- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 2, 2003

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, California Republican, has taken the initiative to reconstitute the American defense industry that shrank during the military downsizing of the Clinton era.

The HASC report that accompanied its 2004 Defense Authorization bill states “the committee is concerned that the U.S. industrial base is becoming more dependent on foreign sources and that there are fewer indigenous capabilities available for the design and fabrication of critical components, systems, and materials used in military systems. … The U.S. needs to maintain sovereign capabilities … to support wartime requirements.”

The HASC bill requires that all machine tools used in military production be made in the United States by 2007. It creates a $100 million fund to help firms reconstitute lost manufacturing capabilities vital to national defense. The HASC also mandates that the defense secretary draw up a list of components and technologies critical to the production of U.S. weapon systems, and that the industrial capacity to produce such items be located within the United States.

Even if that capacity is owned for foreign firms, as long as it is located here it is subject to U.S. law giving Washington power to require that the American military have top production priority.

The Senate, however, added some new waiver authority in its version of the defense authorization bill. The original language would have opened defense contracts to 21 foreign countries, but when it looked like this authority would be struck from the bill on the floor, Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, hurriedly offered a compromise that cut the list to only six, all of whom had supported the U.S. on Iraq (Britain, Spain, Norway, the Netherlands, Australia and Sweden). However, it would still be possible to add countries to the list in the future. The issue is now before a House-Senate conference.

Mr. McCain has stressed the need to have access to allegedly superior European technology. If the United States has really allowed itself to fall behind Europe in weapons design, the problem is even more grave than the HASC has concluded and would require a crash program to correct. Fortunately, there is no reason to believe this has occurred.

Since the 1991 Gulf war, a wide gap in capabilities has opened between U.S. forces and everyone else. American forces continue to improve their weapons and tactics while Europe invests little in new military technology as their defense budgets fall. Indeed, it is the European industry that is looking to the United States for financial salvation.

What is actually driving outsourcing is not a desire to build better weapons, just cheaper weapons. The United States cannot, however, afford to let happen to the defense industry what has happened to other industries that have gone down this route. Globalizing corporations have had their American operations “hollowed out” to where they can no longer function independently of their foreign connections. But the defense industry is not like other lines of business. It is not just selling toys or DVD players which can be replaced easily without any noticeable impact on the world balance of power. Defense capabilities are central to the very survival of the country.

Even as strong a proponent of trade as Adam Smith understood the priority of national security over private commerce. He wrote in “The Wealth of Nations”: “It is of importance that the kingdom depend as little as possible upon its neighbors for the manufactures necessary for its defense.”

The global turmoil of the last two years has dispelled much of the strategic malaise that gripped national policy in the 1990s, but not all of it. There are still people who fit Adam Smith’s description of “an honest Englishman, who in his private station would be more seriously disturbed by the loss of a guinea than by the national loss of Minorca.” Business interests of this ilk are lobbying to defeat the HASC initiative, but their arguments do not bear close examination.

One argument is that domestic production requirements will disrupt the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) project, which is a partnership with England that may also include participation by other states.

The JSF is still an immature project, with outstanding issues involving technology, production levels and foreign teamwork. The JSF is actually a reason for passing the HASC legislation now.

The JSF is not expected to enter service until 2008, but will probably then remain in operation for 20 years or more. No one can predict what diplomatic alignments will come and go over such a long time. It is important that foreign dependency not be designed into the JSF, or into any of the other new systems being envisioned upon which national defense will depend for the next quarter-century.

American enterprise has provided the country with superior weapons, a large defense trade surplus, and diplomatic leverage, all while preserving America’s ability to act independently when the nation’s interests require it. The preservation of the U.S. defense industrial base should be a core objective in national security planning, and the HASC initiatives should be adopted.

William R. Hawkins is senior fellow for national security studies at the U.S. Business and Industry Council.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide