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U.S. Strategic Manufacturing Deficiencies

August 16, 2010

As noted in a recent edition of the American Legion magazine, President Eisenhower’s years of training in logistics and as Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary Force (SCAEF) resulted in his recognizing the importance of a strong economy in maintaining strategic preparedness.

Since his presidency, our manufacturing capabilities have steadily declined and this has left us incapable of producing essential materials.

Power generation equipment is a prime example of how our lack of manufacturing capabilities threatens our security.

Large forgings are required for the manufacture of steam and gas turbine rotors and for generator rotors. We now have to import these forgings from Japan and Europe.

Turbine rotors arrive in our plants roughly machined and we do the final precision machining for insertion of buckets. Similarly generator rotors have the final machining done here for precision surfaces such as for bearings and the slots for generator bars.

Large forgings are also needed for nuclear power plants and we do not have the capability to produce them.

None of the steel mills in the United States have the capacity to produce ingots of 500 tons or more.

In addition, we no longer have the ability to produce large castings. Large castings are needed for steam turbines used for power generation.

It should also be noted that we import most of the main components for wind turbines. Our role, essentially, is to assemble components made elsewhere; frequently made in China.

Should our supply of forgings and castings be interrupted, we would not be able to manufacture steam and gas turbine power plants or nuclear power plants.

If foreign companies can invest in producing large ingots and forgings, why can’t U.S. companies also invest in these capabilities? Have regulations prevented our investing in these capabilities domestically? Has our fixation on CO2 emissions stood in the way of building these capabilities?

While I know from personal experience that we lack key capabilities in the manufacture of power generation equipment, we may lack capabilities in other areas of which I am not aware.

From where do the forgings for large airplane undercarriages come? What about other areas of our manufacturing base?

While it’s difficult to envision how these supplies could be interrupted, it’s imprudent to allow our economy to become dependent on other countries for strategically important items. This is not an indictment of free trade, but it does raise the question as to whether we are being prudent about our national defense.

Congress investigates every imaginable issue, from coal mines to CO2 and endangered species. It would be comforting to know that Congress is also paying attention to whether we have gone too far in allowing our manufacturing capabilities to atrophy.

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