Fuze Industrial Base Problems Should No Longer Be Ignored

By Skibbie, Larry | National Defense, June 2001 | Go to article overview

Fuze Industrial Base Problems Should No Longer Be Ignored


Skibbie, Larry, National Defense


In last month's edition of this column, I outlined some of the problems affecting our industrial base, from a macro perspective. This month, I want to reverse the telescope for a micro perspective. Specifically, let's direct our attention to a sector--actually a sub-sector-and the potential impact it can have on the long-term readiness of our military forces. The sub-sector, in this case, is the portion of our industrial base that designs and builds fuzes.

Fuzes are critical and essential elements of all effective munitions. Fuzes are part of Army and Marine Corps artillery projectiles, Air Force and Navy bombs and rockets, guided missiles of all services, as well as the various new high-tech precision guided munitions. Fuzes must have the highest reliability to ensure they detonate with utmost accuracy. Further, perhaps more importantly, fuzes must work properly so they can prevent munitions from detonating prematurely. And fuzes must retain this high reliability during long years--usually decades--of storage. Finally, fuzes must fulfill these requirements while subjected to often extreme environments, such as thousands of "g's" of acceleration when fired from large guns.

Fuzes can be as simple or complex as their application demands: from a simple point-detonating fuze that activates on impact, to proximity fuzes that sense the closeness of their target, to a fuze that counts how many floors it has passed through before it detonates.

As you might imagine, fuzes are defense-unique products. The buyers are the military services and the Defense Department. There is no commercial market into which companies can diversify, or upon which the Defense Department can fall back for support. So, if we are to retain a capability to equip our military with fuzes--and we must--we need to retain the fuze industrial base.

Unfortunately, we do not seem to be doing too well in that effort. In 1987, when Pentagon budgets started to contract, there were 31 firms in the electronic and electromechanical fuze business. Today, there are six or fewer survivors. As this article was being written, one of the six survivors was purchased by one of the defense conglomerates known for its "profit or perish" policy. …

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