Washington must invest immediately in a domestic capacity to build and repair military hardware.
The war in Ukraine should galvanize Washington policy makers. It has demonstrated that America’s defense-industrial base isn’t up to the job of supplying the U.S. military with weapons for a prolonged conventional conflict with a major power such as China. Production lines for Stinger and Javelin missiles destined for Ukraine are stretched to capacity, with critical components no longer produced in sufficient quantity to meet demand.
The industrial competencies required for sustained conventional warfare have atrophied. In 2018 the Trump administration identified nearly 300 significant gaps across 10 “risk archetypes” in the defense industry, such as reliance on a foreign supplier, that could directly undermine the U.S. military’s ability to fight a major war. The causes of these gaps vary and are subject to debate. They range from the general decline of domestic manufacturing to Congress’s failure to ensure a predictable defense-funding cycle and from the predatory industrial policies of other nations to an assumption that America’s future wars would be quick and decisive. Whatever the causes, the status quo is profoundly dangerous.