March 16, 2023 | By David Vergun , DOD News
Fostering a resilient and robust industrial base is a priority for the Defense Department's acquisition and sustainment community, said William A. LaPlante, undersecretary of defense for A&S, who spoke yesterday at a McAleese-sponsored event in Washington, D.C.
To meet the pacing challenge of China, there needs to be a shift away from the just-in-time mindset as it relates to sustainment and procurement, he said.
Just-in-time inventory management is a system such that raw materials arrive as production is scheduled to begin, but no sooner as a way to cut warehousing costs and increase efficiency.
"Over time, the industrial base has prioritized efficiency over resiliency," he said. "We've allowed production lines to go cold, watched as parts became obsolete, and seen sub-tier suppliers consolidate or go out of business entirely," LaPlante said.
These were conscious decisions jointly made by the department and the Congress, in the face of competing priorities, he said. "No one anticipated the prolonged high-volume conflict we're seeing in Ukraine."
Weapons being shipped to Ukraine, such as Javelins, Stingers and GMLRS munitions used in High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems can take two or three years to produce, he said.
"Their complex production lines simply can't be turned on or off based on the requirements of the day. Industry rightfully remains reluctant to build additional capacity at risk, until they have a clear, consistent demand signal or business case from the DOD," he said.
Industry needs to see some degree of confidence that if they invest, there's a good chance they will get something for their investment, he said.
Multiyear procurement for critical munitions is being enacted, thanks to congressional authority, he said.
At the start of the conflict in Ukraine, A&S stood up a team of specialized munitions experts called the Munitions Industrial Base Deep Dive. They analyzed production status and capacity for key weapons systems, identified parts obsolescence, supply chain constraints and recommended quick paths to mitigate them, he said. "This team worked hard days, nights and weekends are still doing incredible work."
This team helped accelerate production of munitions in partnership with the services and industry, he said. "They have been so impactful, we're now institutionalizing that effort in a permanent production accelerator."
A&S is also partnering with industry on such things as advanced manufacturing techniques to produce metal parts in smaller batches quickly when needed.
"We can be much more agile, flexible, including collapsing design and manufacturing together as we moved into this digital engineering phase. By leveraging this kind of innovation which enables flexibility, we can stabilize the industrial base and build it for the future and ensure we're delivering the capabilities we need," he said.
Allies and partners, along with their own industrial bases, should be encouraged to integrate with the DOD's efforts as well, he said.
"We have to keep the momentum and maintain the sense of urgency. All American industries, small businesses, traditional defense prime suppliers, nontraditional startups, commercial firms have a role to play in developing, delivering and sustaining the capabilities described under the National Defense Strategy. I remain inspired by the industry's ability to respond in the face of any crisis," he said.
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