The Washington Post
Increase defense competition
The March 1 editorial “An uncompetitive defense industry puts the nation at risk” hit the target. Consolidation in the defense industry has resulted in less incentive for innovation, lower industrial capacity and higher prices.
The United States’ space industrial base, however, has seen an exciting renaissance the editorial did not capture. The Post showed the number of expendable launch vehicle manufactures dropping from six to two. Yes, Lockheed Martin and Boeing consolidated their efforts to form United Launch Alliance (ULA), a mainstay for defense launches. Launch vehicles from Northrop Grumman resupply the space station. Spacex provides both expendable and reusable rockets. Yet a number of start-ups have emerged.
Rocket Lab has repeated successful launches, and Astra put satellites in orbit. New challengers such as ABL, Firefly, Relativity and Virgin Orbit are also launching. And Jeff Bezos, who owns The Post, has Blue Origin.
However, aside from the companies owned by multibillionaires, the current price of capital makes it cost-prohibitive for many of these companies to obtain the financing they need to survive in this capital-intensive business.
This problem is exacerbated by congressional policies in the National Defense Authorization Act that exclude all of these companies except ULA and Spacex from competing for most defense launches — and a lack of will among many in the Defense Department and NASA to procure from companies that do not have a long track record. Unless we see a change in these policies, we face a danger that the numbers in The Post’s piece could come true.
Edward Hearst, Danville, Calif. The writer is a former executive at Astra.