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Supply Chain Is the Weak Link in US Military Capability

America’s ability to meet wartime demands teeters on the edge.

By:  |  February 27, 2024  |    719 Words
GettyImages-1708889371 supply chain

(Photo by Mark Rightmire/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images)

Keeping America’s warships, tanks, and aircraft supplied to meet real-time national security threats adequately is a challenge under the best of peacetime circumstances. With the depletion of US war-readiness stocks to support Ukraine’s critical struggle against the unprovoked invasion by Russia and now resupplying Israel in its war on the Hamas terrorists, replenishing US artillery and precision-guided munitions inventories must rely on an uncertain defense industrial base and associated supply chain.

For a while, America’s national security apparatus has suffered a shortage of computer chips. US domestic semiconductor production was once plentiful – but production was outsourced overseas for cheaper fabrication, mainly in Asia, and is now just beginning to return to homeland companies.

A Waning Supply Chain

Supply chains feed the national defense industrial base. Many are realizing that the US defense industrial base, even if it had a robust supply chain, might be incapable of turning out weapons and munitions at a scale to meet all the global threats the US faces. Several factors are in play. First, most aerospace and defense contractors can handle the current contracts and no more. There is no US Defense Department funding for extra capacity in producing armaments, just in case. Second, the Biden administration is depleting current inventories of munitions and weapons to support Ukraine and Israel.

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(Staff Photo By Stuart Cahill/Boston Herald via Getty)

Third, mergers and consolidations of corporations have reduced the number of suppliers of critical warfighting materials. “There are only two contractors today that build large numbers of rocket motors for missile systems used by the Air Force, the Navy, the Army and the Marines, down from six in 1995,” Eric Lipton said, writing for The New York Times. Last, for the Department of Defense to address ways to fix this, it must be able to adequately assess the US defense industry’s capacity to understand where to put effort. Currently, the only such assessment was a 2022 report, “State of Competition within the Defense Industrial Base,” that failed to shed much light on the problem.

The director of national intelligence echoed this idea in his fact sheet “A Spotlight on Defense.” A critical counterintelligence risk is the “Inability to identify sub-tier suppliers subject to the jurisdiction or direction of a foreign government…Difficulty identifying threats, vulnerabilities, and risk in sub-tier supply chains enables the insertion of counterfeit or compromised components into the DIB supply chains.”

Urgency to Fix Defense Industrial Base Apparent

A recent report from The Wall Street Journal explained just how urgent it is that the Defense industrial base be able to scale up to meet a growing critical near-term wartime demand. A supplier of missile-defense systems produced in Kongsberg, Norway, is a principal supplier of a highly sought-after system that can launch up to 72 missiles to destroy drones, helicopters, and various other incoming threats. “(T)he National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System, or Nasams, is what protects the airspace over the White House. When first deployed in Ukraine in 2022, it recorded a 100% success rate shooting down cruise missiles and drones in its first few months,” the WSJ said. Consequently, orders for the air defense system are creating a backlog that will take years to fill. The Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace factory officials say it takes two years to produce one complete system. But war isn’t known for waiting on suppliers.

Reports from the battlefield in Ukraine show that during the summer counteroffensive, Kyiv’s forces were firing up to 6,000 rounds of artillery shells daily. Imagine the demand for artillery munitions if the US were engaged against China in stopping an invasion of Taiwan. In the Indo-Pacific, US naval gunfire would be the artillery, and the need for heavy fire support could outstrip US Navy inventories in a matter of a few weeks. The goal must be to get an industrial base capable of rapidly scaling up to meet any extraordinary requirement.

A robust, ready defense industrial base is crucial to the US being able to engage a peer-capable enemy like China or Russia. With inventories of weapons and ammunition being stressed, the impact of conventional deterrence is questionable. Wartime capability means getting to the action – but it also means having weapons to use and ammunition to fire.

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