US Manufacturing Ecosystem Key to Economic Growth, Innovation and Competitiveness > US Department of Defense > Department of Defense news


As an era approaches where automation and cognitive computing are seamlessly connected to smart factories, supply chains are entering a fourth industrial revolution known as Industry 4.0. This transformation, driven by advanced digital technologies across engineering and manufacturing, will put the U.S. manufacturing ecosystem at the forefront of modernization – and with it the demand for a sustainable talent pool and strong domestic manufacturing hubs.

“America’s manufacturing ecosystem has been a key driver of economic growth, innovation and competitiveness for over 200 years — and has played a critical role in developing and advancing the technologies that ensure our national security,” said Bill LaPlante, undersecretary of defense for procurement and sustainability , during a speech celebrating October as the month of manufacture. “Today, the US is in a technological and economic race to maintain its manufacturing lead, particularly when it comes to critical defense systems such as satellites, advanced munitions and communications technologies.”

Advanced Manufacturing is changing the nature of manufacturing, creating new, technically advanced, and better-paying positions. Today’s factories are safe, bright, and energetic centers of technology run and managed by capable, educated people—a stark contrast to the portrayal of the noisy, dark factories of the past.

Known manufacturing bottlenecks across all sectors – including skilled labor, machine tools, critical chemicals and reliance on foreign resources – affect operational readiness.

The Department of Defense is taking decisive action to address these challenges to achieve two goals: maintain the ability and capacity to sustain legacy systems; and expand and modernize manufacturing capabilities to build tomorrow’s defense systems. These efforts will require significant investments in American labor and infrastructure, including $372 million in the President’s 2023 budget, to strengthen the country’s supply chains through domestic manufacturing.

“As engines of economic growth, American manufacturers contribute more than $2.35 trillion to the US economy – every dollar spent in manufacturing adds an additional $2.79 to the economy, which represents the highest multiplier effect of any sector,” said LaPlante.

Economic advantages in production

  • In the US today, manufacturing accounts for just 11% of US GDP, yet it is responsible for 35% of America’s productivity growth and 60% of our exports
  • US manufacturing is the primary driver of innovation in the US, accounting for 55% of all patents and 70% of all research and development spending
  • Today, manufacturing employs over 12.5 million people and provides rewarding jobs with living wages
  • Every job in manufacturing creates 7 to 12 new jobs in other related industries, helping to build and sustain our economy

In support, the Industrial Base Analysis and Sustainment program in the department’s Acquisition and Sustainability Office is leading several projects aimed at improving industrial manufacturing capacity, supply chain capability and stability, and human resource development.

Calling for industry, government and academia to work together, Adele Ratcliff, IBAS program director, recognizes today’s need for national manufacturing as “a critical time for America — and a time that is poised to be a national crisis.”

With 64 active and planned projects in key grassroots sectors of the defense industry, the program effort assembles a coalition of stakeholders and public-private partnerships that design, build and produce critical technologies and chemicals to ensure combatants retain lasting benefits. Defense-critical sectors at the heart of this effort include labor, castings and forgings, microelectronics, batteries, kinetics and critical chemicals.

skilled worker

To address the threat that an aging and shrinking manufacturing workforce poses to U.S. national security, IBAS has committed approximately $130 million to 16 unique job-related projects since launching its National Imperative for Industrial Skills initiative in 2020 projects invested.

NIIS aims to create an enduring, national public-private response to create a robust ecosystem for industrial workforce development. The initiative recognizes that isolated, one-off approaches to addressing national skills gaps will not be sufficiently effective. Instead, the Department of Defense is well-positioned to drive coordinated efforts for an integrated approach at the local, regional and national levels – all based on a common operating model.

The basic principles of the model emphasize the identification of industry needs and the promotion of collaboration with education, as well as the consideration of the interdependence of similar facilities, devices and processes driven by relevant industry needs. This approach focuses on developing deeper and sustained collaboration between all levels of education (K-12, 2-year post-high school, and 4-year post-high school) and industry (small and medium-sized manufacturers, large OEM). and charitable and government support activities.

NIIS activities this month alone include the Accelerated Training in Defense Manufacturing Summit in Danville, Virginia and the X-STEM NOVA conference event in Chantilly, Virginia. Both events are specifically designed to engage stakeholders and inspire students through activities that introduce them to manufacturing processes.

In addition, the Department of Defense program focuses on developing manual skills through national competitions. Project MFG will host the next round of welding competitions at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. So far, more than 62 school teams with a total of more than 320 individual participants have taken part in the MFG project competitions. The program currently focuses on advanced computer controlled machining, welding, metrology, project management and other industrial skills using state-of-the-art digital methods.

Next generation machine tools

A flagship initiative of IBAS dedicated to meeting the critical need for machine tools to support defense production is America’s Cutting Edge program, which began in March 2020. The initiative brings together the scientific expertise of the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory; the research and teaching capability of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville; and the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation leadership to revitalize the US machine tool sector through transformative thinking, technology and training.

Through ACENet, an affiliated network of regional machine tool innovation and workforce development centers in Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia, the Department of Defense is working to increase the efficiency of existing machine tools while developing next-generation machine tool skills and training for composites and metals. This includes establishing efforts to rapidly train the next generation of machine tool designers and operators.

“In order for the US to develop the best weapons systems in the world, it’s important that we remain competitive in these critical capabilities,” LaPlante said. “Advanced manufacturing innovation is key to how we can adapt and transform defense production and build capacity to respond in the event of a national emergency.”

For example, during the COVID-19 response, ACE led efforts to develop new tools that helped U.S. manufacturers produce millions of sets of personal protective equipment every day. ACE has also made US machining far more cost-effective by designing and implementing a simple test that can improve material removal rates by a factor of three. This simple test saves thousands of hours of machine and operator time and millions of dollars per year. Through industry collaboration, ACE is sharing the test and related information throughout the US machining community.

“We must use all the tools at our disposal to support the rollout of new, advanced manufacturing technologies across a number of critical sectors of the defense industry — including biomanufacturing, renewable energy, batteries and microelectronics,” LaPlante said. “We must work to support American workers by expanding the talent pipelines that will support the advanced manufacturing jobs of the future.”

About the manufacturing month

Manufacturing Month is celebrated each October to highlight the efforts of modern manufacturing and the importance of manufacturing and innovation to US economic and national security. The celebration provides an opportunity to showcase how the Department of Defense is working with industry, academic organizations, and public bodies to renew and strengthen U.S. manufacturing, raise awareness of advanced manufacturing careers, and empower the current and next generation of Prepare workers for the future with the skills and well-paying jobs.

Manufacturing Month underscores the ongoing efforts and advances of this government. The Biden-Harris economy has brought tremendous gains to American manufacturing. For example, manufacturing employment has risen by 668,000 jobs since January 2021 – and as of August 2022 is now 67,000 above pre-pandemic levels – a milestone reached faster than in any post-recession recovery since 1953. In 2021 more manufacturing jobs have been created than in any single year in nearly 30 years. The Department of Defense’s efforts to strengthen manufacturing and innovation ecosystems in communities across America play an important role in this agency-wide effort as they strengthen our national security and help the U.S. compete successfully in the industries and technologies of the future.

(Ms. Bistarkey is the director of strategic communications in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Procurement and Sustainability.)

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