Defense Career Field Structure
At one time, airplane manufacturers, shipbuilders, and munitions factories were the chief suppliers of defense equipment. Today, computer companies that work for business also build specialized computers and software used to operate satellite and monitoring systems. Companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company build commercial aircraft as well as specialized military aircraft. The defense industry incorporates a wide variety of technologies, sciences, and industries and requires the participation of virtually every type of profession.
The national security of the United States is organized by the federal government under the Department of Defense (DOD). Operating from the Pentagon in Washington, DC, the DOD oversees the activities of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines, including 1.4 million men and women on active duty, 654,000 civilians and another 860,000 million volunteers serving in the National Guard and Reserve. Headed by the secretary of defense, military and defense operations are directed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who in turn oversee the unified commands, including the Space Command, the Atlantic and Pacific Commands, and the Tactical Air Command.
The DOD employs its own staff of scientists, engineers, and researchers, who explore, design, develop, and implement many technologies useful or even vital to the national defense. The DOD also procures the manufacturing, scientific, research, and engineering resources of a wide variety of industries. Procurement of weapons, vehicles, aircraft, and related systems are made through the DOD. The DOD may provide specifications for a new type of weapon or aircraft, then contract with a commercial manufacturer to design and produce it. The DOD may fund the research of scientists from a variety of backgrounds, such as mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, astrophysics, and others who work at colleges and universities, and private companies.
Research is a vital component of the defense industry. From highly theoretical research to applied research resulting in new materials, components, systems, products, and technologies, researchers continually refine and expand our defensive capabilities. Physics plays an important part in the development of new types of aircraft, weapons, and missiles; chemistry research provides new materials for use not only on Earth but also in space. Biologists develop vaccines and other defenses against chemical or biological weapons. Engineers and other scientists work on the development and production of safe, efficient equipment; the usefulness, performance, speed, safety, and efficiency of combat, aeronautical, and space vehicles; and the development and operation of vehicles capable of carrying instruments, equipment, supplies, and living organisms through space and through the atmosphere. Defense research also involves creating and refining communications, surveillance, tracking, and other systems that allow pilots, soldiers, and other personnel to maintain visual, audio, and long-range contact among members of their own or opposing forces under a variety of conditions.
A vast complex of manufacturers contributes directly or indirectly to the country’s defense efforts. Defense manufacturers build trucks, tanks, and other vehicles; ordnance, which includes cannons, artillery, and other weapons and their ammunition; and radar, sonar, radio, and other systems and components. Some companies specialize in manufacturing or managing the manufacturing of the entire system, usually by subcontracting various phases of the operations, while other companies specialize in certain components or materials. Thousands of subcontractors, from very large to very small companies, supply parts, supplies, materials, and subassemblies to the principal contractors.
Defense manufacturers also produce missiles for the armed forces and spacecraft for use by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the DOD. They work closely with the DOD to develop equipment, vehicles, arms, and systems related to the nation’s security. Manufacturers compete for contracts to research, develop, and ultimately build equipment required by the DOD.
The DOD is a highly structured bureaucracy. People who work for the DOD generally must take civil service exams and are placed according to their exam results and training. The DOD even trains its own employees at a college it operates, the Defense Acquisition University in Fort Belvoir, Virginia. The college provides systems acquisition education and training for the people who are responsible for acquiring weapons systems. It trains military personnel and is generally not open to civilians other than DOD employees.