Study: US military too reliant on foreign-made equipment

The new report questions the military's use of foreign semiconductor and telecom equipment

By , IDG News Service |  IT Management

The U.S. military's reliance on foreign-made products, including telecommunications equipment and semiconductors, is putting the nation's security at risk by exposing agencies to faulty parts and to the possibility that producing nations will stop selling vital items, according to a new report from the Alliance for American Manufacturing.

The current level of risk to the U.S. military's supply chain is "frightening," said John Adams, a retired U.S. Army general and president of Guardian Six Consulting, the company that wrote the report. "We incur unacceptable national security risks as we outsource key sectors of the defense industrial base."

The U.S. government should instead encourage local manufacturing of military equipment and investment in U.S. high-tech industries that are vital to military agencies, the report said.

"The United States' national security is threatened by our military's growing and dangerous reliance on foreign nations for the raw materials, parts, and finished products needed to defend the American people," said the report, released Wednesday. "The health of our manufacturing sector is inextricably intertwined with our national security, and it is vital that we strengthen the sector."

As the U.S. sees growing cyberthreats from Asia, allowing critical defense products to come from "China and other potentially unreliable suppliers just doesn't make sense," said Scott Paul, president of the alliance, a coalition of U.S. manufacturing groups.

The report covers a wide range of military products and raw materials, including steel armor plates, lithium-ion batteries and night-vision goggles. But counterfeit and faulty commercial, off-the-shelf (COTS) semiconductors and telecom equipment made outside the U.S. are also hurting the U.S. military's ability to do its job, Adams said.

"These COTS parts often lack the quality control necessary to meet the rigorous standards we expect of our military equipment," he said.

Three U.S. lawmakers attended an alliance press conference and called for the U.S. government to encourage more domestic military manufacturing. Buying from overseas manufacturers may save some money in the short term but costs U.S. jobs in the long term, said Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat.

"Our administration should have a holistic view of cost," he said.

Semiconductors are used in several military systems, including missiles and rockets, helicopters and fighter jets, radar systems, and computers, the report said. The U.S. share of semiconductor fabrication has decreased from nearly 50 percent in 1980 to 15 percent in 2012, according to the report.

The U.S. is in danger of losing a technological edge as more semiconductor fabrication moves overseas, the report said.

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