Is the American defense industry suffering from dollar indigestion?

For almost thirty years now, and the great concentration of 1994, the American defense industry has reigned over the world arms market, and controls 40% of annual turnover.

The 10 largest American defense companies alone recorded, in 2023, a turnover exceeding $250 billion, or the GDP of a country like Portugal or Finland, a significant part of which comes from the allies of the United States, particularly in Europe and the Pacific.

Despite this considerable market, and an undeniable dominant position, American arms programs continue to make headlines in the press across the Atlantic, due to missed deadlines, out of control excess costs, and even of resounding failures, going so far as to handicap, from now on, the modernization of the American armies, in a very tense international context.

The question therefore arises of the causes at the origin of these repeated obstacles, and of knowing whether it is not the profusion of credits, and the lack of control of American institutions over this industry which has become too powerful to be contested, which induce this dangerous pathology, which could well spread throughout the Western camp.

2000 billion dollars for the 100 largest Pentagon programs

It must be said that the figures mentioned are enough to make one dizzy. Thus, in its annual report on the American defense industry presented at the beginning of the week, the GAO, for Government Accountability Office, the American equivalent of the French Court of Auditors, draws up a particularly worrying inventory.

Gerald Ford class nuclear aircraft carrier
The construction of Gerald Ford-class aircraft carriers is on average 18 to 24 months behind schedule. However, it is not the US Navy's most delayed program.

Indeed, the vast majority of the 100 main industrial and technological programs undertaken today by the Pentagon suffer from missed deadlines, chronic overruns and, sometimes, threats of failure, including for the most advanced.

However, these programs, which concern both deterrence with the B-21 bomber, the Columbia-class nuclear ballistic missile submarine and the Sentinel ICBM missiles, as well as conventional domains with the Ford-class aircraft carriers , the NGAD fighter or the FLRAA high-performance maneuvering helicopter program, commit more than 2000 billion dollars in American credits, over the years to come.

The fact is, the Pentagon spends, each year, on average, more than $200 billion with the American defense industry. However, the vast majority of weapon systems currently in service within its armies remain inherited from equipment designed during the Cold War, such as the Abrams tank, the Bradley IFV and the M109 Paladin, for the US Army, the B-2, F-15, F-16 and C-17 of the US Air Force, or the Nimitz aircraft carriers, the Arleigh Burke destroyers, the LHD Wasp and the nuclear submarines Los Angeles and Ohio, for the US Navy.

And for good reason, the Pentagon has consumed, over the last twenty years, several hundred billion dollars, in sterile programs, having produced none, or very little, of the capabilities of renewing the equipment in service sought, such as the helicopter of RH-66 attack and the US Army's GCV IFV, or the US Navy's CG(x), Zumwalt and LCS programs.

RH-66 Comanche
The RH-66 Comanche program swallowed up $7 billion before being abandoned, like many other programs of the American armies over the last 30 years.

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  1. I don't have the impression that Europeans have fallen into laziness. All European groups are hungry. No state is rich enough to guarantee budgets at the top level in the world. No engineer can rely on guarantees. It has its disadvantages but also its advantages. We are aiming for the program that will definitely be exported in the short term. There is less risk taking. However, we aim for the clever advantage that can make the difference. In short, we are hungry. Yes, the new reference is required, especially the one that we risk facing on the battlefield and not in living rooms.


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