.


•The commercialization of rechargeable batteries has moved offshore along with new innovation capacity. Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries are built on complex chemistries that offer superior weight savings per unit of energy density. They last a long time during disuse and are low-maintenance. Although the original invention of the Li-ion battery took place in U.S. laboratories housed in U.S. universities funded by the federal government, the United States is now at a competitive disadvantage, relying on foreign suppliers for both current products and next generation batteries.


•The United States imports 91 percent of the rare earth element lanthanum, which is needed to make night-vision devices, from China. This near-total dependence creates a risk that China could withhold access to lanthanum to force up the price, inhibit a U.S. technological advantage, pressure the United States to resolve disputes on terms favorable to China, or worse, completely withhold supplies. Night-vision devices give U.S. warfighters a critical advantage in low-light operations, such as the night raid that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden.


•Production of high-tech magnets has migrated offshore, even though American research initially developed this important technology. Today, there is no domestic Neodymium-Iron-Boron (NdFeB) magnet producer, and 75 percent of NdFeB magnets are fabricated in China. The disappearance of a U.S. magnet industry has eroded U.S. leadership in patents and our ability to design new applications.


President of the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) Scott Paul, whose organization commissioned the report, notes that the report is call to action for a renewed focus on American manufacturing capacity.


"Allowing our defense industrial base to keep shrinking and our dependence on foreign manufacturers to keep growing will make America weaker, less secure, and less safe," Paul says. "As the U.S. pivots its defense posture to focus on Asia, procurement policies that allow, or in some cases encourage, sourcing of critical defense materials from China and other potentially unreliable suppliers don't make sense. Self-reliance has always been an American virtue and the key to our nation's success and prosperity. Manufacturing is important for job creation and a strong economy, and it's also essential for our national security."

The report includes 10 recommendations to foster domestic manufacturing capacity and make the U.S. military less dependent on imported products: 

1. Increase long-term federal investment in high-technology industries, particularly those involving advanced research and manufacturing capabilities.


2. Properly update, apply and enforce existing laws and regulations to support the U.S. defense industrial base.


3. Develop domestic sources of key natural resources that our armed forces require.


4. Ensure that defense industrial base concerns are considered at the highest levels when formulating the U.S. National Military Strategy, National Security Strategy and throughout the Quadrennial Defense Review process.


5. Build consensus among government, industry, the defense industrial base workforce and the military on the best ways to strengthen the defense industrial base.


6. Increase cooperation between federal agencies and between government and industry to build a healthier defense industrial base.


7. Strengthen collaboration between government, industry and academic research institutions to educate, train and retain people with specialized skills to work in key defense industrial base sectors.


8. Craft legislation to support a broadly representative defense industrial base strategy.


9. Modernize and secure defense supply chains through networked operations that provide ongoing communications between prime contractors and the supply chains they depend on.


10. Identify potential defense supply chain chokepoints and plan to prevent disruptions.


In coming weeks, Gen. Adams and other national security experts will convene a series of events designed to raise awareness about the risks to our defense supply chain. These events, along with government and industry initiatives, will accelerate the process of restoring the health of the U.S. defense industrial base, as well as restoring American leadership in the critical advanced technologies our armed forces need to win on future battlefields.


About the Alliance for American Manufacturing

The Alliance for American Manufacturing is a non-profit, non-partisan partnership formed in 2007 by some of America's leading manufacturers and the United Steelworkers to explore common solutions to challenging public policy topics such as job creation, infrastructure investment, international trade and global competitiveness.




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Source: Alliance for American Manufacturing




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