Two weeks ago, the General Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on the defense industrial base. In this report, the GAO concluded that despite years of efforts, the Defense Department lacks direction and insight into mitigating industrial base risk—in other words, the risk that the Pentagon is likely to run out of bullets and weapons in a protracted, multifront war. The report’s proffered solution was for the Pentagon to combine four industrial base policies into one consolidated policy—a measure that seems entirely inadequate and lacking in urgency.
Inside the report, the GAO did succinctly identify five root causes as to why the industrial base is declining. Addressing these five with action and urgency is required—not simply consolidating problems without real solutions.
Uncertainty of spending is the first root cause identified by the GAO. There can be no industrial base if the Pentagon does not fork over the cash. Seems simple, but DOD’s current strategy is to avoid buying things today and instead invest in future technologies, which offer no guarantee of larger contracts that can keep the lights on and the employees hired.
Over the past 30+ years, DOD took a procurement holiday (1990s), bought for counterinsurgency warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan (2000s), slashed procurement as a result of across-the-board spending cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act (2010s), and is now divesting to invest (2020s). With policies like these, is it any wonder why it will take three years to build new Stingers and Javelins, of which we are running out supplying a contained regional war?