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Research Questions

  1. How does the dependence on battery manufacturing in Asia affect the security of the supply chain for soldier-portable batteries?
  2. What policy options are available to address concerns related to this Asia-dependent supply chain?

Batteries are a ubiquitous presence in equipment carried by soldiers and critical to the performance of electronic devices such as radios, computers, night-vision goggles, and laser range finders. These batteries are supplied by a variety of firms, and mostly assembled from cells that are acquired through a supply chain that is driven by commercial applications to mobile phones, laptop computers, tablets, and other electronic devices, and is predominately based in Asia. RAND found that government researchers and program managers and representatives of military battery suppliers have concerns associated with this foreign-dependent supply chain. The report discusses alternative policy options to address these concerns, without evaluating the benefits versus costs of these policy options.

Key Findings

Options exist to address the Asian dependence of the soldier-portable battery supply chain, but must be weighed against cost and other supply-chain risks.

  • The primary driver of battery development and manufacture is civilian demand.
  • Most of the rechargeable batteries procured by the Department of Defense are assembled from critical components manufactured outside the United States, principally in Asia, where many consumer devices containing such batteries are manufactured.
  • Research found that government and battery industry representatives expressed concerns about the security and surge capability of the soldier-portable battery supply chain, the potentially unmanageable cost of establishing a U.S. production base, and the potential incompatibility of commercial batteries with military requirements.
  • Unless the U.S. manufacturing base were to become competitive in the much larger market for consumer devices, fully domestically produced batteries for military applications will remain expensive compared to those using cells produced in Asia.
  • Policymakers must make their decisions based on the predicted future power needs of soldiers and the risks associated with a foreign-dependent battery supply chain balanced against other supply chain risks and the costs of risk mitigation.

This study was sponsored by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering and was conducted within the Acquisition and Technology Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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