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Managing Materials for a Twenty-First Century Military
developing the technology required to mass produce firearms with interchangeable parts. This effort ultimately played an important role in the development of the American system of manufactures (Hounshell, 1984; Mowery et al., 1998), which fostered the growth of machine tools and trained machinists in the United States and ultimately propelled U.S. manufacturing technology to the fore in the global competition taking place in a variety of commercial industries. In the late 1800s, the U.S. Navy worked closely with the U.S. steel industry to secure access to foreign know-how in high-performance steel, needed to make advanced armor plating for American warships, and underwrote the development of U.S. steelmakers’ capabilities in high-quality steels.
During World War I, the Army acted to create an American aircraft industry virtually overnight, where previously there had been none. After the war, the military experimented with a variety of ways to procure successive generations of cutting-edge aircraft as the technology evolved. These experiments ultimately led to the modern U.S. system for procuring high-tech weapons systems. Also during that same war, the Navy had become concerned with the security of the long-distance radio communications that had become essential to command and control in naval warfare. In the 1920s, accordingly, it stepped in to create a pool for all major American radio patents and formed the industrial giant RCA to guarantee that cutting-edge radio technology would remain in U.S. hands.
World War II, for the first time perhaps, was a war that was ultimately won by disruptive advances in technology—the first electronic digital computers, radar, and nuclear weapons, among others. The entire scientific enterprise in the United States—in universities, in industries, in research laboratories—was mobilized and harnessed to the war effort. U.S. industrial capabilities were also integrated into the effort—IBM production lines were converted from office equipment to machine guns, Ford manufactured bombers, and Kaiser turned out cargo ships. Total war meant total industrial mobilization, and that lesson was carried to the Cold War that followed.
The lessons of wartime mobilization learned during the first half of the twentieth century were honed in the 1950s and 1960s into the modern American system of weapons acquisition. The military services were reorganized into the modern Department of Defense, with a civilian control structure established over all aspects of national security. Civilian control was also firmly asserted over the procurement of major weapons systems during this epoch, and in the early 1960s, under corporate management expert Robert McNamara, the modern mechanisms of long-range planning and budgetary programming were firmly embedded in the culture of the Pentagon, where they continue to hold sway.
In modern parlance, “tapered integration” —whereby a firm produces part of its own requirements and buys the rest from outside suppliers—was used to create a mix of internal, government-run production capacity and external, privately run