WASHINGTON ― President Joe Biden and Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks met virtually on Monday with the chief executive of Lockheed Martin and other companies to advance a bill to boost semiconductor production in the United States.
“Semiconductors, it’s not an overstatement to say, are the ground zero of our tech competition with China,” Hicks said, adding that they’re vital for technologies from artificial intelligence to hypersonic weapons to next-generation networking.
Hicks said the Pentagon has become largely dependent on the commercial market for computer chips and that 98% of the commercial microelectronics the Pentagon needs are assembled, packaged and tested in Asia. The legislation, she said, would help ensure the military has assured access to chips.
“Just making sure that ... when we [deploy troops] their weapons will operate as intended, and that the United States will retain control of that technology is incredibly important,” Hicks said.
The bill making its way through the Senate is a top priority of the Biden administration. It would add about $79 billion to the deficit over 10 years, mostly as a result of new grants and tax breaks that would subsidize the costs computer chip manufacturers incur when building or expanding chip plants in the United States.
Supporters say countries all over the world are spending billons of dollars to lure chipmakers. The U.S. must do the same or risk losing a secure supply of the semiconductors that power the nation’s automobiles, computers, appliances and some of the military’s most advanced weapons systems.
Jim Taiclet, Lockheed’s chief executive, told Biden continued supplies of semiconductors are “essential both to national security and to the health of the defense industrial base in the aerospace industry as a whole.”
Advanced super-thin semiconductors, he said, are critical to the company’s development of hypersonic weapons and space sensors, its work on stealth aircraft like the F-35 fighter, and the defense giant’s plans to integrate advanced technologies into existing systems.
“We’ve got a lot of emphasis and importance on those latest-technology chips because they are the building blocks of those defense systems of the future,” Taiclet said.
He warned that if China, a major semiconductor manufacturer alongside Taiwan, can constrain global supplies, it would endanger national security.
The virtual meeting also included the chief executives of Cummins, Medtronic, labor leaders, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan.
With reporting by the Associated Press.
Joe Gould is the Congress reporter for Defense News.