Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Closed Factories, Closed Minds: Covid-19's Disruption of Supply Chains and the Nation's Defense Industrial Base

Industries across the world are feeling the pressure as Covid-19 disrupts supply chains and production. The defense industrial base has not been exempted from these constraints. Ellen Lord, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, stated earlier this week that the disruptions of supply chains will result in at least a three-month slowdown for major defense acquisition plans.

The U.S.’s dependency on supply chains from foreign countries for many of its defense industrial programs has been highlighted during this pandemic. The defense industrial programs that are being hit the hardest by this crisis are the shipbuilding, aviation, and small space launch sectors, with aviation being the most heavily affected so far. Mexico is one example of how this dependency is affecting the nation’s industrial base. Unlike here in the U.S., the Mexican government has not exempted companies in its defense industry from stay-at-home orders. The closure of several Mexican airframe production factories due to these orders is delaying the production for many of the U.S.’s major aviation programs, including yet another in a long line of production delays for the F-35 program.

The nation's reliance on international suppliers has, as it seems all things do nowadays, brought up a discussion regarding U.S.-China relations. Aside from the defense industry’s reliance on foreign countries like Mexico, broader concerns are now being raised regarding the U.S.’s dependence on China for many key medicines and supplies. Arguments like these that cite the U.S.’s reliance on foreign countries to demonstrate that the U.S. is overly dependent on international suppliers and should move production back home are simple and alluring to make, but the temporary difficulties faced during this pandemic should not be allowed to influence the globalized nature of the U.S.’s defense supply chains.

Instead of continuing the current administration’s penchant of turning inwards at every opportunity, the U.S. must maintain an integrated approach with countries like Mexico to stabilize its defense industry. This will require the U.S. government to demonstrate leadership and unity with its international partners - an unfortunately rare commodity these days - but this will be essential to ensure that there will be a healthy and capable defense industry for production to return to by the end of this crisis.

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