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Military & Veterans' Issues

Pentagon Official Urges Mexico To Reopen Factories, Help U.S. Defense Manufacturing

Ellen Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, speaks at a Pentagon news conference on the effects of COVID-19 on the military industrial base, on April 20, 2020.
Sgt. Jack Sanders | Air Force Staff
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Ellen Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, speaks at a Pentagon news conference on the effects of COVID-19 on the military industrial base, on April 20, 2020.

The continued flow of weapons and other equipment to the Defense Department depends, in large part, on Mexico. Many U.S. defense contractors, particularly aircraft manufacturers, rely on Mexican suppliers for parts and manufacturing. But since the coronavirus outbreak, factories south of the border have closed or slowed operations, affecting supply chains.

“We are seeing impacts on the industrial base by several pockets of closure internationally,” said Ellen Lord, defense undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment, at a Pentagon press briefing Monday. “Particularly of note is Mexico, where we have a group of companies that are impacting many of our major primes.”

Lord said she had discussed the issue with the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Christopher Landau, and would contact Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard “to ask for help to reopen international suppliers.”

Lord estimated that major defense programs would be delayed by about three months, though some defense industry analysts have called that assessment overly optimistic. In response to coronavirus delays, the Pentagon began awarding higher progress payments to defense contractors this week — pushing about $3 billion into the industry.

“We try to anticipate the problems and work with the companies to keep going to the greatest degree possible,” said Lord.

The Defense Contract Management Agency is monitoring the condition of the military's industrial base for the larger prime companies. Meanwhile the Defense Logistics Agency is tracking smaller vendors.

Over the last decade, the Pentagon’s dependence on Mexican manufacturing has increased as defense companies have outsourced. Aerospace firms like Textron, Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Honeywell, for example, rely on Mexican production.

Last week, after several coronavirus-related deaths, Mexican workers demanded that factories adhere to a March 30 emergency declaration that ordered non-essential industries to suspend operations.

Reuters reported that protests “calling for safe conditions or shutdowns with full pay outside factories have taken place in border cities Mexicali, Matamoros, Reynosa and Tijuana.”

Carson Frame can be reached at Carson@TPR.org and on Twitter at @carson_frame.

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