Defense Leaders Need To Focus On Preserving Health Of Defense Industrial And Sustainment Base

In every past defense drawdown since the end of World War Two, the focus has always been on not “breaking the force” and on preserving critical military capabilities. Relatively little attention was devoted to managing the health and capabilities of the defense industrial base. In fact, one former Secretary of Defense held an infamous meeting with senior executives of the major defense companies, dubbed “The Last Supper,” at which he declared that the industry would have to shrink by one third and the attendees ought to begin then and there to figure out which of them were the predators and which were the prey. With respect to logistics and sustainment, the Pentagon traditionally focused almost entirely on access to private air and sealift capacity through the Civil Reserve Air Fleet and the Voluntary Intermodal Sealift Agreement. Procurement contracts often have provisions in them for surging production but rarely did anyone assess the ability of companies to actually increase production on demand.

This drawdown will be different. There are two or at most three producers of major military platforms and weapons systems. In some areas such as nuclear weapons design, there is no one currently in the business who has actually designed and built a nuke.

At the same time, the military is increasingly dependent on the private sector not only to provide major weapons systems and spare parts but for logistics, sustainment and repair activities. Over the past ten years there have been more contractors in Southwest Asia than U.S. military personnel. The reason that the Pentagon has been able to maintain global engagement and the ability to fight two major conflicts at a time is because it outsourced logistics and sustainment. Since the size of the military is expected to shrink over the next decade, it will become even more dependent on that private sector in these areas.

The administration and the new Secretary of Defense need to pay attention to the future of the defense industrial base and the private infrastructure that provides logistics, sustainment and repair services. This needs to be a major focus of the next Quadrennial Defense Review. The Department of Defense needs to treat the private sector almost as if it were another service and plan for its sustainment and integration accordingly.