Despite spending nearly $2 billion a day on the defense of our nation, the Department of Defense does not actually industrially produce much of anything.
The security of our nation relies upon a complex web and deep supply chain of our industrial base to produce everything from shoestrings to ships. Our troops in harm’s way cannot function without a robust, productive and healthy industrial base. That industrial base relies upon a productive workforce capable of designing, producing and delivering critical capabilities to our nation’s warfighters.
This critical industrial base is now being tested in a way not experienced in our lifetime — not from an adversary, but from a virus. The industrial base is becoming our own worst adversary by delaying the research and production of systems vital to our national security due to employees delaying or objecting to protecting themselves and their fellow workers from COVID-19, an enemy that has already claimed more than 775,000 American lives.
Those of us involved in the national security-industrial base have always placed the mission above our own personal preferences. We have always found the most meaningful reward of our efforts in the support of our women and men in uniform. We have always made personal sacrifices to ensure that when our warfighters are asked to engage, they are never in a fair fight. We produce technology and products to dominate any battlefield — anytime, anywhere. This is not possible if we cannot be on the line to produce the products they need to dominate that battlefield.
COVID-19 has taken a terrible toll on the nation and particularly the industrial base’s workforce, but there is now a clear and present solution that at least lessens the risks and protects the person next to you on an assembly line: a vaccine, developed and provided by two political parties who agreed on the need to protect our citizens. It may be the only thing they agreed upon. That in and of itself is telling.
Then-President Donald Trump began Operation Warp Speed. His administration spent significant national resources — over $18 billion — to develop a safe and effective vaccine. President Joe Biden has aggressively accelerated production and delivery of safe and effective vaccines to protect our citizens. If both President Trump and President Biden can agree on this mission, shouldn’t the industrial base of the nation support their hard-fought efforts and do its part?
The members privileged to be part of the national security-industrial base must believe, above all else, in securing our nation’s security. The bedrock of that is the security and stability of our production capacity. We cannot achieve this mission without the person to the left and the right of us being as effective and as safe as they can be. We cannot achieve this mission without taking a proven vaccine that protects the workforce.
In an era of peer competitors threating our national interests both at home and abroad, our national security depends upon our industrial base stepping up, not stepping aside.
I have no doubt Rosie the Riveter would have been vaccinated against COVID-19 to ensure production continued at the speed of success, and I have no doubt those on her assembly line would have done the same — to protect themselves and the women next to her.
The bottom line is get the shot so our warfighters can take a shot. In the world we now live in, it is really that simple.
Rosie rolled up her sleeve with the slogan “We can do it” to support our national security-industrial base and, more importantly, our warfighters. Can we do less?
Brett Lambert is managing director of consultancy Densmore Group. He previously served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for manufacturing and industrial base policy.