Sole Sourcing and Lack of Weapon Design Experience to Blame for Pentagon’s Munitions Procurement Woes

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The U.S. government is facing considerable challenges with its munitions procurement, as reported by Defense News in an article memorably headlined “The U.S. is Running Out of Bombs — And It May Struggle to Make More.”

According to the latest annual Industrial Capabilities report from the Pentagon's Office of Manufacturing and Industrial Base Policy, sole sourcing and a lack of weapon design experience are crippling the U.S. industrial base.

“The U.S. is weak on munitions production as well as government production of armaments at depots due to years of under-investment in Army Depots as well as consolidation in the defense industry starting with the ‘Last Supper’ in 1993 with [Secretary of Defense] Les Aspin,” said Stephen Rodriguez, founder of One Defense.

“This led to fewer domestic suppliers all around as well as greater market share going to foreign market players,” Rodriguez continued, citing as examples the Italian defense contractor Leonardo DRS, the British aerospace company BAE Systems, the French aircraft engineering company Safran and the French-Italian-British missile manufacturer MBDA.

The liability that is the U.S.’s lack of weapon design experience is becoming increasingly clear as the country uses its munitions at a faster rate. According to Defense News, the U.S. dropped 1,186 munitions in Afghanistan during the first quarter of 2018, more than two and a half times the number of munitions dropped the same time last year.

“Advanced weapons production is complex and requires a country have well-developed chemical and production capabilities like Germany, France and Belgium do,” said Rodriguez, noting that the foreign-owned suppliers of munitions to the U.S. are primarily European.

Furthermore, the Pentagon plans to invest more than $20 billion in munitions in its next budget. But whether this plan will be fulfilled is uncertain. Beyond the issue of relying on foreign-owned suppliers, some key suppliers are dropping out of the business.

The sole supplier of dimeryl diisocyanate, for instance, will no longer be producing the crucial propellant ingredient used in missiles.

In fact, among the Pentagon’s 121 second-tier and 73 third-tier suppliers for munitions-related purchases, 98% are single or sole source. About 97% of the Defense Department’s munitions and missile spend goes to Raytheon and Lockheed Martin.

For the defense industrial base, Rodriguez explained, sole sourcing “has become increasingly common due to industry consolidation, especially at the prime and major service provider tiers.”

“It is also due to a lack of defense investment in R&D in the sector compared to commercial investment combined with poor investment in military facilities,” he continued. “For instance, the Army literally cannot ‘up-gun’ its armor vehicles because there is one facility in Watervliet, New York, that makes them.”

The four industrial areas that are at highest risk are solid rocket motors, thermal batteries, fuses and small turbine engines, according to the Defense News article.

“The most compelling solution, especially as it relates to munitions is to prop up industrial capacity so our ability to produce, not only warheads, but also the platforms that launch them — tanks, planes, ships — is available to us when we need them in extremis,” Rodriguez said.

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