Keeping the armament production lines moving at speed and scale at the right price sends a strong signal to allies that the U.S. is a reliable partner. It also sends a message of deterrence to adversaries, Defense Department officials said.

William A. LaPlante, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, and Heidi Shyu, undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, discussed mobilizing industry and unlocking innovation yesterday during the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Global Security Forum 2024.

Since the end of the Cold War, defense industries have not been doing much production work for the department, LaPlante said. 

With U.S. support for Ukraine, some are surprised that DOD can’t ramp up production overnight. For example, production of munitions has been down over the last 30 years, he said.

Also, in the past, DOD has funded programs that last maybe two years and then the funding dries up. Industry investors don’t like taking that risk and getting burned. They want multiyear contracts to keep production predictable, LaPlante said. 

“I can’t overemphasize the importance of funding, because the industrial base is not going to do anything without funding,” he said.

The fact that it took months to get the supplemental funding request from lawmakers shook up a lot of people abroad because of the negative message it sends, he said, adding that its passage this month was a relief to everyone. 

Also, the supplemental funding will inject much-needed money into U.S. defense industries, he said.

“I can’t emphasize how much we have begun to rebuild the industrial base. With the supplementals, there are now factories breaking ground around the country,” he said. 

The war in Ukraine has demonstrated to the world that the department can move really fast. “We get contracting done within a couple of weeks. We get stuff moving right away. Literally, right now there are planes flying with equipment to Ukraine,” he said. 

Regarding the ramping up of defense manufacturing over the last two years, people are now saying “these guys are serious. They’re not messing around. They’re not just doing a few hypersonics demos and then waiting a little bit. They’re actually serious,” LaPlante said.

Shyu pointed out that the department is developing, testing, producing and fielding new weapons that are highly effective and reasonably priced.

Examples she cited are lasers, high-powered microwaves, systems to counter hypersonics and tripling the range of 155 mm artillery rounds. 

Also, DOD is working collaboratively with partner nations to accelerate the development of vital technologies, she said.

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