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Hot-Off-The-Press Defense Industrial Strategy (NDIS) Brings Defense Production Act Back into Focus for Critical Mineral Supply Chain Security

Against the backdrop of an already volatile geopolitical context with hot wars raging in Central Europe and the Middle East and the Tech War pitting China versus the U.S. intensifying, the U.S. Department of Defense has announced the release of its first-ever National Defense Industrial Strategy (NDIS), which, according to the White House’s November 2023 statement is to “guide engagement, policy development, and investment in the defense industrial base over the next three to five years” and “ensure a coordinated, whole-of-government approach to and focus on the multiple layers of suppliers and sub-suppliers that make up these critical supply chains.”

As Assistant Secretary of Defense Dr. Laura D. Taylor-Kale told the media during the official press briefing on Nov. 11, 2024:

“this is the first time that we’ve really put pen to paper to map out a strategy and a vision to create a modernized, resilient, innovative defense industrial ecosystem.”

Citing specific threats to U.S. national security – adversaries building up their military power to “levels not seen since World War II”, China’s increasingly aggressive use of “gray zone tactics across all elements of national power,” Russian aggression and Israel’s “existential fight against Hamas” – Dr. Taylor-Kale says the NDIS “seeks to answer the question, ‘How do we prioritize and optimize defense needs in a competitive environment undergirded by geopolitical, economic and technological challenges?’”

According to Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Halimah Najieb-Locke, “the NDIS is grounded in the National Defense Strategy, with a special emphasis on integrated deterrence and building that resilient ecosystem” and reflects “the Biden-Harris administration’s focus on securing and reinvigorating our defense supply chains by incorporating the presidential direction and guidance from Executive Order 14017 on America’s Supply Chains.”

The Strategy outlines four priorities which ARPN will detail further in a separate post:

  1. Resilient supply chains 
  2. Workforce readiness 
  3. Flexible acquisition 
  4. Economic deterrence 

Of particular interest to followers of ARPN is Dr. Taylor-Kale’s highlighting of the importance to streamline and make more efficient use of investment tools available to the U.S. government under the Defense Production Act and the Industrial Base Analysis Sustainment Program to strengthen U.S. domestic critical mineral supply chains, tools which Dr. Taylor-Kale admits have been “underutilized” to date.

Says Dr. Taylor-Kale:

“(…) as we have our visibility and mapping efforts ongoing, we’re able to work with the services and marshal the entire defense budget where possible, where we have programs of record to say, how are we overcoming this? How are we using acquisition strategies that actually targetareas of concern that industry has? And how are we things such as multiyear procurements, advance procurements, purchase commitments?

There are a number of tools and flexible acquisition strategies that we can employ to really drive investment into this area in a way that before now has been disparate, and so you can’t feel the impact. So we’re answering the industry’s call for consistent demand signal by organizing ourselves and targeting our efforts.

She adds:

“As much as we have used and really expanded investments using the Defense Production Act over the last few years, we’ve really only used a quarter of the authorities, really looking at the authorities.

So our goal with the implementation plan, particularly the public-facing one, will really outline some of the key areas that are important and that we, within A&S, within Industrial Base Policy, have control over, looking at, for instance, critical minerals and strategic materials, where we’ve already done a number of key investments. Since the beginning of the administration, we’ve done almost $1 billion just in critical minerals and strategic materials.

And we will obviously, just as the DASD noted, will continue working in these areas because of its importance for supply chain resilience and some of the chokepoints (…).”

A detailed implementation plan will be developed in the coming weeks, with hopes of publishing an unclassified version in February and a more detailed classified version sometime in March.

The full press briefing transcript can be accessed here, while the full text of the strategy and NDIS Fact Sheet sheet can be downloaded here.