Postfordism in the US Arms Industry: Toward 'Agile Manufacturing'
This paper seeks to illuminate this process of military-industrial transformation. It argues that two powerful motive forces can be identified behind this phenomenon. The first is practical, deriving from both the need to field the kind of increasingly knowledge-intensive weapons deemed necessary to American military superiority in the late twentieth century and the need to contain costs. The second is discursive, having to do with the influence that the ideals of ‘precision warfare’ and ‘postfordist production’ have gained over the collective imagination of America’s managerial, military and military-industrial elites. At one level, the effects of these two forces are difficult to disentangle as the prevailing understanding of the nature of the ‘material’ requirement for victory in war is powerfully shaped by an ideal that emphasises the importance of ‘precision’. Indeed, it is important to recognise that neither material nor discursive forces have absolute primacy in the shaping of contemporary US military-industrial policy; both are playing a prominent role in reshaping patterns of military (product and process) innovation. Nevertheless, it is crucial to our understanding of the development and diffusion of the agile manufacturing paradigm to develop some sense of the way in which these forces are acting and interacting to transform arms production during the contemporary period. Thus, this paper attempts to illuminate this process of militaryindustrial transition by tracing the diffusion of ‘agile’ production techniques through the crucially important US military aerospace industry. Recognising that the terrain explored is far too complex to be mapped properly within the limits of this paper, my goal is not to provide a comprehensive account of the evolution of the American military aerospace industry during the current era. Rather, it is to chart the way in which a key sub-sector of the arms industry is experiencing the crossing of America’s third military-industrial divide. Although it would be preferable to discuss the motive forces driving this transition separately, the way in which these forces interact with one another means that an integrated sketch is all that is possible.