McCain: Pentagon wasting money studying 'bomb-sniffing elephants'

McCain: Pentagon wasting money studying 'bomb-sniffing elephants'
© Greg Nash

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat Meghan McCain knocks Bannon: 'Who the hell are you' to criticize Romney? Dems demand Tillerson end State hiring freeze, consult with Congress MORE (R-Ariz.) on Thursday blasted the Defense Department for wasting money on projects, including one to study the bomb-sniffing capabilities of elephants. 

“Thus far, they have found that, while elephants are more effective than dogs, using them is impractical," McCain said Thursday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "No bomb-sniffing elephants have been fielded."

"We must root out this waste all the same. And it will be a priority for me as chairman to do so," he said during a speech at the Center of Strategic and International Studies outlining his defense agenda as chairman.  

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A report earlier this month in USA Today, said that researchers in South Africa are studying whether elephants can identify bombs by smell. The article said the U.S. Army Research Office is funding the project.

McCain cited numerous examples of waste in his speech, noting that the Pentagon was spending $48 million a year to ship $25 million worth of food to U.S. military base grocery stores in Asia instead of using local producers.

The National Guard last year also spent $2.4 million to advertise with professional sports, including snowmobiling. 

McCain said it was urgent that the Pentagon reduce wasteful spending especially as the U.S. faces new national security threats amid a budget crunch.

McCain vowed to continue his fight against budget caps that will slash defense spending by $500 billion over a decade, despite a GOP plan to leave sequestration in place. 

The House passed a budget resolution Wednesday evening that adheres to a defense budget cap of $523 billion, but boosts a wartime spending account to $90 billion, nearly $40 billion above what the White House says it needs. 

That move is seen as a compromise between defense hawks who argue that sequestration must be ended, and fiscal hawks loathe to lift the caps. The Senate is expected to pass a similar proposal Thursday.

“The issue of defense spending has been one heck of a fight — a fight, I am sad to say, that still divides Republicans. Winning this fight is my top priority," McCain said.

"We will continue to argue that we cannot meet our highest priority, to provide for national defense, at sequestration levels," he added. 

McCain said he would also work with House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) to reduce waste in how the Pentagon buys major weapons systems, which he said was leading to an erosion of its technological edge.

"Our failing defense acquisition system is not just a budgetary scandal; it is a national security crisis," he said. "My hope is that we can also take some ambitious steps this year on which we both agree to make meaningful changes to our defense acquisition system." 

He said the Pentagon needs to spend more on innovation, noting that the top four U.S. defense contractors combined only spend a quarter of what Google does on research and development. 

"Chinese R&D levels are projected to surpass the United States in 2022. Even when the Defense Department is innovating, it is moving too slowly," he said. 

McCain also laid out areas where he said he would champion spending, including cyber and space, directed energy weapons, drones, and future power projection capabilities such as aircraft carriers and their air wings.  

"We need to make the necessary investments now in next generation technologies that can enable us to outpace our adversaries," he said. 

McCain said he also planned to focus on the structure of the Defense Department, and whether it's properly organized to meet national security challenges.

The senator also pledged to conduct tough oversight of President Obama's national security. 

"Critics of the president may not be able to persuade him to adopt different policies, but we can lay the groundwork for his successors to lead more decisively," said McCain. 

"That is how I would define success for my chairmanship — whether I contributed, in some small but meaningful way, to the effectiveness of the U.S. military, the restoration of America’s global leadership, and the defense of a liberal world order."