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Linkages: Manufacturing Trends in Electronic Interconnection Technology 5 A Systems Approach Printed circuit boards (PrCBs) are a key technology for the current and continued success of nearly every intelligent system in use today—consumer electronics and telecommunications come immediately to mind, and transportation, energy, and infrastructure follow quickly. The dependence on PrCBs of systems for national and homeland security is also very clear. The transformation of today’s fighting force to a more connected, electronic, and instrumented fighting force means that the Department of Defense (DoD) now buys more PrCBs than ever before, for almost every system in use. The technology to manufacture these components and systems is becoming increasingly complex. New technologies for substrates, interconnection technologies, packaging, and design are enabling a new generation of devices and electronics. Yet for many commercial applications, costs are going down as complexity goes up. The cost of the newest technologies is now driven not by military technology pull but by commercial push and, inevitably, by the globalization of the industry surrounding this product. After they are fabricated, printed circuit boards are populated with electronic components and integrated circuits, and then the system is programmed. Through the innovation of designers and the variety of design options, any of these pieces—the PrCB, the microchip, or the software—can carry key military mission data, and any of them may be vulnerable to a variety of threats. While each system must be analyzed to determine the vulnerabilities and threats to which it may be subject, the committee believes that printed circuit technology is of critical importance to many U.S. defensive efforts. FINDINGS A number of facts were reported to the committee in the course of its data-gathering efforts. Some of these are included in the findings presented in this section. Defense acquisition is increasingly focused on electronics as the backbone for a transformed military force. Printed circuit boards are used in almost every new military system and in a great number of critical legacy systems; the boards range widely in size, complexity, and importance. However, decisions to “make” or “buy” printed circuit boards have tipped toward “buy” over the past dozen years. This trend includes DoD itself, system integrators (also known as prime contractors, or primes), and a number of component manufacturers. For a variety of reasons, over the same past dozen years, DoD has reduced its oversight of subsystem sourcing for electronics. The electronics industry itself has changed dramatically in the past 5 years. Key electronics-manufacturing knowledge and capabilities are migrating away from the United States and its key allies. Industry demographics worldwide have changed. In the recent past, the printed circuit board industry was made up of many medium-size, distributed businesses; it is now characterized by a few large companies and a moderate number of smaller businesses. Certain industry demographics in the United States have also changed. Estimates show that there currently are 21 manufacturers of rigid PrCBs in the United States and 8 for flex boards for DoD. The
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Linkages: Manufacturing Trends in Electronic Interconnection Technology printed circuit industry was formerly diverse; today, it is primarily made up of small businesses focused on niche, high-end industries. It is generally accepted that the majority of the production of and markets for PrCBs have gone worldwide in the past decade; as this outsourcing has progressed, the evidence shows that the level of research and development (R&D) in the industry has dropped. What smaller amount of R&D currently done is focused on process efficiencies and not on developing new products. This trend, not unique to the printed circuit board industry, is indicative of a new innovation cycle that is evolving and is no longer linear. Small, focused innovation cycles appear to exist within many steps in the supply chain. This trend makes innovation more difficult to capture, direct, tie together, apply, track, and measure. Key advances in electronics technology are increasingly focused (to the point of exclusion) on consumer electronics. This change is driven by pressure for higher returns on investment. Competition in such high-volume manufacturing applications as personal computers, cellular telephones, and network equipment has resulted in shorter life cycles (of 2 years or less) and increased manufacturing in the Asia-Pacific region. Since the expected product life is short, requirements from underlying PrCB technology have moved from reliability and durability to performance, configuration, and cost. In contrast with the high-growth, high-volume consumer markets, most defense requirements are for low-volume production, with highly specialized component design and life cycles that can be more than 15 years. For such components, reliability and durability are far more important than in most commercial industries. The medical electronics industry offers the best parallel, with similar low-volume/high-mix and life-cycle requirements. A low-volume/high-mix requirement for electronics products generally leads to higher engineering and design costs. This mix also mandates premium manufacturing pricing compared with that for high-volume products such as cellular telephones. Thus, DoD will not be able to take full advantage of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) parts and will always pay a heavy premium for custom, low-volume parts with the latest processing technology. Further, companies that compete in the high-volume products area do not have economic incentives to develop and maintain small-scale state-of-the-art PrCB facilities that can manage the DoD’s volume requirements or incorporate improved manufacturing materials or processes. The assumed patterns of technology development and technology transfer on which the DoD’s policies are based are no longer valid. There is currently little incentive for large defense contractors to invest in research and development to compete for and win government contracts. This change is partly due to the pyramid of mergers and acquisitions in the defense sector, which has resulted in only a handful of companies. This lessening of competitive pressures has reduced the drive to spend internal R&D funds to improve performance. A more insidious cause may be the pressure across the government to cut costs. This pressure has resulted in a higher and higher aversion to any risk, and so new capabilities are not specified. Taken to an extreme, this could eventually lead to a stagnation in innovation of any sort. Some agencies in the intelligence community, as an example, want access to the most cutting-edge technology. Other agencies are more risk-averse; they need to make sure that such systems as air traffic control work. However, system designers for DoD systems want access to all technology for R&D, even though they may not be able to use it immediately; one reason for wanting such access, of course, is to avoid technology surprise. This poses a process challenge to DoD to incentivize understanding and discovery of new technologies and innovation. A technology may not be critical today but strategically may be in the future. These different timescales have different criteria, different results, and require different strategies. Finally, much speculation exists as to the role of the United States in a truly globalized economy. If in the future the United States must compete for key economic resources such as financing, oil, and electronic components, DoD supplies may be affected. For example, if policy differences arise, other countries may be able to slow down or limit access to critical DoD components that may include advanced PrCBs. CONSIDERATIONS The committee identified a number of changing factors that affect the cost, availability, and quality of printed circuit boards for military applications. Among these factors are the following:
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Linkages: Manufacturing Trends in Electronic Interconnection Technology The variations in application, size, materials, and expected life of PrCBs cover a substantial range. At one end of this scale are commodity products, such as the small, flex PrCBs used in cellular telephones. At the other end are products so unique that only a captive manufacturer is capable and willing to produce them. Many military applications require very quick turnaround on design and production, and the need to surge (and fade) in response to demand can be unavoidable. At one end of this scale are routine products that are ordered on a regular basis and have a relatively stable configuration, and whose production must be increased rapidly. At the other end are new products that are needed so quickly and suddenly that only a captive manufacturer may be able and willing to produce them. The variations in layers, processes, and designs of PrCBs can seem limitless. While more standard products may be easy to test for functionality, some military demands on PrCBs may cause them to fail or to perform in wholly untestable ways. The consequences either of failure or of unpredictable behavior could be of such import that only a trusted manufacturer can produce these. The quality of consumer electronics can differ vastly from that of military components. PrCBs that are used in throw-away products such as toys and cellular telephones are not likely to work in defense systems designed to be reliable and durable for up to 30 years in extreme environments. Much of today’s R&D is focused on these high-volume, short-life applications. The security of the product throughout the supply chain, including protection from tampering, is important to national security. In some cases, ensuring this security may require the use of classified production facilities. Compliance with environmental regulations can be problematic for defense procurement. While military applications may be exempt from the law, many manufacturers cannot operate effectively under dual standards. As the manufacturing industry becomes more globalized, the predominance of global standards and the public pressure to maintain control of the life cycle of products and by-products across all of commercial and defense production may become dominant issues. Dealing with any of these factors will add cost to a product. Dealing with all of them, every day, is the lot of today’s DoD acquisition official. Manufacturing and Globalization On top of the factors listed above, the better-known factors must also be considered—for example, delivery schedules, compliance with existing regulations (such as International Traffic and Arms Regulations [ITAR] and the Buy American Act of 1933), and compatibility with other systems. Today’s acquisition officials have never been squeezed in so many directions at once. Certainly they must think beyond the “little m” view of manufacturing, generally understood to be direct production, design, and process technology. They must take a broader view of manufacturing that includes process development, supply-chain management, quality, and workforce issues. In today’s business environment, an acquisition official will also consider a supplier in terms of its approach to e-business, product distribution, and strategic planning. There is currently no premium or price increment tied to the critical nature of a component, nor to the vulnerabilities or threats that may affect it. The overriding directive remains the low bid. This approach needs to be changed. It is becoming more apparent in the trend toward globalization that DoD acquisition as an entity must take the very broad view into account. By this, the committee means the importance to the nation of manufacturing and innovation in the U.S. economy. This broad view encompasses international trade policies, geopolitics, offsets and tariffs, workforce pay differentials, the cost of insurance, the cost of environmental compliance, and many other overarching factors. These are very difficult factors to incorporate into acquisition decisions, and yet they all matter greatly. In this much wider view, U.S. manufacturing capability directly reflects the nation’s capacity for innovation, its economic development, and its focus on education and training. An important consideration is the potential futility of fostering successful innovation and then finding no U.S.
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Linkages: Manufacturing Trends in Electronic Interconnection Technology manufacturing base capable of utilizing the new ideas. Such factors will ultimately have a substantial effect on the diversity of people and thought in the United States and on our ability to prosper as a nation. The Separation of Innovation and Manufacturing During the committee’s deliberations, the question arose as to whether the U.S. military will be able to support the development of or even access to emerging circuit board technology if manufacturing is no longer done in the United States. The changes in industry demographics have led to changes in the real and potential supply chain for U.S. military applications. This supply chain includes research and development. The way that outsourcing has occurred has led to a real reduction in worldwide R&D in PrCBs and to a lack of new technology capability in the United States. The committee concluded that a more standardized framework is needed to address this challenge. Because PrCBs are extremely diverse as a technology and because their applications are equally diverse, this challenge does not have a simple solution. In contemplating the situation, the committee observed two faces of the issue: one is that the United States will always buy the best, most cost-effective technology for the warfighter; the other is that all tax dollars should substantially benefit the taxpayer, so this country will always buy American. Clearly, both imperatives cannot be met. A number of issues come into this debate. For example, if only critical components should be granted waivers under the Buy American Act, what is a critical component? One definition says that it is a product or service that substantially affects the warfighter. Another definition of “critical” says that it is a product or service requirement that cannot be met using conventional acquisition practices or solution paths. Yet another definition says that the critical component is of such complexity that it cannot be adequately tested using normal means in a timely manner and must therefore be procured from a trusted source. The trusted source issue is also fraught with competing complications. Many American companies expect to be considered trusted sources simply because they are on U.S. soil. Clearly, factors such as foreign ownership, the employment of foreign nationals, and the potential for a change toward more foreign ownership, employment of more foreign workers, or even moving production or research to a foreign location, must be considered. According to an interesting alternative definition, a trusted source is one that delivers a product or service that does not necessarily need to be tested upon receipt (such as a commodity—for example, fuel from ExxonMobil). The concept of a trusted source becomes muddier upon considering the increasing move toward performance-based contracting with no process or component oversight, as well as the increasing reliance that the military is putting on fewer and fewer prime contractors. Certainly one option is to rely on the prime contractor to test and guarantee a component's performance—at least during the first round of the planned lifetime of a system. Finally, the issue of a captive source is also difficult. Fewer and fewer processes are wholly defense-unique, and it is more and more difficult to defend keeping enhanced commercial processes under ITAR jurisdiction. A long-time push by DoD to eliminate captive sources has closed many DoD facilities and continues to threaten small shops that have filled that need. In the course of this discussion, the committee observed that embracing only “buy the best” or only “benefit the taxpayer” is an undesirable position; it is neither realistic nor practical to lean all the way to one side or the other. Clearly, better technology is preferable, and it should be procured where it is available. However, it is the opinion of the committee that the United States is a nation of innovators. With adequate incentives, U.S. companies will produce better or equivalent technology at least part of the time. Buying American has a number of benefits that are not financial. These include improved access during wartime, easier establishment of trusted sources, and the ability to leverage other U.S.-based technology and education. A final observation is that when the number of suppliers for any component becomes small enough, a buyer will begin to treat this small group as trusted sources and as captive sources. At that point, the responsibility as a buyer is to sustain these sources. In such a relationship, the responsibility of the source, clearly, is to stay in business. In a business sense, the implications of trusted sourcing mean that the buyer will buy no matter what, that the buyer and seller are partnered in a mutually beneficial relationship, and that neither party will take action inconsistent with that trust—even if it means higher
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Linkages: Manufacturing Trends in Electronic Interconnection Technology cost for the buyer or lower return on investment for the manufacturer. A trusted supplier can be trusted to do business in a sufficiently observable, transparent, and controlled manner that unacceptable outcomes are eliminated. Finally, the committee considered what is needed to sustain a design capability for PrCBs in the United States. The corresponding question is whether such a capability is needed. While manufacturing opened the path toward outsourcing, design has quickly followed. Therefore, if the United States is willing to lose manufacturing capabilities, DoD must be prepared to lose U.S.-based design capabilities as well. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS Recommendation 1: The Department of Defense should address the ongoing need for printed circuit boards (PrCBs) in legacy defense systems by continuing to use the existing manufacturing capability that is resident at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division (Indiana) and at Warner Robins Air Logistics Center (Georgia), as well as contractors currently providing legacy PrCB support. In the short term, the captive manufacturing capability in place should continue to be used. Some very competent capability exists in a variety of places, such as (1) military facilities, including laboratories with limited production capabilities at the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center in Georgia and the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division, in Indiana; (2) small shops and boutique contractors; and (3) some defense prime contractors and their major subcontractors. This combination is currently adequate but needs to be protected; if any of these elements is shut down, action should be taken to ensure that the other elements can address the government’s need. Geographic considerations should be taken into account; for example, a harsh weather event in Indiana or Georgia could have the effect of shutting down the sole source for some components for an extended period. In addition, this network should have redundant capabilities to address needs across all services. And the network could be expanded, if desired, to encompass the needs of other government agencies, such as the intelligence community, NASA, the U.S. Postal Service, and the Air Traffic Control System—all of which have similar legacy needs. Many older commercial and municipal infrastructures are also potential users, such as older supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems that control water, electricity, and other utilities. These additional users could enhance capabilities and add robustness to such a network. Meeting some requirements for low-volume/high-mix PrCB components with life cycles that may exceed 15 years may depend on a dedicated infrastructure that tracks PrCB industry advances. For a large number of “last resort” projects, reverse engineering is currently the plan for instances in which no commercial source can bid and no specification drawings are available. It is most desirable that the need for reverse engineering be avoided by means of provisions in all contracts to acquire design drawing and specifications in the event that they are needed. Until this can be ensured, however, the government laboratories that currently have this needed capability should be sustained. Estimates are that $1 million to $2 million per year per facility is needed to maintain the status quo. Typical equipment needed for today’s production might include a laser drill, a laser trimmer, a plating line, and a direct imaging unit. Each of these pieces of equipment costs between $0.5 million and $1.5 million. Because any facility should turn over or fully refurbish its equipment every 3 to 5 years, a company with $10 million worth of equipment should be investing, on average, $3 million a year in this effort. Capability maintenance will cost more over time, given that the number of competitors is decreasing (that is, some qualified shops are closing) and that the complexity of the technology is increasing. DoD should also consider that a periodic influx of new funding will be needed in order to get to the next generation of “legacy,” as system lifetime and component use are extended past the original operational estimates. A more permanent solution would be for DoD to provide incentives in the form of one or more joint ventures to manufacture printed circuit boards with an established firm that would locate a manufacturing facility in the United States. Because PrCB manufacturing has a much lower cost of equipment and operations compared with that for manufacturing microchips, this may be a cost-effective solution for PrCBs, whereas it would be unworkable for chips. Such a joint venture facility could also supply all
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Linkages: Manufacturing Trends in Electronic Interconnection Technology classified or highly specialized boards and might also supply PrCBs to other specialized industries, such as those involving biomedical devices, law enforcement, or aerospace. Recommendation 2: The Department of Defense should develop a method to assess the materials, processes, and components for manufacture of the printed circuit boards (PrCBs) that are essential for properly functioning, secure defense systems. Such an assessment would identify what is needed to neutralize potential defense system vulnerabilities, mitigate threats to the supply chain for high-quality, trustworthy PrCBs, and thus help maintain overall military superiority. The status of potentially vulnerable materials, components, and processes identified as critical to ensuring an adequate supply of appropriate PrCBs for defense systems should then be monitored. This method must include an assessment of a number of factors. Such an assessment might call on different groups to assess each of the following areas: The need for an existing PrCB component or new PrCB technology should be assessed by military planning groups, and the results used to ensure access to the technologies required to field effective defense systems. The vulnerability of a defense system attributable to the PrCB component will require a separate assessment of operational characteristics and performance as well as potential exposures to security risks in the supply chain. The resulting information should be used to ensure the reliability and trustworthiness of PrCBs for secure, effective defense systems. The threat potentially posed to overall defense capabilities by lack of access to high-quality, trusted PrCB component technology will require a more specialized assessment for understanding how best to use DoD resources to maintain and enhance the nation’s security. Ultimately, these factors must be assessed for all items that depend on PrCBs, and this can easily lead to an assessment of all procured items. However, an initial assessment could fruitfully focus on PrCBs for two reasons. First, the committee believes that a number of PrCBs will exhibit the three factors listed above; and second, the sector is well enough defined that this would be a useful place to begin. A single organization would eventually be needed to look at all of these factors together and to find their confluences and to identify potential supply shortages. Only then can the government and the defense industrial base work together to protect critical components, to analyze mitigation solutions, and to build capabilities, with the ultimate goal of efficiently ensuring supply continuity. Recommendation 3: The Department of Defense (DoD) should ensure its access to current printed circuit board (PrCB) technology by establishing a competing network of shops that can be trusted to manufacture PrCBs for secure defense systems. In addition to being competitive among themselves, these suppliers should also be globally competitive to ensure the best technology for the U.S. warfighter and should be encouraged and supported to have state-of-the-art capabilities, including the ability to manufacture PrCBs that can be used in leaded and lead-free assemblies. To maintain this network of suppliers, DoD should, if necessary for the most critical and vulnerable applications, purchase more PrCBs than are required to meet daily consumption levels in order to sustain a critical mass in the trusted manufacturing base. To facilitate this network, DoD should consider establishing a program to purchase very low volume boards on a more-frequently-than-required—and more consistent—basis. Although these purchases might not be strictly necessary, having a supply of key components as a cushion can be useful for testing, training, or logistics management. More importantly, by providing suppliers with relatively stable production orders, the overall quality and timeliness of production might go up and costs might come down. DoD needs to become a much better supply-chain manager. Without the crutch of military specifications, DoD should work with its prime contractors to leverage the best practices of the electronics industry. Consideration should be given to both high-volume/low-mix industries, such as consumer electronics, and low-volume/high-mix industries with similar reliability concerns, such as biomedical
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Linkages: Manufacturing Trends in Electronic Interconnection Technology devices, off-road vehicles, or high-rise elevators.1 Such a strategy might be able to draw more potential suppliers into the pool through a better system for negotiation of requirements and qualifications. Also in the short term, a government-industry consortium should be established for small businesses in order to help make them more competitive, both to fill legacy needs and to provide stewardship of this important industry sector in the move to new technology capabilities. In this way, a small, diverse group of producers could be a sustainable source of military PrCB technology. For very urgent and low-volume needs, a portion of this network should be a program adequately funded to keep a captive capability with the ability to fabricate a wide variety of boards quickly. This capability should be redundant in order to ensure the availability of needed PrCBs. Finally, a model for close study may be the European PrCB industry. During the volatility of the past decade, many European PrCB manufacturers have remained commercially viable and sell into the high-volume consumer market. This success has supported a strong material and equipment supply base in Europe. Recommendation 4: The Department of Defense (DoD) should ensure access to new printed circuit board (PrCB) technology by expanding its role in fostering new PrCB design and manufacturing technology. DoD should sponsor aggressive, breakthrough-oriented research aimed at developing more flexible manufacturing processes for cost-effective, low-volume production of custom PrCBs. In conjunction with this effort, DoD should develop explicit mechanisms to integrate emerging commercial PrCB technologies into new defense systems, even if that means subsidizing the integration. These mechanisms should include more innovative design capabilities and improved accelerated testing methods to ensure PrCBs’ lifetime quality, durability, and compliance with evolving environmental regulations for the conditions and configurations unique to DoD systems. Because even the most capable small businesses have difficulty discovering and implementing innovations, DoD needs to take a larger role in fostering new PrCB and manufacturing technology. For the long term, state-changing research should be initiated to develop more-flexible manufacturing processes in order to enable the manufacturing of low-volume custom boards cost-effectively on high-volume commercial lines. In addition, programs should be initiated to integrate more-innovative design capabilities to take advantage of new commercial technologies in both new and legacy systems. Additional research should be initiated to develop improved accelerated testing methods to ensure lifetime quality and durability of PrCBs. This research should focus on improved reliability and durability for the unique conditions and configurations of DoD systems. To improve security, DoD-sponsored research should improve testing and inspection capabilities to enable detection of even the most subtle defects or other variabilities in order to ensure the stated performance of printed circuit boards. Corresponding incentives should be made for programs to integrate more innovative design into boards to improve security without sacrificing performance. Future designs might include more modular PrCB configurations that would allow newer technologies or capabilities to be easily plugged in later. An advantage of more modular design is that some elements could be procured through open solicitations, and a smaller fraction that carry proprietary or classified information would need to be manufactured by trusted sources. A modular design could allow these specialized elements to be plugged in (rather than manufactured with) the base product. A PATH FORWARD If the recommendations presented above are followed, the United States will be able to compete in the world market even for those items that are embedded in circuit boards and other systems. The strategy offered here will allow the United States to participate in and foster a free market society and to be a player in the world’s free market system. The committee believes that, as an unintended consequence of the growth of the global PrCB marketplace, the DoD’s ability to obtain needed PrCBs, in a secure manner, could be at serious risk. 1 Advanced Technology Institute. 2003. Managing Low Volume Parts. Final Report For DLA Aging Aircraft Initiative, Contract No. N001140-01-C-L622.
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Linkages: Manufacturing Trends in Electronic Interconnection Technology As insurance against unforeseen consequences of fully embracing the free market, DoD must recognize that some very specific needs will manifest periodically that will demand the highest reliability. If these needs are not met at certain periods of stress, that is, during wartime, DoD will suffer the consequences of failure. The recommendations above address what is at the heart of this issue. Put another way, the best way to kill a virus is to keep the host healthy. The committee believes that an integrated solution is reflected in its four recommendations and provides a lower-cost, lower-risk solution to an increasingly threatening situation. The committee further believes that all four recommendations should be implemented in parallel. The essence of this report is that DoD must better understand PrCB supply-chain and technology issues and must have the ability to manage research and production. DoD must ensure that each of the recommendations is accomplished by an independent office or certainly one granted the authority of independence. Regarding Recommendations 1 and 2, it is important that DoD receive the best information and analysis on the respective subjects. It is important to realize that bad facts make for bad decisions, and DoD must strive to understand the reliability of the information it receives. It is absolutely important that the administration (and subsequent administrations) recognize the importance of reliable data and ensure that there is an independence of operation that will allow the current defense officials to give a directive without restraint. Once the nation can trust the information from Recommendations 1 and 2, then Recommendations 3 and 4 can be addressed. The United States must have a safety net in the form of domestic manufacturing if, for example, those identified as trusted sources turn out to be less than satisfactory during hostilities. The nation cannot leave such a possibility to chance; the stakes are far too high to marginalize this issue and accept failure. Insurance is thus needed to offset such risk. An organic, or in-house, government manufacturing capability is needed, with the ability to surge the quantities that would be needed if trusted sources should prove unavailable or unreliable. This capability can be accomplished only if DoD has a facility that it operates and can dictate the production requirements. This facility could be contractor-owned, contractor-operated; it could be government-owned, contractor-operated; or it could be government-owned, government-operated. The facility would exist to provide a center of influence or knowledge; it could have a “warm line” in operation to facilitate rapid acceleration, if required. Although the approach of having an in-house, government manufacturing capability advocates additional expense in the procurement process, experience has shown that regardless of the completeness or perceived efficiency of war plans existing at the start of hostilities, such an organic capability within DoD control would be invaluable in such an eventuality. Further, such a facility should be assigned to a DoD agency with responsibility and authority to develop and maintain adequate budgets to meet DoD needs. The agency should be prepared to report to the Secretary of Defense the extent of industrial preparedness planning. Such tracking should be a constant and essential element of agency reporting. Keeping this level of visibility on the subject would protect the function from inevitable budget cuts that result from the influence of those who have not experienced or do not fully appreciate the problems of supplying the logistics of a nation going to war or of sustaining a nation at war.
Representative terms from entire chapter: