Magazine article National Defense

U.S. Needs 'Reserve' Force of Skilled Industrial Workers

Magazine article National Defense

U.S. Needs 'Reserve' Force of Skilled Industrial Workers

Article excerpt

The national security of the United States depends on a viable industrial base--consisting of manufacturing and repair facilities-which could produce and maintain weapons in the event of a major conflict.

As defense resources shrink, government efforts have focused on the need to support the necessary industrial and logistics infrastructure.

POINT OF VIEW

In some cases, this is taking the form of mothballing facilities for possible future use should the need arise. The focus has been on facilities and resources, the most quantifiable and visible components in the industrial base.

But there is another essential element that also must be present to make and maintain an adequate defense infrastructure-trained civilian personnel and specialists who understand the weapon systems and how to use the facilities and equipment.

As many U.S. weapon systems reach production maturity and are placed on the shelf for future use, the corporate memory about how they were designed, manufactured, maintained and repaired will be lost as the civilian defense force draws down.

As many as 20,000 highly trained civilian workers left the U.S. defense industrial work force each month in the early 1990s. Since then, the pace of the draw-down has been reduced somewhat. But critical losses are continuing. These tosses involve people possessing unique skills critical to the development, maintenance, operation and repair of these same systems and facilities. In many cases, they are moving to non-defense positions, retiring or still looking for other work.

While it is true that most defense acquisition programs require a technical data package to be delivered as part of the system procurement, experience has shown that much of what goes into building a successful military system is unwritten and intuitive to the experienced practitioner. Much of the data are proprietary, trade secrets or just in the head and hands of experienced workers.

Related to this are two needs on which the Defense Department must focus:

* There is a need for civilian defense contractor personnel to provide immediate support in the combat theater. Systems need repair and upgrades.

* Civilian defense contractor personnel also must be available to respond to major defense surge requirements. Their corporate memory and skills are vital to enabling surge production with minimal delay and learning curve.

As our weapons have become more and more technologically complex, the need for contractor support on site, in combat theaters of operation, has grown exponentially with each successive conflict. The trend began in earnest when the Vietnam War intensified and hundreds of contractors were involved in building, repairing and maintaining aircraft, munitions and other combat equipment.

War Effort

More recently, during Operation Desert Storm, thousands of U. S. defense contractors were in the Persian Gulf region, performing equipment maintenance and support. They were indispensable in keeping the war effort on track and responding to the immediate needs of the fighting forces.

I propose that the Defense Department embark on a plan to consider establishing a civilian defense reserve force for critical skills-in other words, an "industrial national guard." This workforce would:

* Maintain and upgrade its skills during times of peace through a program of parttime formal training and periodic field work using the equipment in which volunteers specialize. …

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