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NEWS | April 11, 2023

DOD official discusses strengthening industrial base

By David Vergun DOD News

Defense Department officials are focused on understanding the industrial base and what it would take to expand production, as well as finding better ways to collaborate with industry.

The National Defense Strategy mentions the pacing challenge of China and the acute threat from Russia. 

"It's not enough just to have the strategy, it's also the capacity to execute on that strategy that needs to be developed," said Deborah G. Rosenblum, performing the duties of assistant secretary of defense for industrial base policy. Rosenblum spoke April 5 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Global Security Forum in Washington. 

There's a lot of discussion at the Pentagon about strategy execution, said Rosenblum, who is also assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs. 

She provided some examples. 

"If we draw down X amount of stocks for the Ukrainians, what are the implications and over what time period? What will that do? When we think about China, what will that do?" she asked, also mentioning the factor of also supporting allies and partners from an extended deterrence perspective. 

Understanding the industrial base and what it would take to expand production is important, she said, as is finding better ways to collaborate with industry. 

"Just as we in the U.S. are trying to understand what's there in the tiers below the primes, our allies are doing the same. And we're having a lot of success in terms of collaborating on just basically understanding what we have and where some of the obstacles are to improving that," she said. Prime contractors often have tiers of subcontractors. 

Onshoring, which means that the U.S. and allies would collaborate on producing systems and extracting critical minerals at home — like rare-earth minerals — is another key area that's needed to avoid supply chain disruptions, she said. 

Historically, the Defense Department has had a feast or famine approach when it comes to the assembly production line for things like munitions, she said.  

"That is not an approach that is going to serve us well over the longer term. So, it's looking at the authorities we have and saying, 'How can we maximize some of these?'" she said, referring to multiyear contracts that give industry more predictability while allowing them to maintain the machinery and keep a talented workforce employed. 

"There really has been bipartisan support in Congress for a lot of the things that we have come forward to ask for in terms of greater flexibility — not just on the acquisition side, but fundamental investments that we're making in the defense industrial base," she said. 

Within the department, there also needs to be discussion about retaining and increasing a talented workforce, she said. 

There's a lot of focus on the need for a college education, she said, but there are a lot of bright young people, for example in the automotive industry, who went to technical schools and are making tremendous contributions in their trades. 

"We're going to need craftsman for the next two to three decades. So, if you can capture people much earlier on in high school and say there's a career for you, a livelihood, that is something that we as a government very much need to be focused on," Rosenblum said.