The White House plans to assess the current state of the U.S. defense industry’s infrastructure following the release of its inaugural defense industrial base report earlier this month, a senior administration official said Oct. 24.

“It is long past time for an assessment … of our infrastructure,” said Peter Navarro, assistant to the president and director of the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, at the National Defense Transportation Association’s fall meeting in National Harbor, Maryland.

Sailors assist shipyard workers moving a crane aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Marques Franklin)
Sailors assist shipyard workers moving a crane aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Marques Franklin)

Speaking to a room full of U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM) officials, logistics industry professionals and other government personnel, Navarro said the country’s transportation assets “have faced years of underinvestment and, often, neglect that has produced significant strengths and gaps.”

President Trump and his administration want to rebuild the country’s infrastructure, “but to do it in a way which also recognizes the defense components,” he said. This effort will be “the next leg of the defense industrial base assessment,” he added. That appraisal, which was laid out in an Oct. 5 report titled, “Assessing and Strengthening the Manufacturing and Defense Industrial Base and Supply Chain Resiliency of the United States,” found more than 300 vulnerabilities across the U.S. defense supply chain that are negatively impacting the country’s ability to compete with foreign suppliers for certain equipment and materials and ensure timely delivery of critical capabilities to the warfighter (Defense Daily, Oct. 4).

“What we hope to do in my office is to push forward … [and] turn our attention more toward this issue of infrastructure,” Navarro said. “With your help, maybe we can take a pretty good look at that and come up with some accelerated solutions.”

Navarro did not say when this effort to assess the country’s defense infrastructure would begin or which agencies would be involved. A White House representative did not respond to queries by Defense Daily’s deadline on Wednesday.

Navarro singled out the country’s rail system as facing “chronic underinvestment” as well as “significant foreign competition” from countries such as China.

“The Chinese right now are busy trying to take over our rolling stock industry, and they’ve made great inroads” bidding on public transportation systems in cities such as Chicago and Boston, he said.

The U.S. government faces an unfair advantage as Beijing will provide its companies with steep subsidies on key railway materials such as steel and aluminum, and has performed cyber theft operations to acquire U.S. trade and research secrets, he added.

“They’ll steal your technology so they don’t have to do the R&D, so when it comes time for an American company to bid on the railcar system in Chicago versus a Chinese company, it’s not a fair fight,” Navarro said. “We’re losing those unfair fights, and it’s going to hurt us trying to fulfill the mission that you have been tasked with fulfilling.”

China is also the sole miner or manufacturer for several materials and equipment needed used in national defense products, the defense industrial base report found. That challenge reflects how U.S. trade policy must be used to enhance its defense policy, Navarro noted.

“When we lose the ability to produce critical materials … when those go offshore for whatever reason, or when we don’t have the capability to produce components for some of our night vision systems, that puts us at risk, particularly in a crisis or a surge,” he said.

“And people in this audience know better than most people in government and in defense what happens in surges,” he added “It’s you … who are at the frontlines when it hits the fan and you’ve got to start moving a lot of stuff quickly.”