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

from short-term to long-term contracts, a decline in multisourcing arrangements and a move toward single-sourcing, and a conscious effort on the part of prime contractors to cut their supplier bases. As a result, the American subcontractor base is in the midst of a severe downsizing. According to industry and government estimates, the number of suppliers has decreased on the order of 60 to 70 percent from 1991 levels. MDC reduced its supplier pool by about 50 percent, from about 7,000 in the early 1990s to around 3,500 in 1997; while Lockheed, Fort Worth, went from about 1,780 to 570 (a decrease of 68 percent) in the same period. First- tier suppliers appear to be following suit, with Pratt & Whitney, to take but one example, cutting its supplier base from about 2,000 to 275 firms (a reduction of 86 percent). These changes suggest that U.S. military aerospace firms are adopting the extended-enterprise strategies favored by Japanese and American automotive firms.


CONCLUSIONS

Many of the findings reported here concerning the diffusion of postfordist production should be regarded as preliminary and, therefore, more indicative of evolutionary tendencies rather than as proof of completed transformation. Nevertheless, based on this broad survey of military-industrial restructuring, four general observations can be made concerning the transition to agile manufacturing. First, the process of experimentation and bricolage that characterizes the current stage of the transformation of arms production is being driven by the need to develop the means to sustain high-quality/low-cost production under conditions of rapidly changing patterns of military demand. The problems experienced by U.S. arms producers in the 1970s and 1980s derived not from a shortage of innovative capacity, but from rising costs that posed a serious threat to their long-term commercial viability. These production problems arose in part from a fundamental tension between the nature of military-fordism (which created an inversely proportional relationship between rate/volume of production and unit costs) and the emergent Revolution in Military Affairs (which involved a shift away from the mass production of simple weapons to an emphasis on smaller numbers of increasingly baroque armaments). Beginning in the 1990s American arms producers began to realize that if they were to maintain their economic viability and technological competitiveness in the context of a changing regulatory framework, they would have to find ways of severing the military-fordist connection between volume and cost, thus achieving affordable low-rate production.

But if the pursuit of affordability is clearly a powerful motive in the current restructuring of arms production, the adoption of agile manufacturing techniques is also being driven by a desire to maintain and enhance the technological vitality of the arms industry. Under conditions of perpetual innovation, extending the technological frontier requires a shift away from an exclusive emphasis on developing radical new technologies in the laboratory and toward a more balanced approach that involves both breakthrough innovations and incremental product and process innovation. Thus, much of the attention of U.S. arms firms seeking to remain at the technological frontier is now focused on "not only the ability to

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