Eisenhower’s Tea Leaves: Virtues of a dynamic and robust (defense) industrial base

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When war clouds began to darken in the late 1930’s America’s defense industry was a small, almost insignificant, factor in the economy. As the military began rapid expansion, feelers were put out to private industry; would they be prepared to switch to supplying military needs? A locomotive manufacturer replied in the affirmative when asked would his company be willing to make tanks. The “Yes” reply was followed by “What does a tank look like?” Some companies received “education contracts” to aid in their understanding of needed manufacturing requirements and planning to implement them. Industrial mobilization saw automobile companies manufacture airplanes and heavy engineering industry manufactured tanks. Other contributions came from universities such as improved radar (M.I.T.), and the proximity fuse (Johns Hopkins). DuPont developed an early version of CPM (the critical path method). This was part of the massive Manhattan (atomic bomb) Project carried out in large measure by brain power and resources supplied by universities and industrial firms.

Military men such as Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower observed and benefited from the efforts to embrace the contributions of industry. Below are excerpted observations Eisenhower made on two separate occasions. The “integration of national resources” he called for in 1946 had by 1961 exceeded his expectations, not in a good way. Finally, quoted at the end is policy embodied in law (mandatory for the Department of Defense) but ignored which if honored might result in the right balance in interactions between the military and industry.

Excerpts from Memorandum from Chief of Staff, U.S. War Department [General Dwight D. Eisenhower], 30 April 1946
Subject: Scientific and Technological Resources as Military Assets
The recent conflict has demonstrated more convincingly than ever before the strength of our nation can best derive from the integration of all our national resources in time of war. It is of the utmost importance that the lessons of this experience be not forgotten in the peacetime planning and training of the army…
The lessons of the last war are clear. The military effort required for victory threw upon the Army an unprecedented range of responsibilities, many of which were effectively discharged only through the invaluable assistance supplied by our cumulative resources in natural and social sciences and the talents and experience furnished by management and labor. The armed forces could not have won the war alone. Scientists and business men contributed techniques and weapons which enabled us to outwit and overwhelm the enemy…
The Army as one of the main agencies responsible for the defense of the nation has the duty to take the initiative in promoting closer relations between civilian and military interests. It must…make possible even greater contributions from science, technology, and management than during the war.
The following policies will put into effect:
(1) The Army must have civilian assistance in military planning as well as for production of weapons…
(2) Scientists and industrialists must be given the greatest possible freedom to carry out their research. The fullest utilization by the Army of civilian resources of the nation cannot be procured merely by prescribing the military characteristics and requirements of certain types of equipment. Scientists and industrialists are more likely to make new and unsuspected contributions to the development of the Army if detailed directions are held to a minimum…
(3)…There appears little reason for duplicating within the Army an outside organization which by its experience is better qualified than we are to carry out our tasks…
(4) Within the Army we must separate responsibility for research and development from the functions of procurement, purchase, storage and distribution…The inevitable gap between scientist and technologist and the user can be bridged, as during the last war, by field experimentation with equipment still in the development al stage…
(5) All arms and services…must become fully aware of the advantages which the Army can derive from the close integration of civilian talent with military plans and developments…
In general, the more we can achieve the objectives indicated above with respect to the cultivation, support, and direct use of outside resources, the more energy will we have left to devote to strictly military problems for which there are no outside facilities or which for special security reasons can only be handled by the military…
…By developing the general policies outlined above under the leadership of the Director of research and development the Army will demonstrate the value it places upon science and technology and further the integration of civilian and military resources.
Dwight D. Eisenhower


Excerpts from Farewell Address by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 17 January 1961
A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction. . . . American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. . . . This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. . . .Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. . . . In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.


They don’t make military leaders like Eisenhower anymore, so it seems.  Conversely, top DoD bureaucrats routinely ignore Ike’s wisdom, along with Congress and policies he certainly would have supported.

Title 10, U.S. Code, section 4811:

(b) Civil-Military Integration Policy.-The Secretary of Defense shall ensure that the United States attains the national technology and industrial base objectives set forth in subsection (a) through acquisition policy reforms that have the following objectives:

(1) Relying, to the maximum extent practicable, upon the commercial national technology and industrial base that is required to meet the national security needs of the United States.

(2) Reducing the reliance of the Department of Defense on technology and industrial base sectors that are economically dependent on Department of Defense business.

(3) Reducing Federal Government barriers to the use of commercial products, processes, and standards.


The means to effectuate the Congressional mandate in section 4811(b) have been provided and directed by Congress. They are the flexible, commercial friendly business authorities of 10 U.S. Code, sections 4021, 4022, 4023, and 4025 supported by other authorities such as partnership intermediaries, 15 U.S. Code, section 3715. Other Congressional mandates for education, 10 U.S.C 4021 (g) and creating a preference for using other transactions (sec. 867, NDAA 2018) tell the Secretary of Defense and other senior officials how to start the process. They can direct their subordinates and the workforce to transition out of the “takes too long, cost too much” system that underlies the military-industrial complex to a more open and efficient business environment.