The U.S. Aerospace & Defense (A&D) industry is the world leader in the design, development and manufacture of technologically advanced aircraft, space systems and defense capabilities. Since the Wright Brothers’ first powered flight in 1903, the aerospace industry has grown by leaps and bounds and produced iconic achievements such as landing a man on the Moon, transforming modern transportation and generating technological spinoffs that have served as the foundation for modern computers, telecommunications and medicine. Given these achievements, it’s no surprise that A&D has played a major role in the nation’s economic health. Indeed, the A&D industry is one of the largest contributors of employment, earnings and wages to the nation’s economic baseline, and represents one of the last pillars of U.S. manufacturing strength. The graphic below illustrates key areas of the industry’s impact in the U.S. economy.
The commercial and general aviation aircraft segment is composed of private companies that design, manufacture and service commercial aircraft, business jets, helicopters, personal aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, and their subsystems and components, such as engines, flight controls, avionics, parts, and raw materials. In sum, commercial and general aviation aircraft manufacturing is the largest sub-segment of the A&D industry and is characterized by a supply chain comprised of over twenty thousand supplier companies – most of which are small and medium sized businesses.
Directly related to the design and production of civil aircraft, the military aircraft segment is defined by the manufacture of combat and non-combat aircraft and related systems including transports, fighter aircraft, patrol aircraft, bombers, helicopters, unmanned aerial systems, and other platforms. This sector also includes the design and manufacture of specialized avionics, radars, engines, guidance-and-control systems, reconnaissance and surveillance systems, and navigation systems.
Owing its heritage to the early research and technological development conducted by Robert Goddard in the 1920s and by the Defense Department and NASA in the 1950s, the space industry today has emerged as a critical pillar of the nation’s security and driver of the modern economy. Presently, the domestic space industry is defined by the design, manufacture and operation of space launch vehicles, satellites, spacecraft and ground systems for both the commercial and government end-use markets.
The U.S. military relies on an array of ground-based platforms and systems designed to address the rigorous needs of the U.S warfighter and the nation’s armed forces. This segment includes the manufacture of tanks, tactical vehicles, transports and related platforms and systems such as communications, computers and electronics. The ground defense segment also includes the manufacture of armaments, ordinance, small and light arms, and related components and supplies.
The shipbuilding segment of the U.S. A&D industry is composed of a handful of companies that manufacture and service the nation’s military seagoing vessels, including submarines, destroyers, aircraft carriers, cruisers, cutters, transports and amphibious assault and transport ships. The industry traces its formal beginnings in America when Henry Knox, the first U.S. Secretary of War, commissioned six naval frigates for the U.S. Navy in 1794.