HomeWorldLawmakers warn struggling defense industry needs to get on ‘war footing’ for growing China threat
Lawmakers warn struggling defense industry needs to get on ‘war footing’ for growing China threat
September 20, 2023
WASHINGTON – As defense manufacturers struggle to keep up with the Pentagon’s needs and the threat from China grows, the chairman of a key House subcommittee told industry leaders Wednesday to shift from the current peacetime production pace and get on a “war footing.”
“In my opinion, we have not mobilized to prevent a war in the Pacific,” Cyber, Information Technologies and Innovation subcommittee head Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wisc.) said. “We have not moved to maximum production rates of long-range precision fires.”
Hindered by the after-effects of slowed production during the COVID-19 pandemic and the task of keeping Ukraine stocked with the systems they need to fight off Russia, the defense base has been unable even to refill the Pentagon’s dwindling weapons stockpiles, let alone produce new defense capabilities.
With 10 days left of the 2023 fiscal year, the Pentagon has failed to spend its entire weapons and development budget largely because the defense industry’s slowed production rate left it unable to fulfill the orders, according to Gallagher.
“In one week, $11 billion of previously appropriated defense money – previous year’s money we’ve already given to the Defense Department – is going to evaporate [and] will turn into a pumpkin on midnight on September 30,” he said, referencing the expiration of prior unspent funds with the coming of the new fiscal year.
The hearing came one week after Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall gave a sobering speech in which he said China is rapidly galvanizing its military in preparation for a potential conflict.
“The intelligence couldn’t be clearer. China is preparing for war, and specifically for a war with the United States,” Gallagher said, paraphrasing Kendall. “If we took this warning from the Secretary of the Air Force seriously, and thereby got serious about preventing a war with China, preventing World War III we would immediately shift the Pentagon away from a posture optimized for peacetime efficiency and onto a war footing.”
“We would embrace that basic paradox,” he added, “that to avoid a war we have to adopt a war footing.”
Warning that a war with China “has the potential to make previous world wars look restrained in comparison,” Gallagher asked representatives from Anduril Industries, Saildrone, Inc. and defense industry powerhouse Lockheed Martin how the government can help allay issues causing the slow production pace.
“Tell us … what we need to do to fix this problem; what we need to do to turbocharge our innovation enterprise in defense; what we need to do to defibrillate a sclerotic defense industrial base and thereby prevent war – which is the business we are all in,” he said. “We cannot keep wasting time.”
It’s not a new problem; Gallagher said he’d been discussing the issue for years with military and industry leaders. But the matter is becoming more urgent as China grows and revolutionizes its military.
“We no longer debate whether innovation is needed. Instead, the issue now is how to accomplish it,” said. Anduril CEO Brian Schimpf, asking for the government to “incentivize production of large quantities of the right capabilities.”
That can be accomplished, industry leaders suggested, by granting multi-year contracts for weapons and military equipment so companies can better prepare for production needs and have confidence that they will stay afloat if they surge manufacturing.
“There’s a few beneficial actions that government could take. One is to really create a long-range production and procurement strategy over, you know, five to 10 years or a multi year approach,” said Lockheed Martin President and CEO James D. Taiclet. “Congress may need to adjust the ways it allocates funding to that kind of approach so that the suppliers … will have the confidence to ramp up and invest in that higher production level.”