* The U.S. industrial base would be challenged to ramp up production to meet wartime requirements in the event of a protracted great power conflict, analysts and Pentagon officials say.
The National Defense Industrial Association's new report, "Vital Signs: The Declining Health and Readiness of the Defense Industrial Base," said 27 percent of critical defense supplier industries would likely experience shortages in the event of a surge in demand for combat-essential products. (See story on page 22)
That finding is of particular concern in the new strategic environment.
In the decades following the Cold War, the United States was focused on regional wars such as Iraq and Afghanistan, noted Mark Cancian, senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"For the most part, losses [of equipment] have been low and your existing industrial base could handle it," he said. But in recent years "the focus changed to great power conflict with China and Russia, and in such a conflict attrition might be very high and the industrial base is not designed to handle that kind of demand" for more systems.
Susannna Blume, director of defense programs at the Center for a New American Security, noted that China has been investing heavily in its missile forces.
"Those forces are designed to cripple the U.S. military," she said. "That's a huge concern. The ability to reconstitute quickly could be critical in prevailing in that kind of conflict."
Cancian said that, based on historical analysis of attrition rates in large conventional wars, the U.S. Army could be reduced to just two armored brigades in the first nine months of a fight against another great power. Similar rates of attrition would be expected to be sustained by aircraft and other major systems, he added.
The Defense Department would struggle to replace losses or expand its force structure in such a scenario, analysts say.
"The industrial base has been designed to produce equipment in peace time as efficiently as possible, so much of the spare capacity has been squeezed out in order to reduce costs," Cancian said. "It is not a worthwhile business strategy to have a lot of unused capacity, and DoD has not been willing to pay for it."
Maiya Clark, a research assistant at the Heritage Foundation's Center for National Defense, said the capacity problem is widespread.
"Generally speaking, I would say that the U.S. defense industrial base really is poorly positioned for a production surge at this time," she said. "We're barely meeting the needs of our military in peace time. So it's definitely a great concern in pretty much every sector, although depending on the sector, the particular issues are different."
Cancian said replacing destroyed or damaged ships would be especially challenging because it takes years to construct major battle force vessels such as destroyers or aircraft carriers.
Clark said another issue is the shortage of skilled technical labor for people who have the training to do...