Our Military-Industrial Sufficiency

Article excerpt

The recent dispute regarding the award of a contract for new tanker aircraft became an immediate cause célèbre. Boeing and Northrop Grumman wasted no time before attacking and defending, airing pros and cons, and assuring the public that right would prevail. Each company was joined by congressional supporters, DoD officials, pundits and media representatives advising, counseling and demanding change or no change in the Air Force's contract decision.

The squabble is the latest in a long and troubled history of charge and countercharge in the world of contracting among defense industries, the industrial base of our national security strategy and the armed forces. It is also a reminder that the dominance of our military in the battle areas of the world is dependent equally on the quality of the force and the competence of the industries and the logistical system that supports operations.

Joseph Stalin is reputed to have once said that World War II was won in Detroit, an observation that emphasized the importance of an industrial base when conducting war. If he had lived long enough, he would have noted that the Cold War was won because the United States maintained a growing technological superiority along with a respected military force that together deterred Soviet expansion. That we did so-while prospering economically as the Soviet Union foundered-finally brought the Cold War to its conclusion.

During World War II, seemingly overnight, we began producing thousands of tanks, aircraft, ships and untold quantities of all other materiel from an industrial base suffering the doldrums resulting from the worldwide Depression of the 1930s. The phenomenon was managed by the Office of War Mobilization and other agencies that matched the mobilization of private industries with the grand strategy evolving to win the war. The success of the effort was the creation of the greatest industrial might the world had ever seen, the Arsenal of Democracy.

Following the war, when the Departments of War and Navy were subordinated to Defense, the principle of joint military-industrial pursuit of our national interests was promoted in the National Security Act of 1947 by the establishment of the National Security Resources Board (NSRB) as a coequal with the National Security Council (NSC). In theory, the NSCs national security strategy would be supported by NSRB industrial mobilization needed to match contingency war plans.

The NSRB, apparently for political reasons, was disbanded by President Truman in 1950. Given the awesome omnipotence of the atom bomb, mobilization of any kind appeared unnecessary and certainly was among the least of worries. …