Maintaining our military's edge means more American manufacturing

Posted by mmcmullan on 10/17/2013

A recent article in the foreign policy journal The National Interest caught our eye. In it, Shawn Brimley, Ben FitzGerald, and Kelley Sayler of the Center for a New American Security ask a pressing question: “Is the American military losing its vaunted technological edge?”

In part due to this legacy of dominance, generations of defense analysts and policymakers have come to believe that the United States will always enjoy a technological edge over its adversaries; thus, what was a matter of deliberate strategy during the Cold War has since become a matter of presumption. This dominance, however, is far more fragile than is commonly understood for three important reasons.

The whole article is worth a read – seriously, go read it -- but instead of cribbing the entire thing, let’s focus for the moment on just one of those three aforementioned reasons, which is:

Defense funding to support research, development and modernization will probably continue to decline in the coming years for a host of reasons, including the impact of the 2011 Budget Control Act and an unwillingness to address unsustainable cost growth in the Department of Defense.

No doubt there are smart and not-so-smart ways to rein in government spending … and cutting government investment in R&D is one of the latter. It’s important to note that defense R&D has led to some amazing technological breakthroughs with nonmilitary applications – think of MP3 players embedded in your smartphone, or the GPS navigators in your automobile – and it’s also worth noting that the benefits of such commercialization have been reaped outside the United States.

That’s because the vast majority of these gadgets are made in foreign countries, which is indicative of a larger problem: Just as America’s manufacturing sector has migrated offshore in recent decades, so too has much of its defense industrial base.

Simply put: A lot of the bits and pieces (unheralded, but crucial) that go into the vast array of American weapons systems used by the American military are hard to source in the U.S. So says a report, commissioned this May by the Alliance for American Manufacturing and authored by Brigadier General John Adams (U.S. Army, Retired), that goes into painstaking detail to list those bits and pieces – as disparate as the fuel in Hellfire missiles and the batteries in our infantry’s night-vision goggles.

After reading the National Interest article, we reached out to Brigadier General Adams. “If we don't support our domestic defense industrial base manufacturing, it won't be there to support the warfighter,” he warned:

The U.S. military's technological edge is critical to our national security, and the decisions we make today will determine whether our warfighters have the best, most advanced tools now and in the decades ahead. Let's not allow short-term budgetary and political crises to make those decisions for us.

Read more about Adams' report, Remaking American Security.

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