Aerospace and defense industry pioneers are best known for pushing the boundaries of math and science to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges — and changing our world.

We’re about to celebrate the 50th anniversary of one of their most significant accomplishments — the Apollo moon landing — a pivotal moment in America’s space race that was the culmination of the burgeoning A&D industry’s technological prowess.

But 50 years later, acquiring the materials and resources that will make the next landing and other future breakthroughs possible has become almost as challenging.

Today, the A&D industry’s $400 billion-plus supply chain is being tested on multiple fronts — from uncertain federal budgets and global political divides to third-party cyberthreats.

Materials and resources acquired through supply chain partners account for half of the A&D industry’s annual sales, and two-thirds of the industry’s exports. These same suppliers make up more than one-third of the industry’s 2.4 million workers — an extremely valuable segment of America’s workforce.

Materials sourcing has become a major element of the nation’s industrial base. A single break in the chain can result in a delayed delivery or, even worse, a failed mission.

Fortunately, the A&D industry and the U.S. government well recognize the supply chain’s critical importance and are taking the challenge head on, transitioning it into a strategic weapon to strengthen our companies, industry and nation.

Supply chain experts have identified five strategic areas requiring the most attention to make the transition successful:

Talent: Supply chain teams require diverse skill sets. Organizations are constructing teams with skills ranging from engineering, finance, contracts, cyber, risk management and others. They are hiring talent with new capabilities and mindsets — people who are part operations, part data scientist and part engineer.

Engagement: Companies are integrating supply chain teams into the value stream much earlier, particularly engineering, to drive efficiencies throughout organizations. The teams are becoming involved in every phase of the product life cycle — analyzing virtually every aspect of solution design, manufacturing and delivery.

Quality: Supply chain is now being fully embedded into companies’ operating systems and strategies, and becoming more data driven with key metrics. This helps ensure that suppliers adhere to high standards and drives operational excellence throughout the supply base.

Digitalization: Companies are embracing digitalization to address ever-tightening mission schedules and far-reaching global supply bases. Digitalization helps raise awareness, integrates workflows and informs decision-making. To help offset growing cyberthreats, the government and the Aerospace Industries Association are establishing critical standards and protocols to help protect each link across the supply chain.

Standardization: Standardizing and harmonizing processes and procedures across an enterprise is essential to implementing an efficient and effective supply chain management strategy. Companies are establishing supply chain playbooks with key business metrics that enable everyone involved to follow the same proven processes and procedures.

These five strategic areas are certainly not all encompassing, but they represent a strong baseline. The path to transforming supply chain management into a strategic weapon won’t happen overnight. It is a journey — one that is never truly finished. New threats will evolve and will need to be addressed.

With the expanding global challenges to our industrial base, I’m convinced that this is a journey we must take to be successful as an industry and a nation.

William M. Brown is the chairman, president and CEO of Harris Corporation, and chairman of the Aerospace Industries Association.

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