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Manufacture This

The blog of the Alliance for American Manufacturing

Can't have one without the other, experts say.

On a Wednesday afternoon in Washington, DC, in the midst of daylong conference on manufacturing policy, a panel of experts on the U.S. defense industrial base discussed the intersection between the domestic manufacturing sector and U.S. national security.

Despite their varied professional backgrounds, their conclusions were unanimous: You can’t have one without the other.

“Since the Cold War, the defense industrial base has become smaller, and more brittle,” warned U.S. Army Brigadier General John Adams, retired. “The reasons include declining budgets, a more global supply chain, a prolonged recession, and frankly a reduction in defense R&D (research and development) that really threatens the military superiority that we’ve had for the past few decades.”

Adams is a bit of an authority on this subject; he literally wrote a book about it. But fellow panelist Elana Broitman concurred.

“Innovation doesn’t happen in a bubble,” said the former Department of Defense official for Manufacturing and Industrial Base Policy. “Innovation needs investment in R&D, it needs stable defense budgets, realistic policies that attract new companies and maintain current defense contractors in the mix, and real support for people doing things so they can see what can be done better.

“Investment in R&D – that’s what I’d tell the next president to focus on,” she said. “It goes beyond the defense sector, but it’s really critical in defense.”

"One can’t win modern wars without a strong industrial base, and one can’t win modern wars with a service economy alone." Norman Augustine

While Adams, Broitman and others on the panel covered a lot of ground – and the format for their discussion discouraged long forays into specifics – they were all quite clear that a shrinking manufacturing footprint is problematic … for very straightforward reasons.

“I can say with some confidence that one can’t win modern wars without a strong industrial base, and one can’t win modern wars with a service economy alone,” pointed out former Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine. “Any great nation has to have a strong manufacturing sector if it wants to stay great, and America is no exception to that.

“It’s very difficult to convert retail outlets and amusement centers into food services to producers to aircraft carriers, tanks, and ships.”