America's growing and dangerous reliance on foreign nations for the products needed to defend the American people puts us at serious risk.
The federal government announced in June 2015 that the personal data of at least 18 million current, former and prospective employees had been hacked, along with confidential background-check information on federal workers and private contractors who apply for security clearances.
As damaging as the hack might seem, it could just be the tip of the iceberg.
America's military communications systems increasingly rely on network equipment from China, putting our entire defense at risk. A 2012 House intelligence committee investigation, for example, found that the Chinese telecommunications company Huawei, which had been working to expand in the United States, posed a major threat to the U.S. because its equipment could be used to spy on Americans — as well as U.S. defense systems and companies.
New America Foundation senior fellow Peter Singer warned military leaders in 2015 that "America's most advanced fighter jets might be blown from the sky by their Chinese-made microchips and Chinese hackers easily could worm their way into the military's secretive intelligence service." He even wrote a novel about it — based on "interviews, military research and years of experience working with the Defense Department" — depicting World War III as a battle that the United States could easily lose because of its vulnerability to cyberattacks.
But it isn't just on the cyberfront where America is giving its defense away. The United States increasingly relies on foreign nations to provide the materials needed for our defense supply chain.
Not a single high-tech magnet — crucial to military hardware — is Made in America. Roughly 91 percent of the rare earth element needed for night-vision googles is from China. The United States produces just 2 percent of Lithium ion batteries, used in everything from unmanned aerial drones to bomb disposal robots and other gear.
It didn't use to be this way — and there is a lot that can be done to make America less dependent on foreign nations for the vital products we need to keep our country safe.
" Guns, planes, ships and many other things have to be built in the factories and the arsenals of America. They have to be produced by workers and managers and engineers with the aid of machines which in turn have to be built by hundreds of thousands of workers throughout the land. "
- President Franklin Roosevelt, 1940
America At Risk
American leaders long have made the connection between domestic manufacturing and a strong national defense. Alexander Hamilton believed manufacturing was key to the new republic's survival. The North's manufacturing superiority in the Civil War helped ensure a Union victory. President Franklin Roosevelt knew building the Arsenal of Democracy was key to victory in World War II, telling Congress that "we must out-produce them overwhelmingly, so that there can be no question of our ability to provide a crushing superiority of equipment in any theatre of the world war.”
But the connection between manufacturing and defense has been severed.
More than 60,000 U.S. factories have closed since 2001. This erosion of industry has left America with a questionable ability to respond quickly to threats and catastrophes. Through a combination of disregard and unorganized policy responses to global economic challenges, we’ve allowed our defense industrial base – the companies that make the supplies, hardware, and weapons our armed forces use to keep our country safe – to fall into disrepair.
Defense systems in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps all face major supply chain vulnerabilities. Take semiconductors, which have been central to U.S. military and economic strength over the past century. Semiconductors are used in the Army's M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank, the Marine Corps' F-35B Joint Strike Fighter and the Air Force's F-35A Joint Strike Fighter, the Joint Director Attack Munition Precision Guidance Kit used by the Army and Marine Corps, and the communications systems for all four branches.
The United States remains the leader of semiconductor research and development, which has contributed to U.S. technological dominance. But the U.S. has faced a steady decline in semiconductor fabrication, which is increasingly happening in Asia. The U.S. share of semiconductor fabrication decreased from nearly 50 percent in 1980 to only 15 percent in 2012. This raises the risk of vulnerability in the U.S. defense industrial base, as Brigadier General John Adams, U.S. Army (Ret.) writes in Remaking American Security:
Advanced weapons systems and other military applications often use commercially available semiconductors, but some chips must be designed and fabricated specifically for defense applications in secure facilities. Secure acquistion becomes far more difficult as fabrication migrates overseas, and would likely provide impossible if R&D were to follow.
Unlike consumer electronics, advanced weapons systems have a long lifespan and may need replacement chips that are no longer produced. The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) increasingly relies on intermediaries to locate obsolete parts — and dishonest disributors may sell counterfeit chips.
Then there's titanium, which as Adams notes is "present in practically every military and commercial aircraft today." A handful of producers dominate the global titanium market, which is highly volatile and susceptible to quick shifts in demand.
Without a healthy and technologically advanced defense industry, we cannot provide the weapons that our future generations must have to defend the United States now and into the future.
- Brigadier Gen. John Adams, U.S. Army (Ret.)
The Specialty Metals Clause (SMC) mandates domestic procurement of titanium, but some defense contractors have lobbied to weaken and even repeal the SMC. That would be a huge mistake.
The SMC smoothed out the volatility domestic titanium producers face by providing them with predictable orders, which means these producers are ready-to-go during periods of high demand. If foreign producers — who are often subsidized by their home countries, including Russia and China — were able to enter the U.S. market, it would drive down prices and jeopardize the survival of U.S. firms. And if the United States can't produce its own titanium, that could be devastating, Adams notes:
U.S. national security could be at risk if a Russian titanium mill, controlled by a Russian state-owned weapon exporting company, became the major supplier of defense-related titanium. Not only would the United States lose access to a reliable source of high quality titanium alloys, it would be dependent on the politically driven decisions of a Russian state-owned company. In addition, the United States would undercut the technological knowledge base to design and manufacture complex alloys.
There are a host of other examples of risks in the military supply chain:
Domestic steel producers shelved orders to meet the surge in demand for the steel armor plate, which is used in mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles that saved thousands of lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.
There is currently only one U.S. firm that produces the cooper-nickel tubing that protects U.S. Navy and Coast Guard vessels from corrosion and other micro-organisms, and there are major quality concerns about the tubing that's produced overseas.
Supply chains for the advanced fabrics that protect U.S. troops in combat are also at risk — there is just a single company that produces the flame-resistant rayon fibers used in U.S. Army uniforms, and it's in Austria. In 2003, an unforeseen para-aramid fiber shortage, combined with a surge in demand for ballistic protection for vests and ground combat vehicles, meant that more than 40,000 troops were forced to operate with protection using previous generation technology.
Not surprisingly, military experts and others are increasingly concerned with America's defense supply chain vulnerabilities. As a result, some changes actually have been made.
Take the HELLFIRE missile, one of the most effective and widely used U.S. military weapons since its introduction in 1985. The U.S. has relied on a single Chinese firm as the only source for a chemical needed to propel HELLFIRE missiles.
The missile propellant manufacturer – Copperhead Chemical Company, located in Pennsylvania – has relied on Shanghai Fuda Chemicals in China for the key propellant ingrediant, Butanetriol (BT), since 2004.
The Department of Defense (DoD) was alarmingly unaware of this reliance until the 2013 report Remaking American Security by Brigadier Gen. John Adams, U.S. Army (Ret.):
“DoD has not systematically tracked defense industrial base supply chains below the third tier… Perhaps most disconcertingly, it appears that the U.S. Army and DoD failed to examine the BT (and butanetriol trinitrate) supply chain situation until prompted by Copperhead.”
Without our industry partners, we can't field an army.
- Brett Lambert, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Manufacturing and Industrial Base Policy
Since the report, the DoD has taken steps to source the ingredient with a new domestic support, according to multiple newsreports.
The United States also has made progress on the international stage via the World Trade Organization (WTO). The U.S. joined the European Union and Japan to challenge China's restrictions on the exports of rare earths, which are used in a number of defense components — including the night vision googles that were used to conduct the 2011 raid that led to the death of Osama bin Laden.
China had imposed strict export quotas on rare earths, leading to a huge increase in prices and giving China a competitive edge on a variety of products. The WTO ruled in favor of the U.S. and its partners, causing China to lift the restrictions.
But occasional WTO successes is simply not enough. In order to create a more secure supply chain, the United States simply must take action to develop domestic sources of key natural resources, strengthen our defense industrial base and increase long-term federal investment in high-tech industries, particularly those involving advanced research and manufacturing. It also must support U.S. manufacturers who already are able to supply products to the military.
Industry in Action
America’s military can only excel to the extent that its equipment allows. The simple fact is that only products made in the United States are fit for American soldiers. The quality and dependability of American-made equipment has been combat-tested under the harshest conditions and their value remains unquestioned.
Manufacturers around the country provide vital, American-made military equipment for our troops.
BAE Systems (BAE) is at the forefront of the effort to provide our heroes with the safest, most reliable, and most highly advanced vehicles on the battlefield. In BAE’s U.S. manufacturing facilities, Steelworkers strive to construct the finest vehicles for the American soldier, from the American worker.
At the company’s York, Pennsylvania facility, the future of America’s mobile fighting force is welded together with care and pride. BAE contributes to the fight with:
The Paladin Integrated Management System, which creates a highly mobile heavy weapon to provide U.S. artillery troops with agility and speed;
The M88A2 Improved Recovery Vehicle that serves as a heavily armored rescue vehicle – vital to protecting our forces; and
The Bradley Fighting Armored Vehicle, which remains the King of the Battlefield and the envy of other nations. These armored vehicles ensure a continued American advantage on the battlefield, but their merit and capabilities can only be guaranteed by the workers who construct them. This is why BAE relies heavily on American manufacturing for these vehicles.
Through its Warrior Integration Program, BAE assists new veteran hires as they transition to civilian life, take part in mentorship and education programs, and remain connected to the military community. BAE actively participates in military career workshops and job fairs as part of an ongoing effort to support and hire our veterans.
Keep it Made in America
Tell Congress and the President to to keep our nation safe and secure by making sure we have an American-made defense.