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Merely Passing “C” Grade in New Study Spells Trouble for Military Readiness

The long-awaited October 2018 Defense Industrial Base Report served as a wake-up call for many regarding our nation’s military readiness and associated mineral resource supply challenges. The “first governmentwide assessment of America’s manufacturing and military industrial base (…)” identified almost three hundred areas of concern with regards to material supply chains and sounded the alarm on China dominating production of a troubling number of critical minerals underpinning military technology.

While some important steps have been taken since then, much remains to be done to alleviate our mineral resource vulnerabilities, and — with policy makers embroiled in partisan politics — perhaps another wake-up call is in order.

It comes to us via the the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA), which has piloted a new annual “Vital Signs” report project to, as the authors write, “fill a gap” left by the October 2018 report.

NDIA explains: 

“Despite its high-resolution snapshot of the defense industrial base’s present challenges, the report does not provide the public and the defense policy community either an unclassified summary measurement of the health and readiness of the defense industrial base or a simple way of tracking such a measurement over time.”

To do so, NDIA has sought to standardize and integrate “different elements of both the defense sector and the business environment that shapes its performance.”

Overall, Vital Signs 2020 assigns a “passing C grade but with a worrying downward trend” to the U.S. defense industrial base, reflecting “a business environment characterized by highly contrasting areas of concern and confidence. Deteriorating conditions for industrial security and for the availability and cost of skilled labor and materials emerge from our analysis as areas of clear concern.” 

With regards to mineral resource supply chains, the report’s methodology arguably appears to place less of an emphasis on underlying geopolitical risk factors as well as resource dependencies and associated potential supply disruptions than the 2018 government report, and focuses more on resource cost.

However, overall, in particular with regards to the military’s “surge capacity,” the report points out that “[p]resently 27.3 percent of critical defense supplier industries (3 of 11) would likely experience shortages in the event of a surge in demand for combat-essential defense programs equivalent to the Carter-Reagan buildup of the late-1970s through the mid-1980s.”

And, as ARPN followers well know, the materials underpinning 21st Century high-tech military applications don’t just appear out of thin air, and securing mineral resource supply chains both on the upstream and downstream levels should be prioritized.

An overall mediocre “C” grade — merely passing “with a worrying downward trend” — for the United States’ defense industrial base is cause for concern, and policy makers would be well advised to take another comprehensive look at our defense industrial base and all underlying inputs.

To read the full report, click here.

And for a refresher on the 2018 Defense Industrial Base Review click here and here.

Image source: creative commons license (CC BY-NC 2.0), flickr photo by GPA Photo Archive.