- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 2, 2006

By Thomas E. Williams Jr., Steven L. Watson and Timothy G. Rupert

Without so much as a single public hearing, the Senate has adopted a bill that could radically weaken our national defense. Obscure language slipped into legislation on the Senate floor would effectively enable outsourcing to Russia the production of titanium, a strong but lightweight metal that is critical for America’s military hardware — aircraft, armored vehicles and other defense systems.

Alarmingly, the provision would enable America’s ability to produce defense-grade titanium to be handed over to a single company in Russia. What’s worse, the Russian government is attempting to take over the company, named VSMPO.

In other words — and this, unfortunately, is not an exaggeration — the Senate action could lead to a situation where the Defense Department could not build jet fighters or bombers without the Kremlin’s permission. Will Russian President Vladimir Putin and his successors always agree to sell Defense the titanium it needs? Who knows? Even if the United States got its orders filled, the Kremlin would have information on every detail of the grade and quantity of titanium that the Pentagon wants to buy, and good intelligence on what weapons systems the U.S. is building.

Why would the Senate do this? Obviously no senator would ever intend such a result. But the problem arose when the Senate adopted, as part of the fiscal 2007 Defense Department authorization bill, a little-understood provision originally authored by the Aerospace Industries Association that was purportedly to address hardships on small subcontractors and other compliance issues created by existing procurement law.

But in a classic Trojan Horse strategy, the AIA has used these problems to shove through the Senate a proposal that would relieve AIA members of their existing legal obligations. In doing so, they would allow the armor on American tanks, the fasteners that hold fighter jets together and parts for the engines that make them go to be sole sourced in Russia.

Current law requires that certain critical materials used in Defense contracts — like titanium and other important specialty metals — must be produced in the United States. These provisions on specialty metals were adopted into law decades ago and have worked as intended, providing the United States with a reliable source of domestic titanium and other specialty metals for military applications.

However, the specialty metals provisions have been even more successful than Congress anticipated. Beyond just ensuring a reliable supply of specialty metals for the Defense Department, these rules have created a home-grown industry that competes vigorously on both price and quality. Defense thus benefits from continuous and intensive R&D; and innovation, and American taxpayers can be assured that their dollars are being invested in national security.

A significant amount of this innovation has been generated in development programs undertaken jointly by private U.S. specialty metals producers and the Defense Department. As a result, specialty metals manufacturing is an outstanding example of our nation’s hard-hat/high-tech industries. When it comes to military and aerospace applications of titanium and other specialty metals, the United States leads the world, due in part to the specialty metals provisions of the law. But the United States cannot expect its private sector to continue to invest in these joint development programs if the underlying business is turned over to other countries such as Russia for exploitation.

Although the specialty metals provisions guarantee a small portion of the industry’s overall business — currently about 25 percent of titanium sales — these sales are critical for the stability they bring to the market.

We know that current law — and, more importantly, current Defense procurement policy — needs to be revised to address the real problems of smaller subcontractors and other compliance issues. Even though the cost of such revisions will be borne mainly by our industry, we are willing to support, and have even offered, a reasonable package that brings relief to these problems.

But the AIA proposal adopted by the Senate goes much further than its stated purpose. It would effectively repeal the law regarding procurement of specialty metals, thereby threatening the very survival of the domestic titanium and specialty metals industry.

The American titanium industry is too important to our national security to be replaced as a supplier to the Defense Department by a company targeted for takeover by the Russian government. Today’s world is too unstable and the future far too uncertain to expose our national defense to the whim of Russia’s political and economic systems.

Thomas E. Williams Jr. is president of ATI Allvac. Timothy G. Rupert is president and CEO of RTI International Metals. Steven L. Watson is CEO of TIMET.

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