WASHINGTON — In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the defense industry began adjusting its facilities to avoid major outbreaks that could shut down production lines for days or weeks at a time. And now that those changes are in place, the U.S. Army’s top acquisition official thinks they should remain so for good.
Speaking to reporters during the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference, Bruce Jette, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, said he sees long-term benefits from maintaining the kind of social distancing protective measures put in place across industry.
“I don’t know that I would ever say it’s totally back to normal," Jette said. “I don’t see us backing off of using these same techniques on a contouring basis, even as the vaccine continues to mature."
“I would say we don’t back off of the COVID-19 standards because it will also reduce the impact of flu and other illnesses," he added. "We think continuing to apply these same techniques would be further beneficial to the people and to the Army overall.”
Jette pointed to data showing that the Southern Hemisphere, where flu season usually peaks around July, had a dramatically lower flu spread this year than it normally would — something scientists have tied to the wearing of masks and other anti-coronavirus measures that, while put in place to stop the pandemic, also naturally limit the spread of other diseases.
Among the strategies employed by industry to combat COVID-19 that would remain beneficial for future outbreaks is learning how to separate shifts and production lines so that an outbreak is isolated, said Brig. Gen. Vincent Malone, the Army’s joint program executive officer for armaments and ammunition.
“Early on, there was an outbreak; that whole line had to be quarantined. And now they will test that particular line and … start to bring those employees back,” Malone said. “If employees can’t open up that particular line at that particular time, our operating contractors are shifting them to production in other areas so they can work ahead on that line, so that one line that has been impacted by COVID-19, when it starts back up, they can surge to make up the time and delivery.”
Both men said that industry has worked hard to make up any production and delivery gaps that occurred in the early part of the pandemic. Malone said his portfolio is seeing “fewer” issues than in previous months, while Jette noted there are a few programs that “are challenges, but for the most part we’re catching up.”
He said there were two deliveries from the Paladin Integrated Management program, run by BAE Systems, scheduled for May that were delayed because of the pandemic. One of those has since been delivered, with the other one expected to arrive sometime this month.