The Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer said that they expect a three-month slowdown across the major equipment programs because of COVID-19, although it is too early to say the pandemic had affected any key milestones.
Ellen Lord, undersecretary for Acquisitions and Sustainment at the Department of Defense, told reporters that delays were largely due to closures up and down the supply chain.
For two years, the Pentagon has been pushing to forge new weapons and equipment as it revamps and modernizes to counter China’s two decades of runaway military growth. Military leaders frequently emphasize the United States is in a race for modernization with adversaries—and have tried to cauterize any effect of the pandemic on the U.S. military-industrial base.
“Right now there isn’t a specific COVID penalty that we see for a specific program,” Lord said during a briefing on April 20. “However, we do anticipate about a 3-month slowdown—at slower rates in terms of execution than we saw before.”
“So, we’re looking at schedule delays and inefficiencies and so forth,” she said. “And we are just now looking at key milestones that might be impacted.”
The impact is felt most keenly in the aviation sector, but also in shipyards and in space acquisitions, Lord said, in reference to the major defense acquisition programs (MDAPs).
Since the outbreak of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus, 106 prime contractors have closed, Lord said, with 68 having reopened; 427 vendor-based companies have closed and 147 having since reopened.
The Pentagon has taken various measures to maintain the cash flow and shore up the industry.
Before widespread lockdowns across the states were introduced, the Pentagon earmarked workers in the defense industry as critical infrastructure workers.
The department has also increased the ongoing payments given to contractors for work already completed as they work through a program. The rate of what are known as progress payments for large contractors rose to 90 percent from 80 percent, and to 95 percent for small contractors from 90 percent.
According to Lord, more than 1,500 contractors are now being paid at the higher rate. She praised Lockheed Martin and Boeing for ensuring that these payments would be passed down the chain to smaller subcontractors.
Like other sectors of society, the Pentagon has had to make other adjustments to cope with the pandemic, including canceling some joint exercises, limiting overseas troop movements, and adjusting some training requirements.
However, military leaders insist that their combat readiness is little affected and have warned adversaries not to see the pandemic as an opportunity to test U.S. military strength or resolve.
The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt is currently sidelined in Guam after an outbreak of the CCP virus on board, while the crew is systematically evacuated and the ship cleaned. One crew member has died from the virus.
However, the Roosevelt could still quickly be deployed if needed, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters earlier this month.
Chinese naval activity and paramilitary aggression in the Pacific has continued amid the pandemic, including a carrier group carrying out drills near Taiwan, with some observers suggesting they have notched up their activities.
Experts previously told The Epoch Times that it isn’t possible to assess the real impact of the pandemic on China’s military strength.
That effect is hidden by long-running military secrecy, the fact that Beijing’s data on the virus can’t be trusted, and the lower value that the CCP places on the lives of troops who might be hit by an outbreak.