Army, Industry Acting Now to Boost Supply Chain

Army, Industry Acting Now to Boost Supply Chain

Soldier talking to aviation industry expert
Photo by: U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Thomas Mort

Managing the aviation supply chain in a contested environment will require more forethought and planning than ever before, Army and industry leaders said.

In just the past few years, the COVID-19 pandemic, a national labor shortage and technological advances that can be used by adversaries to disrupt operations have already had an impact on the supply chain.

Army program offices responsible for the aviation supply pipeline are addressing the risks early by working closely with intelligence officers to vet new vendors, order parts and equipment and approve subcontracts.

“We specifically focus on the foreign threat within the supply chain,” said Frank Vegerita, chief of the threat branch in the Army Aviation and Missile Command’s intelligence office.

Among the top threats, Vegerita said, are hardware and software vulnerabilities such as technology and chip theft and the insertion of malware; insider threats from spies or poorly vetted contractors; people purposely or unwittingly exploiting systems by introducing uploads of material that can monitor and export sensitive information; and external threats such as cyberattacks and the integration of foreign components.

“The insider threat is the biggest issue and most close-hold issue for us because it involves breaking that internal trust that we have with our contractors and subcontractors, government employees that we trust to go inside the door and work and develop our programs,” he said during a recent panel discussion at an Army Aviation Hot Topic forum hosted by the Association of the U.S. Army.

Retired Col. Bill Morris, executive director of GE Aerospace, said the company’s workforce was adversely affected by the pandemic, with layoffs causing a decline in institutional knowledge, a predicament that also affected small parts suppliers.

The good news, he said, is that the company expects its supply chain to be at pre-pandemic levels by the end of this year, and the company’s pivot toward in-house additive manufacturing will retain technology and reduce dependence on the supply chain.

The pandemic also interrupted the supply chain at Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company, said program director Dina Halvorsen. She noted that for decades companies were “incentivized to develop efficient, lost-cost supply chains” that introduced a lean, global pipeline of supplies.

“As long as things were pretty stable and shipping lanes were open, that worked pretty well, and even though that was beginning to change as geopolitical risk increased, what really happened during COVID is we looked and saw that, essentially, that system was not tolerant to significant disruptions,” she said.

Halvorsen pointed also to the shrinking labor pool that could affect manufacturing capacity in the U.S.

“It’s less of an issue for me and GE because we sort of sit at the top of the labor pool, but we’ve seen quality issues at tier and sub-tier suppliers when they just have somebody retire,” she said. “It is an aged workforce, you’re seeing a lot of retirements. COVID accelerated that, [so] you have an industry that was leaned out, and we basically have a missing generation.”