January — February 2022 Commentary

”The next 10 years will be a landmark decade for the automotive industry.” — Trevor Pawl, Chief Mobility Officer, Michigan
Illustration by James Yang
Illustration by James Yang

“The next 10 years will be a landmark decade for the automotive industry.”
— Trevor Pawl, Chief Mobility Officer, Michigan

Research and Development – Defense Gains

Michigan has an opportunity to boost its share of annual R&D spending by the U.S. Department of Defense as the military seeks to increase its use of autonomous systems for ground and aerial vehicles. The branches of the military — Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines, Navy, and Space Force — also are looking for new communication platforms that will streamline shared intelligence and operational missions.

Based on the 2020 (FY) defense budget, Michigan had $5.5 billion in contract awards performed, up considerably from $1.1 billion in 2015. Overall, though, the state ranks 24th for total annual defense spending — $6.8 billion — representing 1.1 percent of such activity. By comparison, Texas leads the nation, drawing $83 billion in defense outlays, followed by Virginia ($64.3 billion), California ($61 billion), Maryland ($30.4 billion), and Florida ($29.1 billion).

While each of the top five states dwarf Michigan’s standing, the numbers include multiple military bases and personnel salaries, along with large projects such as the space program and the production of fighter aircraft. If base and personnel costs are factored out, Michigan ranks in the top 15 states based on R&D military spending.

As it stands, few regions can match Michigan’s expertise in autonomous systems, supply chain logistics, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, robotics, and more. Consider the state has 130,000 engineers working in automotive, mobility, machine equipment, medical, and multiple specialty disciplines — one of the highest concentrations per capita in the world.

It’s a key reason the U.S. Army has 7,500 people working at TARDEC (U.S. Tank-automotive and Armaments Command) along the so-called Defense Corridor that runs along nine miles of Mound Road in Sterling Heights and Warren. In the same area, across a 10-mile radius, there are 81,000 manufacturing jobs supporting automotive plants, along with aerospace, defense, and advanced manufacturing centers. Businesses include the Big Three, General Dynamics, BAE Systems, Loc Performance, KUKA, Key Safety Systems, and US Farathane.

Across the state there are 4,000 defense suppliers, 1,000 prime contractors, and 17 military commands and installations, including Selfridge Air National Guard Base, the Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center, the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency, and the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center. TACOM itself oversees repair parts planning and supply chain management for more than 3,500 weapon systems, and directs six of the Army’s manufacturing arsenals and maintenance depots in the U.S.

Beyond designing, manufacturing, equipping, and supplying military parts, components, and vehicle systems, along with pioneering the future integration of ground and aerial vehicles, groups like the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturing Association in Sterling Heights are working to provide low orbit and hypersonic launch technology for commercial and defense applications. The rocket program is key to placing advanced satellites in orbit to power next-generation communication systems like 5G and autonomous vehicles.

Overall, the Michigan Defense Center, part of the Michigan Economic Growth Corp., works with businesses, public agencies, academia, and veterans to maintain and attract military outlays. As the defense sector seeks to maximize its use of the latest mobility, communication, and cyber assets, the state has an opportunity to boost its share of military spending.

Education – Partisan Parody

Michigan is falling behind in K-12 public education as the Democratic Party and school unions block meaningful reform and competition. Before and during the pandemic, parents became increasingly frustrated with poor teaching standards and lackluster performance in public schools — dissatisfaction rose even further when 60 percent of public school students were subject to hybrid or remote classes.

The poor performance has parents making alternative educational choices for their children. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the share of Michigan households with school-age children who are home-schooled rose 11 percent, from 5 percent between spring and fall 2020. Enrollment at charter schools rose 1.5 percent last year. At the same time, public schools in the state lost 64,000 students last year, representing a nearly 5-percent decrease in admissions.

Overall, school choice is favored among families and businesses, but at every turn the Democratic Party in Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and the unions have stymied reform. With Whitmer running for re-election in 2022, don’t look for much to change as she relies on union support for her campaign. According to a poll from June 2021 by the American Federation for Children, 74 percent of voters support school choice, including 70 percent of Democrats.

Since Whitmer took office in 2019, she has vetoed several meaningful attempts of school reform, all while admitting in her inaugural State of the State address that: “Our students are not broken. Our teachers are not broken. It’s our system that’s broken.” As we’ve written before, unions should be prevented from supporting any political party or candidate for office, less we give rise to politicians who block reforms in the name of soliciting campaign donations.

Communications – 6G Roadmap

As 5G, or the fifth generation of wireless technology, is built out both here and across the world, cellular developers are beginning to tout 6G as the next wave of instant communication. The debut of 6G, which is expected by the end of the decade, will lead to a drop in smartphone usage in favor of cellular surfaces, smart wearable technology, sophisticated headsets, and sensor implants.

Scientists liken the speed of 6G to that of air and say it will lead to major improvements in connecting ground and aerial vehicles (autonomous operations), Wi-Fi devices (even Wi-Fi implants that would work almost anywhere), automated manufacturing, (Internet 4.0), home appliances, and entertainment systems.

Anyone who has watched the first “Star Wars” movie will be witness to fiction becoming reality. The debut of 6G will allow for the use of holograms just like  in the film when Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker watch a hologram of Princess Leia providing an update in the battle against the empire. The use of holograms will make businesses more efficient, boost connections between families and friends, and lead to unforeseen advances.

As the number of battery-operated devices increases, however, one challenge with the rollout of new cellular technology will come from providing sustainable power. Looking ahead, the introduction of new communication systems must go hand in hand with the development of reliable energy so the holograms of the future aren’t cut off in midstream.