- The Washington Times - Friday, March 28, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

As American forces confront the global terrorist threat on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq, an equally serious threat exists here at home with the continuous outsourcing and erosion of our defense industrial base. The deterioration of our domestic defense industries, which helped carry us to victory in World War II and the Cold War, represents one of the greatest challenges to our security and the future success of our military forces.

Despite this fact, the list of U.S. defense contracts awarded to foreign competitors continues to grow, most recently with the addition of the French- and German-controlled European and Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS) as the proposed manufacturer of the Air Force’s next refueling tanker. The initial $35 billion contract for 179 aircraft was awarded to EADS over the U.S.-based Boeing Co., a leading competitor in the aerospace industry that has built and supported the Air Force’s tanker fleet since the Eisenhower administration.

In 2005, the Navy chose an international group primarily composed of British and Italian manufacturers to build the next presidential helicopter, even though Sikorsky Aircraft, an American defense contractor, had manufactured the familiar Marine One helicopter since the Eisenhower years. Only several months earlier, the Brazilian jet maker Embraer was awarded a $6 billion contract to build the new Aerial Common Sensor reconnaissance aircraft.

Even the pistols and medium machine guns our Marines and soldiers are using on the battlefield today are no longer American-made. The 240G machine gun that replaced the venerable M-60, the standard machine gun from Vietnam to the first Gulf War, is manufactured by Fabrique Nationale, a Belgian company. The standard 9mm pistol carried by U.S. service personnel, which replaced the Colt M-1911, a weapon that was in service from 1911 through the late 1970s, is now made by the Italian company Berretta.

These examples clearly illustrate that foreign contractors are assuming a much greater role in the development and maintenance of America’s defenses. But as we become increasingly dependent on other countries for military resources and innovative technologies, we are becoming less capable of meeting our own critical defense needs.

In fact, when I was chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and American troops began taking casualties from roadside bombs on the streets of Iraq, I sent out my team to locate more steel to armor and better protect their tactical vehicles. They found only one company left in the United States that could still produce high-grade armor plate steel.

The danger of this dependency also became evident when the Swiss company Micro Crystal refused to provide our military with components for the effective deployment of Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM), otherwise known as smart bombs, during the first phase of the Iraq war. Because the Swiss government objected to American action in Iraq, it ordered the company to stop the shipment of JDAM components.

Given that our military relies on this weapons system to strike with precision and limit the potential for collateral damage, this could have cost time and lives. We were fortunately able to find alternative components through a domestic manufacturer, though it took several months.

These issues alone should be reason enough to begin restoring our defense manufacturing base and reverse the current course. Unfortunately, as evidenced by the continued selection of foreign contractors to build some of our weapons systems, it appears we have learned little so far.

Today, our nation’s defense-manufacturing base is at a crossroads. Current law requires that our military systems be manufactured with at least 50 percent of domestic-made materials. But when I wrote language into the House version of the annual Defense Authorization Act several years ago to raise this requirement to 65 percent, these provisions were met with strong opposition by the Bush administration and several of my Senate counterparts. Although these provisions were later removed from the bill, the discussion surrounding this effort valuably underscored the fact that our reliance on foreign suppliers is infringing on our industrial productivity and the operability of our armed forces.

Those who believe we do not need to worry about the health of our defense industrial base and propose free trade and globalization as remedies are wrong. Consider our high-tech defense industry, for example. In 2000, the Defense Department and National Security Agency became concerned about the shortage in domestic sources of supply for semiconductors, a necessary component for the next generation of weapons systems. These concerns prompted the agencies to jointly fund a “Trusted Foundry” to fabricate these integrated circuits domestically and rebuild this technical expertise in the U.S.

American companies that helped build our nation’s defenses, particularly over the last several decades, did so through years of experience and the talent of thousands of valuable engineers and technicians. But each time we outsource our most critical defense needs and award contracts to foreign suppliers, we lose this expertise, and, once lost, it is extremely difficult to regain.

The tanker contract award is just the latest case in what is becoming a standard practice in America today. As this decision is reviewed by the Government Accountability Office, I am carefully considering several courses of legislative action, in preparation for the approaching budget process, to ensure the next American tanker is built in the United States by American workers. Moreover, I intend to introduce legislation that prohibits the defense secretary from entering into contracts with beneficiaries of foreign subsidies, as appears to be the case with EADS, which offer companies unfair competitive advantages.

It is important that we also make greater investments in the research and development of new defense technology, as well as our domestic manufacturing capability. Together, these efforts will not only help create and keep American jobs, but will also ensure that our military services have a reliable source of supplies and equipment in future conflicts.

The father of free trade, Adam Smith, stated in his book, “The Wealth of Nations,” that an exception to this practice must be made when it comes to defense production. On this point, I will agree with him. And for those who say that opening our defense market engenders security cooperation, one need only look at the last request for NATO troops in the Afghan operation. This spring, 3,000 Marines will deploy to Afghanistan for the simple reason that our 26 NATO allies refused to come up with approximately 100 soldiers apiece.

Every time we send elements of our defense industrial base overseas, we are also outsourcing a piece of our security. We must reverse this damaging course and begin revitalizing our own defense industrial base in the interests of promoting a strong and prosperous America.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, is the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee.

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