Lawmakers on Capitol Hill can help the Defense Department make it through supply shortages for microchips and microelectronics both now and into the future, said Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen H. Hicks.
“The most important thing that can be done right now is that the Congress can pass the American Innovation Act, the CHIPS Act, to get us on-shored here in the United States — microchip processing capability, manufacturing and processing capability,” said Hicks, who spoke Monday at the Defense One Tech Summit.
While the DOD and other federal agencies would certainly benefit from such a move by Congress, Hicks said the U.S. economy itself would also benefit greatly.
“That move will, more than anything, help the overall economy of the United States where we’re relying on chips in many, many, many different kinds of devices,” she said. “What we need and what that American Innovation Act … would help us get is a national security approach, an enclave approach that helps us go after the kinds of higher-end capabilities that we need with a secure, assured supply chain.”
Already, Hicks said, the department has made billions in investments in both microchip processing and microelectronics, for both research and manufacturing.
“There’s no doubt that any kind of microelectronics crunch that we feel across the economy will also be felt in DOD,” Hicks said. “It’s an imperative that we have on-shored capability, allied-shored capability as well, to secure the supply chain we need inside our defense department.”
Similar to how challenges in getting microelectronics pose a risk now to the Defense Department, Hicks said, the department also recognizes the risk of its dependence on petroleum products for operations. The recent rise in fuel costs, she said, just underlines the emphasis the department is already putting on finding new ways to power the warfighter.
Hicks said the Defense Department must be a “fast follower,” in the transition to alternate fuel sources for things like automobiles because industry is already moving quickly in that direction.
“The U.S. commercial automobile industry is already there on electric vehicles,” she said. “If the Defense Department did nothing, we would not be able to sustain our vehicle fleet in the future because commercial industry, which includes parts, maintenance, all of that, would have moved on.”
The U.S. commercial sector, Hicks said, already understands the effects of fuel and the dependency on fuel and is leading the way in finding alternatives. The Defense Department, Hicks said, has its own reasons to shift away from dependency on fossil fuels, including the complex logistics tail associated with getting fuel where it’s needed.
“I think we are motivated at a more strategic level to make sure that we can free that tether on fossil fuel, to the extent that we can,” Hicks said. “It’s not an overnight issue but I think there’s a lot we can do to move this system and when we do that, we’re going to help ourselves with that combat credibility, particularly in places like the Pacific where the logistics lines are very long.”