he Defense Department has created a new task force dedicated to addressing ongoing challenges with its supply chain visibility and resiliency, including ways to mitigate risk.
Gregory Kausner, who is currently handling the duties of under secretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, stood up the Supply Chain Resiliency Working Group on Aug. 30, the Pentagon said last week.
“A comprehensive strategic approach will take time, dedicated attention, and resources,” Kausner said in a Department release announcing the task force. “Effective implementation begins with understanding our vulnerabilities and the necessary responses, so we can focus our efforts to build greater resiliency across critical supply chains.”
The task force will build on existing DoD efforts to shore up supply chain risks that have been an increasingly critical concern for the Pentagon, Congress, and the Biden administration. The COVID-19 pandemic, in particular, brought some long-perceived supply chain vulnerabilities into stark light, with an official in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence earlier this spring characterizing the events of the past year as a “wake-up call.”
“We are working to solve a problem that took 50 years to evolve,” Kausner said.
According to the release, the Office of Industrial Policy, led by Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Industrial Policy Jesse Salazar, will spearhead the task force’s activities.
“It coalesces efforts from across the Department and provides a mechanism to develop a framework and proactive strategy to change the way DoD does business and better secure our supply chains,” Salazar said in the Department release.
The task force’s work is expected to take two years to complete, according to DoD, although it did not provide details around project scope, milestones, or expected outcomes.
In February President Joe Biden issued an executive order requiring a comprehensive review of US supply chains. That order requires DoD early next year to report “initial findings” on defense supply chain issues. But the new task force will go beyond merely “reporting requirements,” the Department said.
The Biden administration’s proposed 2022 defense budget included language addressing the defense supply chain, characterizing microelectronics manufacturing in particular as “fragile and threatened.” The budget seeks $2.5 billion in funding to address “capabilities and capacity” for chips used in weapons systems and commercial off-the-shelf technologies (COTS), which range from servers to smartphones.
More recently, a bipartisan congressional task force released a report on the defense critical supply chain, in which it noted existing risks to microelectronics such as semiconductors, as well as rare earth elements (which are essential to making a range of electronics and industrial components), medical supplies, and other important products. That report gave six legislative actions for shoring up defense supply chains, and DoD’s new task force looks set to directly address some of them, including actions around risk assessment and improving visibility.
The DoD is already moving to address the chip issue through a multi-year, multi-program strategy that involves the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research & Engineering (OUSD R&E), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, and the National Security Technology Accelerator, or NSTXL.
Approximately 70 percent of chips globally are currently made in Asia. Last month, the Pentagon announced that US tech giants Intel and Qualcomm have been chosen through the NSTXL-run RAMP-C (Rapid Advanced Microelectronics Prototypes-Commercial) program to diversify chip designs for defense applications, as well as to bolster capacity by spinning up a US-based foundry, which is a specialized facility for manufacturing chips.
“RAMP-C’s objective is to enable DoD assured access to leading-edge semiconductor technology through US located sources of custom and dual-use leading edge integrated circuits,” Brett Hamilton, distinguished scientist for trusted microelectronics at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Division and deputy principal director microelectronics OUSD R&E, said in a release announcing the first phase RAMP-C awards. “This will enable implementation of complex, computation intensive artificial intelligence algorithms for DoD AI, electronic warfare, radar, and autonomy applications. It will also facilitate use of integrated robust cybersecurity methods, cryptography, and authentication in DoD hardware and utilization of the complex computational capability required for 5G radio access network RAN and Internet of Things systems.”
In an organization as large and unwieldy as the Pentagon, the chip problem is just one of many supply chain hurdles that the task force was presumably created to help overcome. But, officials acknowledged, it will take time.
“The working group is a down payment on a long-term problem,” Salazar said.