Lawmakers, military agree 30-year hardware budget plans are flawed

House members and senior military brass say the 30-year shipbuilding and aviation plans that Congress requires from the Pentagon are flawed.

Lawmakers are “frustrated” that the Pentagon is not providing the long-term blueprints in time for Congress to review them as it devises annual military spending bills, Rep. Rob WittmanRob WittmanNavy official: Budget, readiness issues led to ship collisions Air Force One is Trump’s new boardroom 355-ship Navy not a must under Trump's secretary nominee MORE (R-Va.) said Wednesday.

Congress mandated the Navy and Air Force submit the 30-year shipbuilding and aviation plans each year along with their annual budget requests. 

The idea was to give lawmakers and aides a full picture of when and how many ships and aircraft the Navy and Air Force intended to buy. With that full view, lawmakers could make changes to avoid future problems such as platform shortfalls, industrial base atrophy and production gaps.

During a House Armed Services Oversight and Investigations subcommittee hearing, member after member echoed Wittman’s frustration. The Virginian is chairman of the subcommittee.

“I’m afraid we’ve asked you to do the impossible,” said Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.). “I’m not sure this helps Congress perform oversight. … To ask anyone to come up with a 30-year window into anything is a recipe for embarrassment.”

Vice Adm. Stephen Stanley, principal deputy director of the Pentagon’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation shop, agreed the 30-year plans are flawed.

He told the subcommittee it is the “near years” that are the most important part of the long-term blueprints.

Stanley proposed making the projections span only 20 years and requiring the Navy and Air Force to deliver them every four years, instead of annually.

To Cooper, plans for hardware programs that span three decades are nothing more than “a pork preservative” that allows the military services and lawmakers to lock in pet projects.

Planning according to such long-range plans also hinders the military’s “agility” in altering hardware projects when old threats fade or new ones emerge, Cooper said.

Rep. Randy ForbesRandy ForbesTrump makes little headway filling out Pentagon jobs Why there's only one choice for Trump's Navy secretary Trump likely to tap business executive to head Navy: report MORE (R-Va.) likewise expressed doubts about the usefulness of the shipbuilding and aviation plans.

What’s needed is a new planning process that “gets us closer to the truth,” Forbes said. He also charged that delivering to Congress a long-term plan that says “we need to ramp up shipbuilding but we know we don’t have the money” is nothing short of “deceiving the American people.”

Several senior military officials who testified told the subcommittee that putting together 30-year plans for such a large swath of military programs is complicated work.

The nation’s political process injects its own hurdles, because a new administration must first fashion its national security and military strategies — both take up to a year or more — and then use that foundation to build its hardware plans, Stanley said.

Forbes, however, was not buying that.

“Administrations change,” the lawmaker said, “but our risks don’t.”