Aerospace Group Calls for U.S. Defense Industrial Policy

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WASHINGTON — The Aerospace Industries Association is calling on the U.S. Defense Department to develop a defense industrial policy.

Jim Albaugh, chairman of the industry group, told a media roundtable Jan. 12 that the United States must decide which technologies are critical to national security and invest in those specific sectors.

Failing to do so would result in the loss of industrial capability, he said.

“Look at the U.K., for instance. They used to build a lot of airplanes over there; they don’t build airplanes anymore,” Albaugh said.

However, the United Kingdom did establish a defense industrial policy that identified more than a half-dozen key technologies the nation would nurture and procure domestically. The United States, he said, must do the same.

“I think we do need to start with what are the key technologies that, as a country, we need to maintain. Maybe we’re going to say it’s not aircraft, maybe it’s cyber, but let’s decide on what those technologies are. And let’s make sure we have an industrial policy that addresses how we’re going to have competition, how we’re going to nurture those capabilities, so that when the threat is real, we can address those threats,” Albaugh said.

He emphasized that he was not talking about specific programs or hardware, but rather overall industrial capabilities.

David Berteau, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, agreed that a defense industrial policy is essential.

“It’s a critical question of what kind of capabilities do you need to have and where do you need to have them, in an era where you have global sourcing at every level from the end item all the way down to the very finest electronic subcomponents,” he said.

The problem, Berteau said, is that there is not enough information to ascertain what technologies need to be fostered. The Defense Department must improve its gathering and use of data in order to determine what technologies and capabilities will be most useful in the future, Berteau said.

“It’s very hard to come up with a defensible set of policy prescriptions unless you’ve got the analysis that supports them,” he said.

Perhaps the greatest challenge for designing such a policy is the tendency to favor existing capabilities over developing future technologies, Berteau said.

“There is a tendency to want to support what you have rather than support the investment in what you’re going to need,” he said.

Still, the Defense Department has begun making preliminary sector-by-sector assessments of the technology base needed for the years ahead, Berteau said.