Military Electronics: Vital to Our Nation…and the North American Electronics Industry

IPC President Denny McGuirk’s editorial for the October 1 IPC Intouch Member Newsletter:

As a former member of the U.S. Air Force, I understand firsthand how vital military electronics are to the safety of our nation. Not just any company can supply electronics to the military. In addition to being capable of manufacturing sophisticated electronics meeting military needs, companies must meet a high standard of reliability and adhere to a seemingly endless list of certifications and regulations.

As dependable electronics are vital to the military, the military market is vital to the North American electronics industry. With fewer commercial electronics being produced in North America, military electronics represent great business opportunities, as much of it must be manufactured in North America. IPC recently held the “IPC Conference for the North American EMS Industry: What it Takes to Supply the Military.” The event, held in Washington, D.C., focused on how the Department of Defense (DoD) and its suppliers are working to best meet DoD’s goals in the face of the rapidly changing electronics industrial base. I am pleased to report that the turnout of attendees from the EMS industry and the government is proof positive that the DoD and the electronics industry are working together.

Among the issues addressed was the DoD’s new memorandum for acquisition professionals: “Better Buying Power: Guidance for Obtaining Greater Efficiency and Productivity in Defense Spending,” also known as the DoD’s “Efficiencies Initiative.” Brett Lambert, deputy assistant secretary of defense at the office of industrial policy, discussed how the new guidelines are tailored to reinvigorate industry’s independent research and development and protect the defense technology base. The 17-page directive focuses on five major areas: target affordability and control cost growth, incentivize productivity and innovation in industry, promote real competition, improve tradecraft in services acquisition, and reduce non-productive processes and bureaucracy. Both the DoD and electronics companies are eager to find the best solutions in order to supply the military in today’s changing industry.

The challenges of meeting export control regulations was also discussed. In order to supply the military, companies must know how to work within the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), the rules that govern the transfer of data, items, and technical expertise for products that are critical to national security. The Department of State is proposing changes to ITAR, such as exemptions for hand-carrying ITAR regulated data, spare parts, and working with dual and third country nationals, that will make it easier for companies to comply and still protect DoD interests. View IPC’s comments on proposed changes to ITAR regarding dual and third country nationals. Candace Goforth, division chief of compliance and emerging technologies for the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC), explained that the changes to ITAR will affect electronics companies.

Protection of intellectual property (IP) and prevention of counterfeit parts and components are major concerns for the DoD and companies supplying the military. Bruce Mahone, director of Washington operations for SAE International, presented steps for companies developing their [anti]-counterfeit parts control plan. IPC’s “Best Practices in Protecting Intellectual Property” standard is near completion and should be published by the end of 2010. Steve Dewaters, president of Penumbra Strategies, explained that a company must be diligent in its operations or it could face having its name placed on a “black list” of vendors not to use. He added that those companies maintaining a certification to ensure a high-level trust, such as using IPC’s forthcoming IP standard, can result in a competitive advantage. Nearly all military suppliers are being asked by their customers to increase their efforts in protecting IP and preventing counterfeit parts from entering their products.

Supplying electronics to the military requires not just technical know-how but knowledge of government regulations, awareness of DoD and tier one OEM requirements and actions strengthening a company’s ability to establish trust with its military customers. It is very important for electronics companies throughout the military supply chain to be aware of where the DoD is heading. The same goes for the DoD and their tier one OEMs; they should know where the electronic interconnect industry is and where it is going.

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