There is no shortage of discussion or concern over America’s industrial base as it relates to national defense. The majority of the discussion has addressed the acquisition of major weapon systems, while comparatively far less debate has been devoted to the sustainment industrial base, which has a multitude of statutory requirements and competing stakeholders. Having the appropriate mix of public and private sustainment capacity and capabilities will play a crucial role in providing the DOD the ability to respond to the nation’s security requirements. As even a brief discussion on each of the many facets of 21st Century weapon system sustainment could fill volumes, this work will attempt to highlight the importance of broader sustainment activities through a more narrow discussion of depot maintenance.
The projected decline in major weapon system acquisition in a fiscally constrained defense budget environment will present many challenges. As weapon systems are maintained for longer periods of service, often beyond their designed life-cycles, sustainment of those aging weapon systems will be integral to Joint Force readiness. Strategic vision regarding the public/private mix of the capabilities needed to sustain those systems will be critical to risk mitigation and weapon system availability.
The United States needs a national vision that articulates for leaders in government and industry what the future of the defense sustainment industrial base will look like. The vision should outline a strategic process for determining industrial base capacity, capabilities, and where those capabilities should reside within the public and private sectors. The vision should take into account the momentum of the DOD’s current efforts to in-source previously contracted activities, include sustainment capabilities necessary for weapon system risk mitigation, and address partnerships with industry. Successful vision implementation should effectively manage expectations and inform the decision makers who facilitate investment decisions and plan sustainment strategies that are inextricably linked to weapon system readiness.
At the end of the day, as we all know thorny national security issues don’t just involve the military; political-military considerations invariably bleed into them. If the senior military’s leadership views are going to be just constrained to military advice … who is thinking about issues from that broader perspective?