WASHINGTON Military strategists are concerned that declining U.S. manufacturing capacity for a relatively old technology printed-circuit boards could slow the planned shift to network-centric warfare.
In a recent report, the National Research Council warned that domestic pc-board production capabilities are declining just as U.S. military use of pc-boards is expected to increase with the advent of networked operations.
The report, titled, "Linkages: Manufacturing Trends in Electronics Interconnect Technology," noted that U.S. pc-board production has dropped to less than 10 percent of estimated global revenues in 2006 from 42 percent in 1984.
The report's authors acknowledged that at least some of the growing DoD demand for long-life pc-boards can be met using commercial components. However, they warned that "significant defense needs will be met only by the production of specialized, defense-specific [pc-boards] that are unavailable from commercial manufacturers."
A key military requirement is for rugged boards that must perform under extreme conditions. According to the report, pc-boards are being used by DoD in increasingly sophisticated ways to connect active and passive components. These applications are expected to grow further as networked operations expand.
"These requirements cannot be met by high-volume, short-lived consumer products," the report warned.
Among the Council's recommendations are that DoD continue to use existing manufacturing capabilities at Navy and Air Force bases along with current contractors. "A more permanent solution would be for DoD to provide incentives in the form of one or more joint ventures to manufacture [pc-boards] with an established firm that would locate a manufacturing facility in the United States," it added.