Toward a Revolution in Military Affairs? Defense and Security at the Dawn of the Twenty-First Century

By Thierry Gongora; Harald Von Riekhoff | Go to book overview

10
The Military-Industrial
Correlates of the RMA: The
Evolution of Agile Manufacturing

Andrew Latham


INTRODUCTION

Since the late 1980s the U.S. arms industry has been characterized by far-reaching changes in technology, technique, and organizational structure. Shaped by the material requirements of the so-called military-technical revolution, as well as by the discourses of flexibility and leanness, during the 1990s postfordist production practices began to displace the essentially fordist manufacturing techniques that had long been considered best practice in the American arms industry. 1 As a result, a new arms production paradigm--now commonly referred to as agile manufacturing--has coalesced in American military-industrial circles. This new paradigm is still in embryonic form, of course, and it is likely to evolve in ways that cannot be precisely predetermined. Even at this juncture, however, there is a clear sense that arms production is being reconstituted around a radically new industrial vision involving the use of computer-driven flexible machine tools, lean production processes, and rapidly reconfigurable virtual enterprises to undertake low-rate/low-volume production of increasingly knowledge-intensive, high- technology weapons. As it evolves and diffuses through the U.S. armaments industry, this new paradigm is profoundly transforming the nature and logic of armaments production. Indeed, so profound are these changes that the transition to agile arms production can be said to constitute nothing less than a "quiet revolution," marking the end of one era in America's military-industrial history and the beginning of another.

This chapter seeks to illuminate this process of military-industrial transformation. It argues that two powerful motive forces can be identified behind this phenomenon. The first is practical, deriving from both the need to field the kind of increasingly knowledge-intensive weapons deemed necessary to American military superiority in the early twenty-first century and the need to contain costs.

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