WAR

L'Opinion - - The Wall Street Jour­nal & I'Opi­nion - Gor­don Lu­bold and Doug Ca­me­ron

streng­then the ma­nu­fac­tu­ring and de­fense in­dus­trial base,” Mr. Na­var­ro said. “Trade po­li­cy is just one of ma­ny tools to do that… You’ve got to at­tack these vul­ne­ra­bi­li­ties” in mul­tiple ways.

Some ex­perts ques­tion the de­ci­sion to in­voke na­tio­nal se­cu­ri­ty concerns for trade is­sues, such as the ta­riffs im­po­sed last year on steel and alu­mi­num ex­ports. “There re­mains room for mi­schief in any go­vern­men­tal re­view of na­tio­nal se­cu­ri­ty and in­ter­na­tio­nal trade,” said Jim Ha­sik, a se­nior fel­low at the At­lan­tic Coun­cil, a think tank.

Mr. Ha­sik said the ar­gu­ments for in­vo­king such concerns over im­ports of steel and alu­mi­num are weak, gi­ven the small re­la­tive consump­tion of both for mi­li­ta­ry use. A push in­to other areas could lead to “mis­sion creep” ra­ther than to di­rect be­ne­fits to the mi­li­ta­ry sup­ply chain.

The re­port cites the ab­sence of U.S. plants pro­du­cing a fi­ber used to make mi­li­ta­ry tents. That in turn could re­quire “de­ci­sive ef­forts to mo­der­nize and re­vi­ta­lize the do­mes­tic fi­ber and tex­tile in­dus­try,” said the re­port.

Pen­ta­gon and in­dus­try of­fi­cials have re­co­gni­zed choke points and po­ten­tial pro­blems for a num­ber of years, ran­ging from is­sues se­cu­ring spe­cia­li­zed ball bea­rings to a single U.S. plant ma­king pro­pel­lers for the Na­vy.

“We are aware of the cri­ti­cal is­sues,” said one se­nior executive who has wor­ked at both the Pen­ta­gon and in in­dus­try. “You can fix those re­la­ti­ve­ly qui­ck­ly.” The Pen­ta­gon al­rea­dy makes tar­ge­ted contract awards

to sup­port strug­gling firms, for example ac­ce­le­ra­ting pay­ments or in­crea­sing the or­der size.

El­len Lord, the Pen­ta­gon’s ac­qui­si­tion chief, has said that the de­part­ment had bur­ro­wed four or five le­vels down in­to the sup­ply chain to un­co­ver weak­nesses.

“There is a large fo­cus on de­pen­den­cy on fo­rei­gn coun­tries for sup­ply, and Chi­na fi­gures ve­ry pro­mi­nent­ly there,” she told re­por­ters in Ju­ly. “I am ve­ry concer­ned that we have se­con­da­ry sour­cing in all of our cri­ti­cal com­po­nents.”

The sharp drop in mi­li­ta­ry spen­ding bet­ween 2013 and 2015 al­so hit in­dus­try hard, though the trend has re­ver­sed. The last two de­fense bud­gets ad­ded $75 bil­lion for pro­cu­re­ment and re­search, a 15 % bump over fis­cal 2017. The 2019 bud­get al­so is the first in a de­cade that Con­gress has pas­sed on time, pro­vi­ding com­pa­nies with more cer­tain­ty for in­vest­ment and hi­ring de­ci­sions.

Near­ly 17,000 U.S. firms stop­ped ser­ving the de­fense de­part­ment as prime contrac­tors bet­ween 2001 and 2015, ac­cor­ding to a study by the Cen­ter for Stra­te­gic and In­ter­na­tio­nal Stu­dies, a think tank.

That, in turn, led thou­sands of wor­kers to leave the de­fense in­dus­try, while big contrac­tors such as Boeing Co. and Nor­throp Grum­man Corp. shed thou­sands more as part of cost-cut­ting ef­forts. The re­sult has been wor­ker shor­tages, exa­cer­ba­ted by de­lays in ap­pro­ving se­cu­ri­ty clea­rances and com­pe­ti­tion for staff from the tech in­dus­try, as the big­gest chal­lenge, say in­dus­try exe­cu­tives.

Ja­cob M. Schle­sin­ger contri­bu­ted to this ar­ticle

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