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Hicks Again Makes Case for Strengthening Industrial Base, Eliminating Continuing Resolutions

"Production is deterrence," Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks told the Reagan Institute's National Security Innovation Base Summit today.

A woman speaks with troops.
Troop Talk
Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks speaks with airmen during a visit to the 48th Fighter Wing at RAF Lakenheath, England, Nov. 28, 2023. During her visit, she took time to meet with service members to discuss several initiatives underway to support quality of life improvements.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. Gaspar Cortez
VIRIN: 231128-F-EJ253-1005N

America's military is unchallenged because of the quality of its people and because the American defense industrial base provides them with the weapons, systems and equipment that is ahead of anything a potential enemy could field.

But that equipment lead is in danger. "Today, America's defense industrial base [is] at a pivotal moment," Hicks said. "The COVID pandemic revealed how fragile and brittle supply chains have become. The war in Ukraine has revealed how nation-state aggression is a real threat requiring information age ingenuity and industrial era capacity. And the need to modernize and stay ahead of our pacing challenge reveals how the [defense industrial base] has been affected by decades of yo-yo dieting, inconsistent funding and blinkered demand signals."

The Pentagon, Congress and the industrial base must work together to deliver combat-credible capabilities to the warfighter at speed and scale to deter aggression and win if called on to fight. "But the truth is the engines of production never spin up from zero to 60 overnight," Hicks said.  

When Ronald Reagan was president from 1981 to 1989, the Soviet Union was the threat and America could tolerate years and decades-long equipment timelines because the Soviets, the pacing challenge of the 1980s, were relatively slow and lumbering. "However, this is not the Cold War or the post-Cold War era," she said. "With [China], we are in a persistent generational competition for advantage, and we have to double down with urgency and confidence. That's why the Biden-Harris administration's focus on American innovation, manufacturing and production has been so important for national security, because our military strength depends in part on our overall economic strength here at home."

DOD has made serious, significant and sustained investments across four annual defense budgets and multiple supplemental funding requests. The budget shows the department recognizes the threat and has asked Congress to strengthen the health, workforce, supply chains, viability and productivity of the U.S. defense industrial base, short term and long term, she said.  

DOD has spent billions on the industrial base and sought to expand production. The department has also spent billions in research and development to ensure service members never go into a fair fight, Hicks said.

"All of these investments, and more, have been aligned with the needs of our National Defense Strategy and the National Defense Industrial Strategy that builds upon it," she said.  

The National Defense Industrial Strategy is new and is a "recognition that our defense industrial base is something we must actively and strategically shape to meet this generational strategic moment," she said.  

While the military is the customer of the industrial base, Congress and industry must work with the military. "While I believe we all agree on the urgency to innovate, I must say one of the most serious obstacles to doing so has been the lack of stable, predictable, timely funding," Hicks said.

The current circumstances are a case in point. "For the 11th time since I became deputy secretary [in 2021], DOD is operating under a continuing resolution: And we look to be headed toward a 12th time," she said.  

Hicks called the continuing resolutions "stopgap measures that are really half measures." Under CRs, DOD cannot start new programs. CRs compress the time to do the acquisition work to award contracts. "They rob us of critical momentum forcing us to stand still, while Beijing, Moscow and Tehran move to modernize their militaries, coerce their neighbors and work to outpace us," she said. "[Government] shutdowns are even more damaging." 

Congress needs to pass the fiscal 2024 appropriations bill, she said. The department has already lost six months on the legislation. "It's long overdue, and the delay has already been devastating," Hicks said.  

This is a problem that has grown. Again, she pointed to the process during Ronald Reagan's term. "For all eight years of Ronald Reagan's presidency … DOD spent, on average, 45 days a year under CRs about six weeks, not great, but doable," she said. "But over the last three years, that number has more than tripled. DOD has operated under CRs for an average of 143 days a year [under CRs]."

A woman standing at a lectern speaks to a group of people. The sign behind her indicates that she is at the Pentagon.
Press Briefing
Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks answers questions from members of the media during a briefing on the DOD FY2025 budget from the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., March 11, 2024.
Photo By: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jackie Sanders
VIRIN: 240311-D-XI929-1032

This amounts to almost five years where the department has operated under continuing resolutions. "No amount of money can buy that time back," she said. "It's impossible to compete and out-compete the PRC with one hand tied behind our back for six months of every fiscal year. Washington has to do better. And I know it is possible."  

Congress, industry and the Pentagon must "work together around our shared recognition that we are in a generational era of strategic competition with [China]," Hicks said. "And central to that competition is investing to take care of our troops and their families."

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