Defense Community Must Help Lower-Tier Suppliers.

Author:Johnson, John C.
Position:Viewpoint
 
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The American public has witnessed the rollout and christening of the most advance, sophisticated and complex defense systems in the world on a regular basis. The accolades to Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Huntington Ingalls and Electric Boat, to name a few, are certainly well deserved. Without their vision, design and leadership, these marvelous systems would never be fielded.

The rollout and commissioning ceremonies are witness to the Who's Who in the defense community and government. When queried, key executives in these tier 1 companies are the first to acknowledge that none of this would be possible without an immense subcontractor and supplier base, in many cases over 1,000 companies. We do not see them at rollout ceremonies or receiving praise from politicians even though none of this work would be possible without them.

Employees in these lower-tiered companies have no idea where their part will end up, for security reasons or for the fact that they are layers below the major defense companies. Yet, the number of suppliers is fewer and fewer with each passing day. This staggering reduction is a major concern to the government and the defense community.

Many of these suppliers, some incredibly small, are nestled in industrial parks in communities across the United States. Small companies fabricate some pieces with the most demanding manufacturing processes. With computer numerical control (CNC) machining, multiple spindle cutting, metal lathes and milling equipment for titanium and other unique and challenging alloys, these companies provide finished items with tolerances only a handful of fabricators around the world can accomplish.

Likewise, look deeper inside these weapon systems and we find computers, foundational equipment in virtually every system, processing terabits of information and using complex operational and application software. Not all software is exclusively produced by large corporations, such as Microsoft, Alphabet or IBM. Instead, extremely capable software engineers in office buildings scattered across the United States design sophisticated algorithms and develop uniquely specific code. They work in environments not shackled by corporate policy and behavior guidelines. Many have achieved high levels in the Capability Maturity Model Integration improvement training and appraisal program.

Such sophisticated software development labs enable algorithm development, coding and systems integration. Like the small hardware...

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