Aerospace Industrial Base Can’t Handle The Future: Mitchell Institute

The F-35 aside, the report recommends that the Air Force “resist future participation in any joint aircraft procurement or development programs.”
WASHINGTON: The US aerospace industrial base cannot meet emerging the Air Force’s or the wider military’s needs for rapid innovation to stay ahead of peer competitors, the Mitchell Institute says. 

“What we found was that the structure and business models of today’s aerospace defense industrial base is not configured to invent, develop or deliver the force, the future needs, and certainly not at the pace that a technologically peer adversary will demand,” Heather Penney, senior resident fellow at Mitchell, said today.

“Time is the new offset; adaptation is our new advantage,” said Dave Deptula, the institute’s dean, today.

The aerospace industrial base just isn’t capable of delivering those new capabilities fast enough because it has not been incentivized by the Air Force or DoD to do so, he explained. To change that, Deptula said, the service needs to overhaul how it develops and buys weapon systems as fast as possible — without waiting for overarching DoD policy reforms to kick start its internal efforts.

“To field advanced capabilities at the speed that our warfighters need, the defense industry needs to expand and business models must shift away from sustaining the past toward developing the future, he said. “The Air Force doesn’t have to wait on acquisition reforms, or other policies to make this happen. It can change his procurement paradigms to accelerate its own transformation and rejuvenate the aerospace industry.”

The report, Building an Agile Force: The Imperative for Speed and Adaptation in the U.S. Aerospace Industrial Base, cites three critical industrial base problems that the Air Force must address if it is to meet the goals of Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown’s “Accelerate Change or Lose” strategy.

  • Lack of competition among today’s few, vertically integrated mega-corporations, resulting from a paucity of development opportunities. The report notes that in the 1950s there were 19 companies building fighter aircraft; now there are two.
  • A shift in defense sector skill sets from those needed to innovate to those focused on integration. This focus “limits innovation,” because it is tied to legacy platforms and thus creates a “barrier to advancing capability.”
  • “Sustainment as a primary profit center disincentivizes innovation and new designs.”
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