A Draft of the National Defense Industrial Strategy Leaked, and There’s Reason to Worry

By Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch
Dec 04 2023 |
The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, a Nimitz class nuclear powered air craft carrier, visiting Halifax Harbour. Getty Images

Politico got ahold of a draft copy of the report, set to be unveiled in the coming weeks, and it confirms the U.S. can’t make the weapons it needs quickly enough.

This is one of those situations in which we legitimately hate to say we told you so.

The Pentagon is about to unveil the National Defense Industrial Strategy, a long-awaited report that sets out to better connect the nation’s industry and technology base to critical defense needs. Politico managed to get a draft of the report — and according to reporters Paul McLeary and Joe Gould, there is a whole lot of work to do.

“America’s defense industry is struggling to achieve the kind of speed and responsiveness to stay ahead in a high-tech arms race with competitors such as China,” the duo write. They later continue:

As it stands now, the U.S. defense industrial base “does not possess the capacity, capability, responsiveness, or resilience required to satisfy the full range of military production needs at speed and scale,” according to a draft version of the report, obtained by POLITICO.

The document, dated Nov. 27, adds that “just as significantly, the traditional defense contractors in the [defense industrial base] would be challenged to respond to modern conflict at the velocity, scale, and flexibility necessary to meet the dynamic requirements of a major modern conflict.”

It notes that America builds the best weapons in the world, but it can’t produce them quickly enough.

All of this is alarming, but unfortunately none of it is surprising. The Alliance for American Manufacturing first sounded the alarm about strategic weaknesses in the U.S. defense industrial base more than 10 years ago with our own report, ReMaking American Security, which examined how the offshoring of so much of America’s manufacturing industry weakened our ability to make the things we need for our defense.

Meanwhile, China emerged as the world’s top manufacturing powerhouse. In some cases, the United States became dependent on China for parts and supplies we needed for our own military — which is not exactly a good position to be in if China is your chief geopolitical rival.

Now over a decade later, it appears that the Defense Department is coming to the same conclusion:

The report notes that after the Cold War, the defense industry shrank as companies merged. Yet China has spent the past 30 years becoming a “global industrial powerhouse” in shipbuilding, critical minerals and microelectronics. China’s industry’ “vastly exceeds the capacity of not just the United States, but the combined output of our key European and Asian allies as well,” it says.

The report also points out that the Covid pandemic laid bare the supply chain’s vulnerabilities. Then Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the Hamas attack on Israel “uncovered a different set of industrial demands and corresponding risks” as the U.S. races to produce arms to support Ukraine and Israel.

“It has become clear that insufficient production and supply capacity are now deeply entrenched problems throughout all tiers of production supply chains,” the report says.

The good news is that the first step in solving anything is admitting you have a problem, so the Pentagon’s reported admission that it needs to fix weak supply chains and domestic production is actually encouraging. It wasn’t all that long ago that a lot of folks were in denial about this problem, after all.

William A. LaPlante, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment at the Defense Department, said during a Dec. 2 panel discussion that there is a need for a “whole-of-government approach and creative solutions by the private sector” to tackle the problem, according to the Defense Department.

LaPlante “highlighted the need for our nation and our global allies to produce critical systems and equipment rapidly and at scale,” wrote Joseph Clark of DOD News. “He also said recruiting a trained and skilled workforce to the defense industrial workforce requires public-private collaboration at all levels to build a robust talent pipeline. ”

 LaPlante also added “that the government and private sector can also work together to ensure that the work environment within defense manufacturing is attractive to future talent. ” 

“If you’ve been to some of these advanced manufacturing [facilities], it looks like they’re at a startup,” LaPlante said. “It’s really cool. That actually matters. And, so, the government—all of us—can help…to invest in those areas.”  

We will keep our eyes peeled for the official unveiling of the National Defense Industrial Strategy, and report back when it is released. In the meantime, we encourage policymakers and Defense Department officials to prioritize the strengthening of the U.S. defense industrial base. Given the conflicts happening around the world — and the potential for additional crises to emerge, including with rivals like China — the United States really has no time to waste.