Is the U.S. Military's Reliance on Foreign Suppliers Risky Business?
Issue: June 2013, Posted Date: 6/10/2013
The AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-ground missile is one of the most widely used and effective weapons in the U.S. military's arsenal. There's only one company in the world that makes a key chemical—butanetriol—used to make the solid rocket fuel that powers the missile, and that company is in China.
Flame-resistant U.S. Army uniforms use special rayon fibers supplied by a single manufacturer in Austria.
Production of night-vision devices requires access to the rare-earth element lanthanum, which is predominantly supplied by Chinese firms. China provided 91 percent of lanthanum exports to the United States in 2010.
Those are a few examples of the national-security risks created by the U.S. military's increasing reliance on foreign suppliers "for the raw materials, parts and finished products needed to defend the American people," according to John Adams, a retired U.S. Army brigadier general and author of the new report "Remaking American Security."
"With the closing of factories across the United States and the mass exodus of U.S. manufacturing jobs to China and other nations over the past 30 years, the United States' critically important defense industrial base has deteriorated dramatically," Adams asserts in the report.
"As a result, the United States now relies heavily on imports to keep our armed forces equipped and ready. Compounding this rising reliance on foreign suppliers, the United States also depends increasingly on foreign financing arrangements."
Vulnerable to Supply Disruptions
Adams, who heads a defense consulting firm called Guardian Six Consulting, notes that the United States is not mining enough of the critical metals and other raw materials needed to produce important weapons systems and military supplies—including the night-vision devices that enabled Navy Seals to hunt down Osama bin Laden.
"Consequently, the health of the United States' defense-industrial base—and our national security—is in jeopardy," Adams says. "We are vulnerable to major disruptions in foreign supplies that could make it impossible for U.S. warriors, warships, tanks, aircraft and missiles to operate effectively."
Factors that could precipitate supply disruptions include:
- Poor manufacturing practices in offshore factories. "Shoddy manufacturing could be inadvertent, could be part of a deliberate attempt to cut costs and boost profits, or could be intentionally designed to damage U.S. capabilities," Adams explains.
- Natural disasters, domestic unrest or changes in government leadership that could threaten production and exports at foreign factories and mines.
- Foreign producers that sharply raise prices or reduce or stop sales to the United States. "These changes could be caused by political or military disputes with the United States, by the desire of foreign nations to sell to other countries, by the need to attract foreign investment and production, or by foreign nations wanting to keep more of the raw materials, parts and finished goods they produce for their own use," Adams says in the report.
'A Vital National Asset'
Adams offers 10 recommendations for making the United States less reliant on foreign suppliers, "based on the premise that the U.S. defense-industrial base is a vital national
asset that is no less critical to our national security than our men and women in uniform."
Adams calls for:
- Increasing long-term federal investment in high-technology industries, particularly those involving advanced research and manufacturing capabilities.
- Properly applying and enforcing existing laws and regulations to support the U.S. defense-industrial base.
- Developing domestic sources of key natural resources required by U.S. armed forces.
- Developing plans to strengthen the U.S. defense-industrial base in the U.S. National Military Strategy, the National Security Strategy and the Quadrennial Defense Review process.
- Building consensus among government, industry, the defense-industrial-base workforce and the military on the best ways to strengthen the defense-industrial base.
- Increasing cooperation among federal agencies and between government and industry to build a healthier defense-industrial base.
- Strengthening collaboration between government, industry and academic research institutions to educate, train and retain people with specialized skills to work in key defense-industrial-base sectors.
- Crafting legislation to support a broadly representative defense-industrial-base strategy.
- Modernizing and securing defense supply chains through networked operations.
- Identifying potential defense supply-chain chokepoints and planning to prevent disruptions.
The Alliance for American Manufacturing commissioned the report. To download "Remaking American Security: Supply Chain Vulnerabilities and National Security Risks Across the U.S. Defense Industrial Base,"
visit the alliance's website