Congress and the Defense Department are perpetuating a wasteful system that does not create agility, but rather stifles it. Real acquisition reform throughout the department could save tens of billions of dollars each year while allowing our current force to stay strong. It literally takes decades to bring new systems on line under the current rules, which adds billions to the taxpayer price tag through excessive time and unnecessary cost, not to mention that the systems are usually no longer relevant to the threats we face.
An egregious example is the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS).
MEADS was developed in 1996 to replace the battle tested Patriot Missile program. Italy and Germany agreed to share some of the design and development costs, originally budgeted at $2 billion to $3 billion. It seemed worth the expense for a system that would be operational by 2008.
Sixteen years later, MEADS has been demoted to a “proof of concept” by the Army. The Army recommended cancelling the entire program in 2010, according to an internal memorandum. The memo noted that the system will not meet America’s current defense needs, nor address emerging threats without costly modifications. Last year, the Defense Department announced that it would not field MEADS because of the cost. If MEADS is procured, the cost would balloon to about $19 billion – a 630% increase from the original budget.
The Defense Department even laid out a plan for taxpayers to avoid paying contract termination fees. Next, the House Armed Services Committee, which I used to sit on, zeroed out the President’s budget request for MEADS. Then, inexplicably, the Senate Appropriations Committee injected new life into the MEADS debacle in August by putting another $380 million in it.
This is disgraceful. Last month, the Treasury Department announced that the U.S. debt had topped $16 trillion. We can’t afford to continue funding programs like MEADS that have gone wildly overbudget and aren’t even expected to result in a usable system. Germany and Italy have already announced that they won’t ever use MEADS; it’s time for us to do the same.
The good news is that if we end MEADS today we won’t be risking any gaps in our national security architecture. The Department of Defense is poised to continue supporting the modernization of the Patriot, the system MEADS was supposed to replace. Patriot is currently undergoing a far less costly rebirth using lessons learned from two wars and cost-sharing among 12 allied nations. It also has a long track record of keeping our troops safe in combat.
Under the constraints of our current system, failing programs don’t die – they’re put on life support. It is time to pull the plug for the health of our nation. MEADS is a poster child of this failed approach. The rapidly changing face of our nation’s threats demands that we cast aside costly processes and take a 21st century approach to competitive manufacturing that will keep our country and our troops safe.
Davis served as a U.S. Representative for Northern and Eastern Kentucky from 2005 until August 2012 where he served on the House Committee on Armed Services, and later as the chairman of the Subcommittee on Human Resources, Committee on Ways and Means, dealing with economic competitiveness, trade, tax, and energy issues. A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and former Army Ranger, he ran flight operations for American forces in support of a 17-nation Coalition Multinational Force & Observers Peace Enforcement mission between Israel and Egypt.