U.S. Defense Supply Chain 'Alarmingly' Reliant on China, Other Rivals

Oct. 10, 2018
We know there's a problem. But will the White House and Congress actually do anything about it?

The Defense Department released an urgent report last Friday outlining how its supply chains are alarmingly reliant on China and other potential military rivals for essential materials.

How can the U.S. military properly defend our nation if it can’t source what it needs from domestic sources — and instead must depend on potential adversaries for those materials?

The simple answer: it can’t.

This shouldn’t be surprising, though.

The Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) has been sounding the alarm on this pressing issue since 2013, when we published a report that identified many of the same weaknesses in our military supply chains and overall defense preparedness.

Authored by Brig. Gen. John Adams, U.S. Army (Ret.), ReMaking American Security, found glaring gaps in our military’s ability to source materials that produce everything from steel armor plate and lithium ion batteries to hellfire missile propellant and biological weapons defense—important tools that could mean life or death for Americans in combat.

The origin of many of these weaknesses is the fact that our leaders have neglected our vital manufacturing sector for too long. Every action—or inaction—has a consequence, and these cracks in America’s armor have only widened because Washington fails to thoroughly back policies that support the factories, workers, and mines that source the essential resources and goods our military requires.

The Defense Department couldn’t make this any clearer:

The ability of the military to surge in response to an emergency depends on our Nation’s ability to produce needed parts and systems, healthy and secure supply chains, and a skilled U.S. workforce. The erosion of American manufacturing over the last two decades, however, has had a negative impact on these capabilities and threatens to undermine the ability of U.S. manufacturers to meet national security requirements. Today, we rely on single domestic sources for some products and foreign supply chains for others, and we face the possibility of not being able to produce specialized components for the military at home. As America’s manufacturing base has weakened, so too have critical workforce skills ranging from industrial welding, to high-technology skills for cybersecurity and aerospace. Support for a vibrant domestic manufacturing sector, a solid defense industrial base, and resilient supply chains is a national priority.

Supporting American manufacturing is not only sound economic policy that creates good paying jobs and supports local communities, but is a patriotic duty that safeguards our nation from a litany of dire threats.

As a result of the recent report, the Pentagon announced it will audit the supply chains of U.S. aerospace and defense companies “to find gaps and weaknesses in the nation’s military readiness,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

It’s a start, but there’s far more work to be done. Washington must support swift action and policies that work toward fixing this shameful oversight. As Adams outlined back in 2013, some potential solutions to our pressing defense needs include:

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

2.      Properly applying and enforcing existing laws and regulations to support the U.S. defense industrial base;

3.      Developing domestic sources of key natural resources required by our armed forces (one Nevada lithium deposit alone has the potential to produce a quarter of the world’s lithium supply, for example);

4.      Developing plans to strengthen our defense industrial base in the U.S. National Military Strategy, National Security Strategy, and the Quadrennial Defense Review process;

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

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

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

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

9.      Modernizing and securing defense supply chains through networked operations; and

10.  Identifying potential defense supply chain chokepoints and planning to prevent disruptions. 

Congress and the White House, take note. The “savings” in costs from relying on potential rivals for essential defense materials evaporate when considering the chilling threat this toxic reliance has on the security of American service members and civilians alike. As our AAM President Scott Paul noted on Friday, it's past time to act to mitigate this continued threat.

This piece was originally published in the blog of the Alliance for American Manufacturing 

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