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Why is it important to take a deep-dive into the topic of Defense Industrial Duopoly?


The United States finds itself at an inflection point, transitioning from counterterrorism operations towards great power competition with near-peer adversaries like China and Russia. This shift comes alongside increased geopolitical tensions, a rapidly evolving security landscape, and accelerated technological change. Advanced capabilities in areas like hypersonics, cyber, space, AI, and robotics are changing the character of warfare. In this dynamic context, maintaining military superiority and homeland security hinges on the nation’s defense industrial base.

However, the U.S. defense industrial base faces structural risks from consolidation and barriers to innovation. Over the past three decades, the base has shrunk considerably as large defense contractors acquire small and mid-sized companies. The total number of defense firms has declined 17,000 over 5 years per NDIA’s 2023 Vital Signs report. Simultaneously, R&D and patent output has fallen according to the National Science Foundation. This consolidation concentrates defense technology production among just 5 leading primes. It reduces competition, specialization, and supply chain resiliency.

The problem is compounded by well-intentioned policies like mandatory source rules that aim to allocate 23% of defense contracts to small disadvantaged businesses. However noble, such set-asides constrain DoD’s options for rapidly procuring best-in-class technologies to contend with Pacing threats like Chinese advances in missiles, naval warfare, and space weapons. This risks eroding the capability edge of U.S. warfighters. It creates a dilemma between equity and security imperatives.

DoD is working actively to resolve this “Defense Industrial Duopoly” predicament. Its 2023 Small Business Strategy responds to a 40% fall in small business defense suppliers over a decade. It focuses on smoothening regulations, scaling R&D programs, utilizing data tools, and educating businesses on cyber risks and supply chain resilience. While these priorities align with NDIA’s Vital Signs findings on barriers related to hiring, cybersecurity, and unstable budgets, significant gaps persist.

The NDIA 2022 survey saw 87% of respondents anticipating no improvement in defense business conditions. This contrasts DoD’s ambition to expand participation. Declining entrants, lingering barriers, and continued consolidation also continue eroding innovation capacity.

Failing urgent reforms, national security risks compound. Continued atrophy of niche manufacturers leaves America dependent on 1 or 2 sources for key munitions, jeopardizing responsiveness and resilience. Stifled competition drives up procurement costs. Lack of R&D investment cedes leads in AI, Quantum, hypersonics and other frontier technologies to China. America’s military primacy then faces death by a thousand cuts. But all is not lost. There is immense scope for government-industry coordination to reinvigorate defense supply chains, restore healthy competition, eliminate barriers for startups, ensure equitable access, and harmonize social and security imperatives. Getting there requires candor on trade-offs, priority financing, stabilizing policies, and public-private collaboration. With vision and statesmanship, the defense industrial dilemma is entirely surmountable. American innovation remains unmatched provided it gets channeled strategically.


We asked AI from a cold start (0-shot) for its advice on how it would recommend addressing the issues we just outlined. Here was its response:

In the face of shifting geopolitical challenges, where the U.S. pivots from counterterrorism to countering near-peer adversaries like China and Russia, the role of advanced technologies, particularly artificial intelligence (AI), becomes increasingly crucial. The U.S. defense industrial base, however, is grappling with consolidation and a decline in research and development, leading to reduced competition and innovation. This situation threatens the nation’s ability to maintain a robust and dynamic defense infrastructure, essential for adapting to the rapidly evolving landscape of technological warfare.

AI stands out as a key strategic asset in addressing these challenges. It can significantly enhance defense capabilities by improving threat assessment and decision-making through advanced data analysis. Moreover, AI can facilitate the integration of diverse technological innovations, including those from smaller, agile startups, into the larger defense ecosystem. This is vital for fostering a competitive and innovative defense sector. Yet, the implementation of AI must be balanced with stringent ethical standards and a focus on developing transparent, accountable systems. Ensuring a diversified and resilient defense industrial base through AI integration and supportive policies is fundamental for the U.S. to effectively navigate and lead in the complex arena of modern geopolitical conflicts.”


Defense spending can have a dual impact on small businesses, presenting both opportunities and challenges. Diversification, innovation, and adaptability are key for small businesses looking to navigate the dynamics of the defense industry so sentiment is mixed.

Positive Effects:

  • Contract Opportunities: Small businesses in industries such as manufacturing, technology, and logistics may benefit from defense contracts. The government often awards contracts to a diverse range of suppliers, including small businesses, to promote competition and innovation.
  • Job Creation: Increased defense spending can lead to the creation of jobs, benefiting local economies and small businesses. This is particularly true in regions with a strong presence of defense contractors.
  • Indirect Economic Boost: Defense spending can have a ripple effect on the economy, stimulating demand for goods and services beyond the defense sector. Small businesses providing support services, such as catering, transportation, and consulting, may experience increased demand.
  • Innovation: Defense projects often require cutting-edge technologies and solutions. Small businesses with innovative products or services may find opportunities to contribute to defense-related projects, leading to technological advancements that can have broader applications.

Negative Effects:

  • Dependency on Government Contracts: Small businesses heavily reliant on defense contracts may face challenges if there are budget cuts or shifts in government priorities. A sudden reduction in defense spending can lead to a decline in contract opportunities and revenue.
  • Uncertainty: Defense budgets can be subject to political and economic fluctuations. Uncertainty about future defense spending levels can make it difficult for small businesses to plan and invest for the long term.
  • Regulatory Compliance: Small businesses involved in defense-related work often need to comply with strict regulatory requirements. Meeting these standards can be costly and time-consuming, potentially posing challenges for smaller enterprises with limited resources.
  • Competition: While defense contracts can provide opportunities for small businesses, the competition for these contracts can be intense. Larger defense contractors may have greater resources and capabilities, making it challenging for smaller companies to secure contracts.