WASHINGTON ― The Pentagon is hoping industry will volunteer information on weak spots in their industrial supply chains, as part of a broader review and war-gaming effort to discover potential failure points for America’s defense industrial base.
John McGinn, acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for defense, manufacturing and industrial base policy, laid out Wednesday how his team is hoping to prepare the department for an industrial base crisis in a time of conflict.
McGinn compared the new effort to the scenario planning that goes on throughout the Pentagon on a regular basis. But where that planning may focus on options for North Korea or a Russian invasion, this one will look at how various scenarios would impact the Pentagon’s ability to arm itself.
“We’re looking for industrial base risks, and those risks include foreign dependency, sole source, single source, fragile suppliers, suppliers that may not be looking to stay in the market,” McGinn said. He added that there are specific concerns about mining companies that DoD fails to “move the needle on” but which are vital to maintaining a technological edge.
While there have been a few specific studies done, looking at munitions or certain materials, a broad look has not been conducted in many years, McGinn noted. His comments came during an event hosted by the Heritage Foundation.
“To do this, to look at how the industrial base will be stressed, could be stressed under specific operations” will give DoD information it doesn’t currently have much data on, McGinn noted. The findings of the report will be classified, although a non-classified summary may become available in some form, he added.
Bill Greenwalt, a longtime defense acquisition expert who recently completed a two year stint as a key staffer on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the Pentagon used to do this kind of scenario planning for the industrial base, but that practice has faltered as staff sizes changed and priorities shifted elsewhere.
As an example of the type of scenario planning the department used to do, Greenwalt held up the question of what would happen if a key manufacturing plant was hit by a tornado. More modern scenarios could include what happens if a factory is disabled by a cyber attack or a specialized company decides to exit the defense market.
To help the study, the Pentagon will shortly release a questionnaire to the defense industry to try and gather information about potential weak spots. The questionnaire, which will be entirely voluntary, will go out with help from trade associations and major industry players.
“We engage with industry all the time and specifically look at industrials spots where we see potential weaknesses and work closely with companions and trade associations- but we don’t have a lot information” on that, McGinn said. “We’re finalizing a very targeted request, and it’s a voluntary request where we give industry an opportunity to provide some information to help us do this analysis.”
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.