A resilient defense industrial base is critical to the Defense Department’s ability to deter future conflict, the Pentagon’s top acquisition official said today.
William A. LaPlante, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, said ensuring that resiliency requires steady demand signals from government to industry, a key takeaway from the war in Ukraine.
“Very few people anticipated the prolonged, high-volume conflict we are seeing in Ukraine or that we might see again against a strategic competitor,” LaPlante said during this year’s Common Defense Conference in Arlington, Virginia.
“We are relearning just how resource-intensive this type of warfare can be, and how dialing down our production numbers, and the just-in-time delivery model doesn’t work in this kind of conflict,” he said. “We need a paradigm shift to meet the needs of today and the future fight.”
LaPlante said that for decades, the defense industry has been subject to spikes in demand for munitions during conflict only to be faced with plummeting demand during peacetime.
“Almost every time after a crisis is over — usually two to three years after the crisis, after demand peaks — demand sharply drops, the industrial base cuts core competencies and workforce, people are laid off and production lines are stopped,” he said. “This has happened about four times in the past 30 years.
“When folks say they don’t understand why it’s taking a while to ramp up and why they’re not investing, it’s because they know that history just like we know that history,” he said. “And so, we’re trying to stop that.”
LaPlante said shoring up the defense industrial base and ramping up production lines has been a key focus of his over the past year with an emphasis on multi-year contracts that provide the defense industry and investors with the confidence needed to sustain production.
“How do we build up the confidence with industry that they can also do their investment,” he said. “This often comes down to contracts. Speeches are wonderful… but contracts are actually more meaningful. And that’s what industry pays attention to.”
LaPlante also emphasized the importance of increasing opportunities for the U.S. and allies to work on co-development and co-production of critical platforms — especially in the Indo-Pacific.
He noted several promising steps taken in the past year to foster these relationships including a security of supply arrangement between the U.S. and Japan that creates a streamlined mechanism to resolve supply chain disruptions.
The two countries also signed a memorandum of understanding aimed at increasing opportunities for collaboration on emerging defense technology.
LaPlante said he expects that the U.S. will continue to seize on similar opportunities with other allies.
“Forging and fostering partnerships across the Indo-Pacific is critical for so many nations,” he said. “It’s more important than it has ever been.”
Ultimately, LaPlante said, seizing on opportunities to shore up defense production on a global scale is critical to the United States’ strategy of deterrence.
“Production itself is deterrence,” he said. “It’s as simple as that. The more we work together to expand global capacity of production and sustainment and foster opportunities for even co-development, co-production and co-sustainment, the better off we will be.”