DeMint doesn’t understand New START’s implications

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) does not seem to understand the implications of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New  START) for U.S. missile defense efforts (“Will START Treaty Weaken US Missile Defense? - Senator Kerry Seems to Hope So”, May 18th). The treaty itself puts no meaningful limits on the ability of the United States to develop and deploy a missile defense system of whatever size and scope the president deems necessary to defend the United States and its allies. Russian statements outside of the treaty text that indicate Moscow might withdraw from the treaty if it thinks its ability to respond to a nuclear attack is neutralized have no immediate relevance. If this issue were to arise at all, it would be many years down the road.

Sen. Kerry’s point – which Mr. DeMint misrepresents in his essay – is that it is not in the United States’ interest to build a missile defense system that could completely blunt an attack by current Russian nuclear forces. Such a system, were it possible to deploy, would simply drive Russia to deploy more nuclear warheads. Then, as Sen. Kerry rightly noted, we would be on the verge of a Cold War-style arms race that would waste tens, if not hundreds of billions of dollars even as it made the world a much more dangerous place.

As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates noted in the same hearing cited by Sen. DeMint, any attempt to develop a missile defense system that might undermine Russia’s nuclear deterrent – as opposed to one targeted at countries like Iran or North Korea – would be “enormously destabilizing as well as unbelievably expensive.” Senators of both parties should take this fact into account in considering the relationship between missile defenses and the new nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia.

From William D. Hartung, Director of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation, New York, NY

Competition necessary for future DoD projects

As Chairman of the Defense Acquisition Reform Panel within the House Armed Services Committee, I have had the opportunity over the past year to study what needs to be done to make our defense acquisition processes better. One lesson stands out: Forcing contractors to compete for Defense Department (DoD) projects works better than sole source contracting. That’s why I am dismayed with those who want to give one company a $100 billion sole source engine business for 30-years-plus of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft.

During our review process, my panel and I took the opportunity to research the procurement issue. We’ve all witnessed the plethora of unacceptable cost overruns within defense, wasting taxpayers’ dollars. In the last reporting cycle, there were six programs in DoD with critical Nunn-McCurdy breaches, one of which is the JSF program. Last year, Congress took a major step in paving the way to help correct these problems by passing the 2009 Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act.

One fundamental and immutable point is that competition works. Competition will benefit the JSF engine program. According to the Government Accounting Office, Pratt & Whitney is expected to exceed their original engine development target by 50 percent more, or $2.5 billion – and their production engines for the Air Force aircraft are now 42 percent more expensive. We simply have to do better than this, and the 2009 Weapons System Reform act provides the roadmap. 

That is the lesson we learned in the F-16 aircraft engine competition of the 1980s.  According to the independent General Accounting Office, the U.S. government saved 21 percent in life cycle savings due to annual head-to-head competitions to power the F-16.  Equally important, the engines of both companies, General Electric and Pratt & Whitney, got better. In other words, competition both saved the U.S. taxpayer substantial money and strengthened our war fighting capability.

The debate has begun in earnest once again this year on whether or not to fund the remaining 25 percent needed to complete development of the JSF GE-Rolls Royce F136 engine. With $3 billion already invested in the program, and the contractor now offering a fixed-price contract for all low rate initial production engines, it’s surprising some still turn their backs on competition. For the next 30 years, we can have two companies engaging in annual competitions to give the American taxpayer the lowest costs and the best performance – or we can give one company a 30-year, $100 billion monopoly. It’s important for Congress to stay the course and fund the F136. There is too much at stake to take any other course.

From Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.), Washington, D.C.