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Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Bill LaPlante in the Pentagon Press Briefing Room, Washington, D.C., Sept. 9, 2022. (U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Alexander Kubitza/DoD)

WASHINGTON ― With an eye on China and replenishing weapons sent to Ukraine, the Pentagon is launching a cell within its acquisition office to spearhead expand weapons production lines.

The Joint Production Accelerator Cell would serve as a new organization for the team of defense officials who helped ramp up production of aid sent to Ukraine ― including Javelins, Stingers and 155mm artillery rounds ― and broaden it to other weapons.

“We are institutionalizing that effort into a permanent production accelerator, instead of it be reactive and standing up in a crisis,” Pentagon acquisition chief Bill LaPlante said at the McAleese & Associates conference Wednesday. “The question we are now posing to this new team is how do we ramp production up and down more flexibly and cheaply in the future.”

The organization, to be led by Pentagon industrial-base policy adviser Erin Simpson, stems from the Munitions Industrial Deep Dive team, which helped channel more than $2 billion in Ukraine-related appropriations and mitigate workforce and supply chain issues. One focus, LaPlante said, will be the potential use of advanced manufacturing techniques.

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The move comes as the Pentagon aims to restock billions of dollars in munitions and other equipment sent to Ukraine ― and as its budget proposal offers $30.6 billion for missiles and munitions and an initiative to max out several munitions production lines.

According to a March 10 memo from LaPlante, the organization will develop actionable recommendations to build production capacity for specific systems. The systems “may evolve with the threat environment” and would be selected by the acquisition office “based on periodic deliberate processes with senior Department leaders,” the memo reads.

On Wednesday, LaPlante linked long lead times for weapons to a post-Cold War efficiency drive that shut down many excess production lines in the defense industry. At the same time, he said, the industry cannot easily stop and start complex production lines and is justifiably reluctant to invest in expanding capacity “until they have a clear, consistent demand signal or business case from the DoD.”

“While I’m confident we will manage our way out of this current crisis, we cannot stop managing this once fighting in Ukraine ends, we need to change,” he said. “To ensure we pace the threat posed by China throughout the Indo-Pacific, we cannot return to the feast or famine behavior which is typically employed as the crisis comes and goes.”

Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.

 

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