‹ Back to Columns

Sounding the Alarm on National Defense

Doug Kurkul

This past autumn, the U.S. Department of Defense issued an alarming report documenting major gaps in our military’s capacity to source the materials needed to produce key weaponry. Without reliable supplies and suppliers of advanced weapon systems, the men and women in the military are at risk, and the nation’s ability to prevent and fight wars are hindered.

The report cited five macro forces driving risk into the U.S. industrial base. The factors begin with the uncertainty of defense spending, dating back to the sequestration policy adopted a number of years ago, and the unclear path for defense investments going forward. The factors also include the decline of certain domestic manufacturing capabilities and capacities, deleterious government procurement practices, the industrial policies of competitor nations, and diminishing STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) skills in our workforce. Taken together, the report should be a wake-up call for Congress, federal defense agency officials, and the public at large.

These risk factors are interrelated. For example, the report stated, “The high operational tempo of the Navy in recent years, along with a lack of steady funding for maintenance and modernization, has resulted in a backlog of repair work across the nuclear and non-nuclear fleet…Many suppliers are experiencing a shortfall in their capacity to perform work and manufacture products. The increased demand creates pressure on already-aging production equipment and could necessitate additional hiring in highly specialized fields, where it is often difficult to find suitable…candidates. The combination of limited suppliers and an increase in workload could increase cost and potentially create schedule slips, impacting our warfighting capability.”

Additionally, concerns have grown that the U.S. military depends on single, potentially unreliable domestic sources for some important parts, and that China or other potential rivals are now the source of key materials essential to specialized military components.

Highly complex castings manufactured from a variety of metals are a part of many hundreds of products and components used by the military. The American Foundry Society is a frequent source of information about the casting industry to congressional, military, and civilian agency representatives. AFS supports the government in pursuing the steps outlined in the DoD report that aim to address the concerns noted in the report and to strengthen the defense industrial base.

Metalcasters are encouraged to discuss these issues during plant tours and other interactions with their U.S. senators and representatives. In addition, if your foundry is producing military castings and has specific suggestions on how to maximize U.S. government purchases of American-made castings, including ways of improving your ability to compete or suggestions to improve the DoD purchasing process, do not hesitate to reach out to me directly so we can share these examples with the Administration. 

Click here to see this story as it appears in the January 2019 edition of Modern Casting