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The Joys of Weapons Acquisition

on Fri, 03/23/2012 - 17:58

Two different news items - but each frustratingly related to the other. In both we are reminded yet again how fundamentally bankrupt the process is by which this nation produces and procures weapons systems for its armed forces.

In one article we find yet again that the House Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces is out to lunch and failing dismally in its oversight role. In this case only 8 of 25 members even bothered showing up to a hearing on Tuesday regarding in part the status of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) - a weapons progam that is fast becoming the biggest boondogle in this nation's history.  The JSF program features $164 billion (give or take a few hundred million) in cost overruns over its original estimates, will deliver over 400 fewer aircraft than initially proposed, doing so years - if not decades - later than originally budgeted for, and in spite of all this the head of the program still doesn't have a clue when the aircraft will reach initial operational capability.  Moreover, there are serious questions about the aircraft's ability to survive in airspace dominated by the world's top air superiority fighters, no less those it will face if it ever reaches operational status - all of which is somewhat understandable given that it was designed to be a bomb truck (the low- end to the F-22 Raptor's high-end capabilities). Nevertheless, this has not stopped the program's advocates for hyping its new found and ill-advised status as a multi-role fighter. In spite of this mess not only did less than a third of the subcommittee's members even bother to show up, but of those that did most were completely unprepared and didn't have a clue what they were talking about (in particular Jon Runyan (R) NJ, John Flemming (R) LA, and Michael Turner (R) Ohio made fools of themselves).

In the other story we see the Navy is actually trying to undermine one of the biggest procurement successes it has had in recent history: the Virginia class attack submarine program. Navy budgetary planners have managed to take a program that is not only running on schedule and at cost, but is also producing a best in its class weapons system, and have proposed to throw a monkey wrench into the works by restructuring procurement in coming years: a decision that will raise costs by over half a billion per submarine!

What makes all of this even more troubling is that the entire military establishment has enjoyed record funding levels over the past decade plus, and yet is positioned poorly for the age of austerity that is finally overshadowing bloated military budgets.  As such, this nation's military and civilian leadership will need to operate in a fundamentally more efficient, forward thinking, and well thought out manner if it is not to let programs that have not and do not work - such as the JSF - destroy those that do - such as the Virginia class attack submarine.


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