Biden invokes Defense Production Act to expand production of hypersonics
President Joe Biden on Wednesday issued a memo invoking the Defense Production Act to expand domestic production of materials for hypersonic systems.
The memo circulated by the White House, and scheduled to soon hit the Federal Register, calls for the federal government to take action to accelerate and stimulate the production of “airbreathing engines, advanced avionics position navigation and guidance systems, and constituent materials for hypersonic systems,” which Biden calls “essential to the national defense.”
“[W]ithout Presidential action under section 303 of the Act, United States industry cannot reasonably be expected to provide the additional investment required to provide airbreathing engines and constituent materials for hypersonic systems adequately and in a timely manner,” the memo says.
The Defense Production Act allows the president, facing a national emergency or a potential shortage of an industrial resource or critical technology that would impair national defense, to waive certain requirements and thresholds to provide funding and direct the defense industrial base to fast-track and scale up production of a necessary defense resource. For instance, the Trump administration invoked the law narrowly during the early days of the COVID-19 crisis to bolster stockpiles of personal protective equipment, testing equipment and ventilators.
The production of hypersonics has been a top modernization priority for the Pentagon in recent years as it looks to field the new cutting-edge capabilities to keep pace with China. Hypersonics can fly faster than Mach 5, be highly maneuverable against enemy air defenses and quickly attack time-sensitive targets.
In 2022, the Department of Defense issued several research, development, test and evaluation contracts to spur domestic production. But, transitioning those prototypes into full-scale production and fielding remains an additional challenge.
Aside from some prototyping efforts, “we’ve never, ever produced and manufactured hypersonics ever in this country. It’s been entirely S&T,” Bill LaPlante, the Pentagon’s chief acquisition official, said at the annual Defense News Conference last September. “So, the real question is … are these companies [that are working on the technology] ready to no-kidding go into production at some degree of rate? And I ask this question all the time, and I get reassurance that they’re ready. But the proof will be in the pudding,” he told DefenseScoop at the event.
This isn’t Biden’s only recent invocation of the Defense Production Act. This week he also used his presidential authority to waive elements of the law to “allow the Department of Defense to more aggressively build the resiliency of America’s defense industrial base and secure its supply chains” in a number of categories, the department said.
“Specifically included in the Waiver are defense organic industrial base supply chains critical to the DoD as well as critical supply chains for electronics, kinetic capabilities, castings and forgings, minerals and materials, and power and energy storage. This authority also affords the ability to invest in strategic areas that enable the industrial base such as workforce development,” the DOD said.