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Officials Say Manufacturing Arms at Scale a Deterrent to Adversaries

Keeping the armament production lines moving at speed and scale at the right price sends a strong signal to allies that the U.S. is a reliable partner. It also sends a message of deterrence to adversaries, Defense Department officials said.

William A. LaPlante, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, and Heidi Shyu, undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, discussed mobilizing industry and unlocking innovation yesterday during the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Global Security Forum 2024.

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Sailors aboard the USS Oak Hill signal an SH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter to land on the ship's flight deck in the Atlantic Ocean, April 7, 2024.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Justin Kemble
VIRIN: 240407-N-FV545-1335Y

Since the end of the Cold War, defense industries have not been doing much production work for the department, LaPlante said. 

With U.S. support for Ukraine, some are surprised that DOD can't ramp up production overnight. For example, production of munitions has been down over the last 30 years, he said.

Also, in the past, DOD has funded programs that last maybe two years and then the funding dries up. Industry investors don't like taking that risk and getting burned. They want multiyear contracts to keep production predictable, LaPlante said. 

"I can't overemphasize the importance of funding, because the industrial base is not going to do anything without funding," he said.

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The 409th Air Expeditionary Group radar, airfield and weather systems team replaces windows in an MSN-7 mobile control tower, Jan. 8, 2024, at Air Base 201, Niger. The mobile control tower is a quick response air traffic control facility capable of providing air traffic control capabilities from the bed of a Humvee.
Photo By: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Rose Gudex
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The fact that it took months to get the supplemental funding request from lawmakers shook up a lot of people abroad because of the negative message it sends, he said, adding that its passage this month was a relief to everyone. 

Also, the supplemental funding will inject much-needed money into U.S. defense industries, he said.

"I can't emphasize how much we have begun to rebuild the industrial base. With the supplementals, there are now factories breaking ground around the country," he said. 

The war in Ukraine has demonstrated to the world that the department can move really fast. "We get contracting done within a couple of weeks. We get stuff moving right away. Literally, right now there are planes flying with equipment to Ukraine," he said. 

Regarding the ramping up of defense manufacturing over the last two years, people are now saying "these guys are serious. They're not messing around. They're not just doing a few hypersonics demos and then waiting a little bit. They're actually serious," LaPlante said.

Shyu pointed out that the department is developing, testing, producing and fielding new weapons that are highly effective and reasonably priced.

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A Royal New Zealand Air Force Warrant Officer leads a Joint Task Force-Space Defense Commercial Operations cell daily operations activity at the JCO-NZL Operations Centre, RNZAF Base Auckland, Aug. 18, 2023.
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Comanche Company, 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 11th Airborne Division, practice Norwegian ambush tactics during Exercise Arctic Shock 24 in Skjold, Norway, March 21, 2024.
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Examples she cited are lasers, high-powered microwaves, systems to counter hypersonics and tripling the range of 155 mm artillery rounds. 

Also, DOD is working collaboratively with partner nations to accelerate the development of vital technologies, she said.

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