28. January 2014
In the wake of World War II, the U.S. gave little consideration to sustaining its war material production capabilities. Almost as soon as the war ended in 1945, the U.S. defense industry shifted its focus to commercial production to meet pent-up demand. No one foresaw the serious conflict that would erupt on the Korean peninsula just five years later. When it did, only emergency powers could rapidly re-engage industry in making critical war materials that would effectively turn the tide of the Communist invasion.
The Defense Production Act (DPA) codified these emergency powers to ensure the availability of U.S. industrial resources to meet national security needs. The DPA granted the president power to ensure the supply and timely delivery of products, materials, and services to military and civilian agencies. As the Korean War wound down, the DPA remained in place (and has been continually reauthorized) to sustain and “create assured, affordable, and commercially viable production capabilities and capacities for items essential for national defense.”
Over the last 60 years, the DPA, in its pursuit of more efficient and better productive capacity, has also been a significant driver of manufacturing innovation. By allowing the executive branch to marshal materials and manufacturing capabilities to fortify national defense, the law has supported the development of many new technologies and materials and continues to play a leading role in expanding U.S. defense production capabilities.
The DPA helped establish the U.S. aluminum and titanium industries, and played a hand in the development of microwave power tubes, radiation-hardened microelectronics, and metal composites, as well as materials that now play a role in nuclear reactors, lasers, and semiconductors.
And Title III under the DPA is still hard at work. Here are just some of the technologies, materials and production capacity currently under development:
High homogeneity optical glass
1. High homogeneity optical glass. Increasing the homogeneity of optical glass focuses more light rays through the glass, preventing them from veering off in random directions. This high quality glass is crucial for surveillance equipment, laser-guided missiles, and even fusion energy development.
2. Thermal batteries. Used in guided missiles and other defense systems, thermal batteries must be able to sit dormant for years, yet deliver high power in an instant when called upon. The Department of Defense is currently working to increase the power, extend the lifetime, and increase the thermal stability of these batteries.
3. Beryllium. Six times stiffer than steel but also incredibly light, beryllium materials are key to forward-looking infrared systems, missile guidance systems, surveillance satellites, and more. This industrial base project ensured that all defense applications had the beryllium needed to build lightweight and durable equipment.
4. Non-aerospace titanium. Title III of the DPA was a major driver in the creation of the U.S. titanium industry. Now Title III is working to advance these materials so that military vehicles and weapons systems can shed significant weight and extend longevity without sacrificing strength. As strong as steel but 40 percent lighter, titanium offers significant potential for birthing the next generation of stronger, lighter military equipment.
5. Military lenses. Soldiers must maintain situational awareness no matter the operating conditions, and multi-spectral systems and lenses allow them to survey the area through infrared, visible light, laser range finders, and more. New advances have reduced the size and weight of optical systems, offering soldiers in the field more portable tools.
These are just a handful of the projects commissioned by the DPA to improve the technology available to warfighters and to sustain the national defense infrastructure. As Congress begins to consider reauthorization and funding of the DPA before it expires this year, these critical successes for soldiers, domestic industry, and ultimately, consumers are helpful reminders of how the government and the U.S. manufacturing base work together to meet national security needs, at home and abroad.
Only by continually seeking out innovations, especially those that facilitate lighter, stronger, and more effective materials and technologies, through programs like the DPA, can we best ensure that the warfighter stays out of harm’s way and returns home, mission complete.