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Transatlantic Defense Industries: Strengthening NATO’s Arsenal for the Future



Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen H. Hicks

Good afternoon, and thanks to Keith Webster and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for this gathering ahead of the Washington Summit to emphasize the importance of our allied defense industries.

To those who manufacture or provide services for NATO military forces — from prime contractors to the vast network of sub-tier suppliers across every NATO country — your contributions are invaluable. The ships, aircraft, tanks, missiles, and more that you supply are essential for our alliance’s defense.

Our alliance, and our warfighters, rely on your work, just as economic growth depends on a secure, stable environment. Our national defense industries on both sides of the Atlantic are deeply interconnected, a relationship that has evolved over decades.

Historical collaborations have forged strong bonds. During WWII, U.S. Army Rangers used British landing craft, and in the Cold War, European allies co-produced Lockheed F-104G Starfighters. Today, we see joint efforts such as the U.S. Marine Corps using Norwegian-developed Naval Strike Missiles in the Indo-Pacific.

As we celebrate NATO’s 75th anniversary, our defense industrial base faces a pivotal moment. The COVID pandemic exposed supply chain vulnerabilities, and the war in Ukraine underscored the reality of nation-state aggression. The rapid expansion of defense industries by strategic competitors highlighted the impacts of inconsistent funding.

Our task is to deliver combat-ready capabilities to deter aggression and ensure NATO’s security. Secretary Austin emphasized strengthening our defense industry as the year’s top priority for NATO’s future.

NATO’s landscape has changed. Beyond Russian aggression in Europe, we must address the global pacing challenge posed by China. This demands urgent and confident action.

In response to Putin’s war against Ukraine, NATO has become more robust and united. We’ve welcomed Finland and Sweden, refined our defense plans, and provided crucial support to Ukraine. Allies are meeting defense spending commitments, with 23 nations now investing at least 2% of GDP in defense.

Sweden and Finland’s addition has boosted our industrial capacity. Sweden’s defense industry employs nearly 30,000, and Finland plans to double its ammunition production. The Defense Production Action Plan has also ramped up industry efforts, with NATO’s Support and Procurement Agency securing $10 billion in contracts.

U.S. investments have fortified our defense industrial base, with significant funding for casting, forging, microelectronics, infrastructure, and key munitions. Our approach includes working with commercial tech companies and defense-tech startups, innovating internal processes, and expanding production capacity.

We’re also enhancing international cooperation. Transatlantic companies jointly produce interceptors for Patriot air defense batteries, and a Turkish firm collaborates with a U.S. company to produce artillery shells in Texas.

Despite progress, we must do more. Putin’s preparations for a prolonged conflict necessitate expanding our defense industrial capacity and production. We need more multinational procurement, secure supply chains, rapid adoption of new technologies, and improved interoperability.

Expanding our defense industrial base is crucial for NATO’s deterrence and defense objectives. We must invest in new production lines, factories, and producers. International cooperation with like-minded democracies will strengthen our alliance.

The “arsenal of democracy” is now global, reflecting 75 years of shared efforts. Healthy democracies are essential for a resilient defense industry, as both depend on safeguarding democratic principles.

NATO, born from a shared commitment to democracy, liberty, and the rule of law, will continue to provide the security that underpins our peace and prosperity for decades to come.

Thank you.

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