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About the National Security Industrial Base

The Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence at Brookings has formed a working group that will study the future of the national security industrial base.

In the 20th century, the phrase “Arsenal of Democracy” signified more than mere World War II propaganda. America’s industrial base—and the science, technology, engineering and education capabilities that undergirded it—became distinguishing sources of its superpower status, as well as its economic vitality.

Today, the industrial base as a whole is experiencing changes perhaps as never before. While individual firms and programs continue to rise and fall, the overall U.S. national security marketplace (now extending beyond traditional defense issues) is wrestling with revolutions in technology, new modes of warfare, and uncertainty in everything from its labor pool to trade policy to budgetary resources.

Many believe that the industry is at a strategic inflection point where its future can sharply change for better or for worse. Yet despite this combination of importance and uncertainty, the topic is too frequently approached in a short-term manner, too frequently defined by consideration of a single program authorization decision rather than broad trends, and too frequently discussed in mere bumper sticker terms.

With the goal of establishing a community of interested scholars and practitioners who can exchange views and learn from each other in an attempt to push forward discussion on this important but complex issue area, the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence has convened a working group of leaders and experts from academia, industry, the media, Congress and the executive branch. Over the last two years, they have regularly met to identify and study the key policy questions surrounding the future of the national security industrial base. The effort also included major public events (with participants like Congressman Mac Thornberry, Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter, former National Security Advisor Steve Hadley, Senator Kelly Ayotte, and Under Secretary of Defense Robert F. Hale) as well as the release of a “white paper” that crystallized the collective wisdom of the field on key issues and questions facing the defense industrial base.

Michael E. O’Hanlon, Co-Director, Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence, Senior Fellow and Director of Research, Foreign Policy

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