Shrinking defense budgets, flawed acquisition process equals recipe for disaster

As the White House shrinks defense spending by roughly $1 trillion over a decade under the Budget Control Act of 2011 combined with a 10-year annual sequestration, a simultaneously deeply flawed acquisition process equals a 1-2 punch that will knock out the U.S. military.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s 2014 military budget of $495 billion will create the smallest Army since World War II, retires proven defense systems like the Air Force A-10 ground attack aircraft, U2 surveillance planes, ushers in a “temporary reduction” of 11 Navy cruisers and 3 amphibious ships, and even scraps the tried and true Tomahawk, the fleet’s primary, and deadly accurate cruise missile for decades.

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In an alarming decision, the Navy’s plan to buy 196 Tomahawks in 2015 has been reduced to settling for just 100.  And that’s it - none are scheduled afterwards. Instead, the Navy is opting for a “next-generation” land attack missile, which remains to be seen. 

But such next-generation platforms have continued to help sink the military by literally wasting tens of billions of taxpayer dollars as cost overruns and delays to major weapons systems have become the norm, not the exception.  

Some analyses show roughly $100 billion squandered  over two decades as futuristic weapons platforms take years in research and development – and then are cancelled, delayed or scaled back to “save money” when they fall far behind schedule.  

The Army struggled with the Comanche reconnaissance/attack helicopter, Future Combat System and Crusader mobile artillery then ultimately cancelled them all.  Even worse, the Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle that combined features of a tank and amphibious assault vehicle that could carry 17 combat-loaded Marines was scrapped after $3 billion was already spent.  Couldn’t anyone predict that a compact 38-ton mass of steel designed to hydroplane over the ocean probably wasn’t going to work? 

The Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), a lightly armed warship designed to replace frigates went through so many design flaws including cracked hulls, that the original plan of constructing 52 has been scaled back to just 32.  And it’s swollen into a $34 billion program that has only yielded four ships, yet incredibly, still needs further re-design.  

The Air Force’s F-22 Raptor fighter was slashed to 187 from 750 initially planned, hiking the cost to a hefty $150 million per copy.  The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, another next-generation stealth platform, was programmed to produce 2,400 smaller, less expensive aircraft for the Air Force, Navy, Marines and close allies skyrocketed to 50 percent over cost, and it’s now a $400 billion program. Cracked engines sure haven't helped.

With today’s current threats – an increasingly aggressive Russia, a hardline theological regime in Iran seeking nuclear weapons, a rising China that just increased its annual defense spending another 12 percent this year, a nuclear-armed serial arms proliferator in N. Korea, not to mention radical Islam-inspired terror networks, combined with dwindling defense spending, the military can ill afford to scrap trusted platforms in pursuit of platforms generations away from what current technology supports.

Though President Barack Obama’s Pentagon can now only fight one major war at a time, America must be able to adapt quickly should the need arise around the globe.  The country can’t afford to start from scratch in the acquisitions process.

Instead of Pentagon planners committing billions to weapons systems that may not be ready for prime time any time soon, they ought to gradually make slight upgrades to existing platforms.

Patriot air-defense missiles and Tomahawk cruise missiles are perfect examples.  Both are tried and tested, and still work just fine.  

According to Defense Tech, the U.S. has fired a total of 2,000 Tomahawks in combat operations over the past several decades, including over 200 against Moammar Qaddafi’s regime in Libya during 2011.

Tomahawks should not be abandoned for cruise missiles that may or may not be ready when they are needed.  Failure to purchase more beyond the reduced number of 100 next year while an operational replacement has not yet been fielded appears to signify that President Obama and Secretary Hagel don’t believe there will be any more armed conflicts for years to come.  It’s a strategy based on hope, not on reality.

Obama and Hagel must get the message before it’s too late.  It’s up to us to remind them.

Hanna is president of Let Freedom Ring, a group promoting a strong national defense, and is a former lieutenant in the United States Navy.