While the U.S. government has come to realize in recent years the danger posed to the defense supply chain, more is needed. Specifically, two recommendations are offered to ensure better-informed supply chain protections are pursued and that the Navy postured when needed to secure strategic materials. These include:
The Commerce Department, in collaboration with the Department of Defense, must broaden strategic materials market monitoring. On January 25, 2021, the Commerce Department established the Aluminum Import Monitoring and Analysis (AIM) system modeled on a similar program established for steel. Similar programs should be established for strategic imports such as microelectronics, tungsten and titanium to ensure the fullest knowledge of market trends that could jeopardize the Navy’s access.
The Navy should inform long-range presence, posture, and engagement planning with the intent of securing strategic materials. In certain cases, a strategic product or natural resource cannot feasibly be on-shored or domestically sourced within the timeframes of a conflict. An awareness of such cases should both guide where the Navy operates and inform its wider engagement plans.
Overall, a free market connected globally provides the best environment for widespread prosperity, but reliance on overseas markets comes with security risks that must be weighed carefully. Driven by favorable market trends, China has become the principal source of too many vital products and materials. This creates a serious strategic risk, one that may be ameliorated only by customer diversification and at least some degree of on-shoring.
For the Navy, the goal is to minimize susceptibility to coercion and maximize the sustainment of forces in a conflict. Sadly, not since the Cold War has there been a sustained and comprehensive attempt to mitigate over-reliance on overseas sources of strategic resources and products.
The author of Rebuilding America’s Military: The United States Navy, Brent D. Sadler is the senior fellow for naval warfare and advanced technology in The Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense.