WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is more than a third through preparing a national defense industrial strategy, with the full document set for release in December, according to Halimah Najieb-Locke, the military’s industrial base czar.
The strategy will arrive at a time of increased attention on the defense industry’s capacity. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shown how taxing a long-term conflict can be, while competition with China demands the Pentagon produce more advanced weapons.
“Across the department, we now have a shift” in approach to the industrial base, said Najieb-Locke, speaking at a conference on defense technology.
The strategy’s goal, she said, is not to change the Pentagon’s buying authorities. Instead, the goal is to better use its existing ones and its relationship to the industrial base. Najieb-Locke, who previously advised the House Armed Services Committee on acquisition reform, said she doesn’t see further reform as necessary.
Since the war in Ukraine began last February, the scarcity of basic munitions, like 155mm artillery rounds, has led military officials to push to bulk up the defense industrial base. The fiscal 2023 defense authorization bill, for example, included $2.7 billion in further munition supply.
In the time leading up to the war, many analysts and officials familiar with the industrial base were concerned about its resilience, said Danielle Miller, who works in the Pentagon’s industrial policy office. But until Russia’s invasion, those concerns were abstract.
“Ukraine … actually takes these concepts and makes them very concrete,” said Miller, speaking with Najieb-Locke at the conference.
The strategy will attempt to fill gaps like those seen with the 155mm rounds. Its goals include a ready workforce, resilient supply chains and fair markets. It will include three phases. The first, focused on development, is already complete, said Najieb-Locke, who called this industrial base strategy as the Pentagon’s first ever.
Other issues of focus include managing sole-source suppliers and ensuring the military has a supply of critical components even as technology advances.
On Monday, speaking at the same conference, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Bill LaPlante listed three causes for the industrial base’s current state. The first is a lack of planning for longer-term conflicts, like the one in Ukraine. The second is the efficient, but inelastic model of just-in-time manufacturing. And the third is the tendency to balance DoD budgets by skimping on munitions, which over time shrunk the market for munitions overall.
Over time, these forces have shaped the industrial base’s size and flexibility, Miller said.
“For many things, you can’t undo 30 years of policy decisions in a one- or two-year time period,” she added. “We’re going to have to have a consistent, committed effort going forward to achieve these.”
The strategy must also chase a moving target. On Monday, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks announced a plan to field thousands of drones to better counter China’s industrial advantages. While so far short on details, the program is an example of the Pentagon’s rush to keep pace with its main competitor.
“We have to be able to respond in crisis environments that look like Ukraine,” said Miller.
Noah Robertson is the Pentagon reporter at Defense News. He previously covered national security for the Christian Science Monitor. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English and government from the College of William & Mary in his hometown of Williamsburg, Virginia.