By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (March 19, 2021) -- The Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps are all putting significant effort into improving their portions of the organic industrial base -- that Defense Department-owned collection of depots, arsenals, shipyards and ammunition plants that repair and maintain military weapons systems, as well as some specialized ammunition.
While the commercial defense industrial base builds most of the weapons systems and gear for the military, the organic industrial base is often responsible for ensuring those systems stay maintained and operational for the decades that they stay in service. It's for that reason that the military services are all focused on modernizing their organic industrial base to keep it strong and ready for the future.
"The Army and our OIB must modernize for the future," said Army Lt. Gen. Duane A. Gamble, deputy chief of staff, G-4, during a hearing today before the House Appropriations Subcommittee. "As I testified to this committee before, we have World War II-era facilities, and many of them are outdated for today's requirement, let alone for the needs of the future force."
The Army has spent more than $3 billion since 2009 to upgrade its facilities and infrastructure and operating environment, Gamble said. Included there, he said, is a new nitrocellulose facility at the Radford Army Ammunition Plant in Virginia.
The Army is also working on a new nitric acid facility at Holston Army Ammunition Plant in Tennessee.
"Both create a safer and more productive environment for our employees and for readiness," Gamble said. "In FY21 alone, we're executing $800 million to make essential improvements and upgrades to our depots, arsenals and ammo plants."
Gamble said the Army does have a ways to go before its OIB is fully modernized, however.
"We are actively working to that end state, and we're executing the plan that I briefed this committee on in November 2019," he said. "While we execute that plan we continue to update the plan to ... keep pace with modern technology. And as we modernize our Army, we must ensure we modernize the OIB and the workforce and that the workforce is highly trained and on the cutting edge of technology."
Right now, he told lawmakers that the workforce at Army industrial base facilities is, on average, 46 years old.
"That is a rejuvenated workforce just in the last few years, and the authority we used to do that was granted by this committee -- the direct hiring authority that we put to good use bringing the average age of the workforce down," he said. "Those 22,000 skilled employees operating across our depots, arsenals and ammo plants are absolutely the backbone of our country's readiness for the next war and our OIB."
For the Navy, both ship and aircraft maintenance facilities are a focus.
Navy Vice Adm. William J. Galinis, commander of Naval Sea Systems Command told the committee the Navy has been executing its Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Program, or SIOP, since 2018 now.
"The SIOP will deliver the shipyards our Navy and our nation needs by upgrading and expanding ... our dry dock capacity, but also optimizing and improving our infrastructure and workflow within the shipyard, as well as recapitalizing obsolete equipment," he said.
When that program is finished, he said, Navy shipyards will be ready to take care of the submarines and aircraft carriers for generations. Galinis said more work still needs to be done, however.
"I will tell you in no uncertain terms, we need now to expand the productive capacity of our naval shipyards, or we run the risk of not being able to perform the required maintenance and repair work for our nuclear powered fleet, principally our submarines and aircraft carriers, a decade from now," Galinis said.
To accomplish that, Galinis said, the Naval Sea Systems Command has looked to what's being done at Naval Air Systems Command with its Naval Sustainment System-Aviation program and created its own Naval Sustainment System-Shipyard program.
"NSS-shipyard combines the extensive use of data and data analytics," he said. "It targets areas of opportunity with transparency to highlight key problems to improve our outcomes. We're committed to doing this with a sense of urgency across our enterprise."
Navy Vice Adm. Dean G. Peters, commander of Naval Air Systems Command, said the Navy is continuing to prioritize investments in industrial capabilities and capacity.
"This is informed by the fleet readiness centers infrastructure optimization report, or FIOP, and that identifies sustainment requirements," he said. "It identifies capital investments for machinery and equipment and military construction needs."
Peters said those investments are important to ensure repair of newer Navy aircraft, such as the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, the H-53K helicopter and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
"They require specialized paint, composite repair, advanced propulsion repair and enhanced security," he said.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Donald E. Kirkland, commander of the Air Force Sustainment Center, told lawmakers the Air Force has invested more than $2 billion during the previous four fiscal years to maintain and improve its depot infrastructure and equipment.
"As detailed in our organic industrial base report, we're structuring our optimization plan over the next 20 years along a three-pronged investment strategy: keep up, catch up, and leap ahead," he said.
Since 2019, he said, the Air Force organic industrial base has brought in the first KC-46 Pegasus refueling aircraft for depot maintenance at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, and is also expanding F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Aircraft depot maintenance at its Ogden Air Logistics Complex in Utah, as well as F-35 avionics repair at the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex in Georgia.
Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Shrader, commanding general of the Marine Corps Logistics Command, said a key component of organic industrial base modernization for the Marine Corps, has been recent Defense Department-driven tests of 5G capabilities at Marine Corps depots.
"As a DOD-selected 5G test site, we are working with OSD to develop 5G-enabled smart warehouse technologies -- such as handheld scanners, optical character recognition, passive RFID and robotics," he said. "This state-of-the-art technology vastly improves our supply chain efficiency, auditability and support to the fleet marine force."