By Brig. Gen. John Adams (U.S. Army, Ret.)
Last week Frank Kendall gave testimony to the House Armed Services Committee on how the United States can save money and get the troops what they need in an era of falling budgets. Kendall, a senior Pentagon official in charge of procuring materiel and services, specifically recommended strengthening the U.S. defense acquisition workforce. This would mean giving the hardworking men and women who write, negotiate, and monitor contracts with industry the tools they need to deliver value and capability to both the warfighter and the U.S. taxpayer.
The discussion touched on a number of approaches to avoid costly overruns and capability gaps in the future, an issue that Guardian Six addressed in our 2013 report “Remaking American Security,” which we prepared in partnership with the Alliance for American Manufacturing. Below are a few of the themes discussed in that report:
Think long term and don’t let short-term budget pressure dictate strategy. As Kendall and others have repeatedly emphasized, the Pentagon can’t realistically plan and invest under sequestration and broader budget uncertainty. Underperforming or unnecessary programs should be scrapped or pared back, but in a way that doesn’t cause the U.S. lead in defense technology to decay.
Don’t neglect America’s domestic defense industrial base. Committee members rightly pointed to the dynamism, creativity, and innovation found in the private sector. Indeed, a great strength of the U.S. approach to defense has been the ability to harness those very qualities. But this does not make excessive reliance on commercial off the shelf (COTS) equipment, many of which rely on inputs from competitor nations like China, a wise approach to balance the books.
Domestic capability and capacity in key sectors is a source of strength and independence, and helps to ensure that foreign nations can’t dictate the way in which America arms and equips its fighting men and women.
A smart industrial base policy prepares for an unpredictable world decades down the road. It doesn’t try to meet artificial budget targets today.
The U.S. defense acquisition community needs industrial partners. Even with the best incentives and the most flexibility, the Pentagon won’t be able to provide the warfighter with the best gear possible at the best price unless it has knowledgeable, committed partners in industry.
During the Iraq war, the United States was able to build huge numbers of Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles because U.S. industry was able to quickly translate Pentagon requirements into capabilities on the ground. The MRAP days are over, but anyone who thinks that the U.S. military will never need to rapidly scale up again is being naïve.
For more background and analysis for how the United States can preserve a strong domestic defense industrial base, please see our complete report at: http://americanmanufacturing.org/blog/report-says-us-military-dangerousl...