How Pentagon Is Protecting Defense Supply Chains From COVID-19

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coronavirus is causing disruption across all sectors of the economy, and the
defense industrial base is no

minimize the impact on military readiness, the Department of Defense is trying
to mitigate threats to the supply chains that feed the defense industry—whether
those sources are in the U.S. or overseas.

The defense industrial base is a sophisticated ecosystem, with many tiers of suppliers. The system is so complex because the products it creates are complex.

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of the most exquisite examples of that complexity is an F-35 fighter jet, with
more than 300,000 individual parts from more than 1,400 suppliers located in 48
states, Puerto Rico, and seven partner countries.

The complexity becomes a vulnerability in a pandemic. If one supplier is temporarily forced to shut down production or is permanently forced out of business, the impact ripples through the supply chain and causes delays to major acquisition programs, whether it’s the F-35 or the Ford-class aircraft carrier.

Department of Defense has been aware of this vulnerability throughout the
COVID-19 crisis and immediately took steps to address it.

It started by designating the defense industrial base—including all its suppliers, not just its prime contractors, such as Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics—as critical infrastructure.

quick reaction allowed states to exclude defense suppliers from stay-at-home
orders, allowing those companies to keep their manufacturing lines open.

the virus has forced some suppliers to halt operations despite their critical-infrastructure
designation. In some cases, the virus has caused workers to remain home, either
because of sickness or over a concern about catching it.

suppliers are small businesses that cannot afford to stop work for weeks or months.
To address those cash-flow issues, the Pentagon announced on March 20 it would
increase progress payments to prime contractors by $3 billion with the
expectation that the prime contractors would pass those funds along down their
supply chains.

Progress payments ordinarily are made monthly to contractors for costs and work performed for a contract. The payments are made as a percentage of the total cost, with the balance to be paid when the contract is completed. The rate is typically 80%, but has been raised to 90% for large businesses and 95% for small businesses.

Martin and Boeing have already announced plans to flow those funds to their

suppliers are not the only issue for the defense industrial base, however. International
suppliers are just as vital to American defense acquisition programs, and the
Pentagon has far less influence over their ability to continue production.

has not exempted its defense industry from stay-at-home orders, causing delays
for U.S. programs (particularly in aerospace) that rely on Mexican components.

of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord said on Monday she was
writing a letter to Mexican Foreign Affairs Minister Marcelo Ebrard to ask that
he help reopen key suppliers.

there are concerns that COVID-19’s impact on the F-35’s globalized supply chain
will cause delays to the program. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein
says he expects delays in the F-35 program due to the virus, and he is already
working with his counterparts in the program’s partner countries to mitigate
supply chain risks.

started a robust discussion with the international air chiefs,” Goldfein said
on Wednesday, adding he had already spoken to the chiefs of staff of the
Italian and Canadian air forces.

He’s not solely concerned with keeping suppliers open as critical infrastructure. Rather, he wants to work with allies to consider the question, “How do we collaborate and ensure that the tier-two and tier-three suppliers remain healthy through this COVID period, so that we have a healthy industrial base at the back end of it?”

The coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the supply chain likely will have a small positive side effect; namely, improving the Department of Defense’s supply-chain visibility and making that knowledge a higher priority in the future.

was asked in her press briefing
Monday what the Pentagon has learned about its visibility—or lack thereof—into
its supply chains and how she would like to change that. She said her team has
been “focusing on supply chain illumination tools in the last couple of weeks.”

doubt those tools will benefit the Pentagon far beyond the coronavirus


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