Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has introduced a bill aiming to reduce Chinese control over technology used by the U.S. armed forces.
Called the Protecting Critical Boards and Electronics Through Transparency and Enduring Reinvestment (PCBETTER) Act (pdf), the measure intends “to prevent Beijing from inserting and exploiting vulnerabilities in printed circuit boards (PCBs) that are made in China and used throughout the American military,” Hawley’s office said in an April 28 statement.
Hawley’s office said that “a disproportionate amount” of printed circuit boards used in the Pentagon’s electronic systems come from China, where they are “vulnerable to sabotage” by the Chinese regime.
Under the measure, Department of Defense contractors would be required to notify the Pentagon if the systems they provide contain printed circuit boards made in China “or other adversary nations” so that the U.S. military could take precautionary measures.
The bill would also establish a 10-year supply chain fund meant to strengthen American manufacturing of printed circuit boards and other microelectronics and enhance the security of the electronics supply chain.
Hawley’s measure would also establish a testing, remediation, and prevention regime meant to identify and address vulnerabilities in systems that contain or may contain components made in China and other nations such as Russia, Iran, and North Korea.
“Chinese printed circuit boards pose a serious threat to the integrity of America’s defense systems. It is imperative that we give the Department of Defense the tools it needs to secure its printed circuit board supply chains, so that our warfighters can have full confidence in the weapons they rely on to protect our nation,” Hawley said in a statement.
Wes Hallman, the National Defense Industrial Association’s policy chief, told Defense News that industry groups are “broadly supportive” of the objectives of legislation like Hawley’s, namely to reduce reliance on technology provided by strategic rivals, although he expressed reservation about the bill’s effectiveness and concern about whether its provisions would be cumbersome. The bill, for instance, would require contractors who supply the Pentagon with electronic system to provide a list of each printed circuit board they contain, which would feature information about its country of origin.
Hallman expressed support for the bill’s provisions that aim to strengthen domestic supply chains.
“Nobody wants to be dependent on single source, especially a single source that’s problematic,” Hallman told the outlet. “The defense-industrial base and NDIA has been highly supportive of making investments in domestic capabilities in microelectronics.”
The American printed circuit board manufacturing market is valued at $2.7 billion, about a third of what it was 20 years ago, according to The Hill.
The Biden administration is under bipartisan pressure to invest in emerging technologies and counter threats posed by China’s ruling communist party.
Last month, nearly two dozen Republican House lawmakers wrote a joint letter calling on Biden to work with allies on the development of technologies such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing, semiconductor chips, and 5G communications “in order to challenge China’s goal of total global technology leadership and tech authoritarianism.”
President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Feb. 24 to bolster the resilience of supply chains in a number of key sectors, including energy, communications technology, public health, food production, and defense.
Biden officials have projected a tough line on China but said they would also focus on building an alliance in a more multilateral approach.
Eva Fu contributed to this report.