Is the U.S. Defense Industrial Base Past the Turning Point?

Erin Van de Voorde /

At the 2011 Space and Missile Defense Conference in Huntsville, Alabama, one could sense increasing concerns from engineers and scientists who support and contribute to the U.S. defense industrial base. The U.S. defense industrial base put a man on the moon, allowed the country to win the Cold War, and developed numerous technologies Americans use in everyday life. The type of education and advanced skill sets these men and women possess are invaluable to national security and the U.S. economy. These resources, once lost, would be difficult, expensive, and time-consuming to rebuild.

The defense industrial base is already being challenged, and budget cuts and advancing threats are only making things worse. Recently the House of Representatives voted on the Budget Control Act of 2011. In the first batch of cuts totaling nearly $1 trillion, the bill caps security spending in fiscal year 2012 at $684 billion and in FY 2013 at $686 billion.

Specifically, the U.S. solid rocket industrial base is already being jeopardized, in part by the lack of commitment on the part of the current Administration to modernize the country’s strategic missile forces. This stems from a lack of clarity on future plans to develop nuclear and non-nuclear strategic weapons. For example, consider the average age of two types of missiles: A Minuteman III ICBM is 40 years, and the average age of a Trident II D–5 SLBM is 20 years. It is imperative for the U.S. to maintain effective strategic missile forces indefinitely.

In addition, the U.S. needs to preserve its military, civilian, and commercial space capabilities. America should develop, acquire, and operate space systems to support national security and respond to changes in the threat environment.

To maintain the ability and flexibility of the U.S. to respond to advancing threats, the United States needs to invest in the current and future defense industrial base. By encouraging more industrial competition, Washington can play a positive role in revitalizing the U.S. defense industrial base, boosting jobs and exports, building the capacity of friends and allies, lowering costs for Pentagon acquisition, and ensuring the nation retains this essential foundation for national security.