The Line

U.S. offshoring threatens military superiority

By:Capacity Magazine

Issue:Winter 2015 : Nuts & Bolts

The shift of manufacturing from the United States to China and India is a leading threat to the U.S. military advantage, according to the Defense Science Board in its “Technology and Innovation Enablers for Superiority in 2030” report recently posted on the web for public viewing. “Movement of critical manufacturing capability offshore may pose significant challenges,” warns the DSB.

The shift of manufacturing to foreign nations “also affects U.S. technology leadership by enabling new players to learn a technology and then gain the capability to improve on it. An additional threat to defense capabilities from offshore manufacturing is the potential for compromise of the supply chain for key weapons systems components.”

The United States is not guaranteed economic benefit from the increased production of natural gas, notes the DSB. “Being resource-rich will certainly contribute to economic vigor in the United States, but capitalizing on this new resource will depend on the ability to distribute the goods produced as a result of relative energy price advantages. Selling agricultural, energy and manufactured products requires ready access to the global common, and all global distribution mechanisms are ready targets for adversaries of the United States seeking to gain competitive advantage.”

The rise of technically and economically strong foreign adversaries will challenge U.S. superiority in speed, stealth and the precision of weapons systems. Other countries “are likely to develop counters to some or all of the foundation technologies on which the U.S. has come to rely,” states the DSB.

“The advantages provided by capabilities such as GPS, Internet-based network communications, satellite reconnaissance and stealth aircraft will be diminished and, in many cases, eliminated. To maintain superiority, it will be necessary for the military to develop new capabilities or tactics, techniques and procedures to continue to be effective when capabilities on which it has relied over the past two decades are degraded or denied.”

“The United States can no longer plan to rely on unquestioned technical leadership in all fields,” states the Defense Science Board.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military has exposed its capabilities, tactics and vulnerabilities. “Military actions requiring expensive platforms and equipment with long logistical support tails generate vulnerabilities ripe for exploitation, as the use of improvised explosive devices in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrated, where a technologically unsophisticated adversary created damage that was disproportionate to the technological and financial investment. By 2030, the increasing distribution and linkages available for technology development will likely enable creation of similar destructive asymmetries on a global scale.”

In its report the DSB says the Defense Department must assess the revolution taking place in manufacturing technology, caused by the rapid and rising global demand for high-tech manufactured goods. The use of computers, low-cost sensors and robotics could radically reduce the cost of producing weapons systems, giving “new meaning to the old adage ‘quantity has a quality all its own,’ ” says DSB.

In order to counter adversaries’ own capabilities, the DOD should develop a “reliance on very large numbers of reasonably capable systems. For example, by taking advantage of advances in manufacturing and developments in guidance, navigation and control, it may be possible to field a cruise missile with modest capabilities at a cost of between $100,000 and $200,000.”

The DSB report notes that additive manufacturing could eliminate the need to store and ship inventories of spare parts, but that DoD “should consider not only what capabilities are enabled but also what a potential adversary could do with this technology.

The Department must maintain cognizance of manufacturing advances and drive the implementation of these advances into its supplier base as they occur to hedge the economics and time associated with today’s manufacturing capabilities.”

Articles in THE LINE are reprinted with permission from

Manufacturers & Technology News.