When it comes to defense budgets, the preoccupation with GDP percentage commitments and multi-billion dollar purchases reflects a misbegotten mindset that “to procure is to secure”. On April 13, Defense News reported that Japan was preparing to implement its National Defense Program Guidelines whereby the country would set aside approximately $232.1 billion over the next five years procure military equipment, including ground combat vehicles, destroyers and submarines, and advanced aircraft. The projected additions would bolster Japanese capabilities vis-a-vis the neighboring People’s Republic of China. Japan, like much of East Asia, has succumbed to arms racing in the wake of the PRC’s rise, yet some analysts are questioning the appropriateness of certain acquisitions. Rearmament may be justified given the country’s apprehension as to China’s ultimate ambitions, but the mistaken rush to commit resources, instead of exploring whether forces are appropriately configured, is not isolated to Japan.
For decades, the nation’s Title X designated amphibious force has explored a successor to the AAV-7A1 series amphibious assault vehicle. The Marine Corps has used the AAV since 1971 and have justified the acquisition of a new vehicle on the AAV’s advanced age and limitations in terms of maintainability, mobility and lethality. More pointedly, with only a two mile capability to transport forces, the AAV is extremely vulnerable to modern littoral defenses.
Nevertheless, in January 2011, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates cancelled the service’s Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) program because of excessive cost growth (the service spent approximately $3 billion) and poor performance in operational testing.
The service had also been developing the Marine Personnel Carrier (MPC) to be platform for transporting Marines after arriving ashore. While the MPC was not intended to be amphibious like an AAV or EFV, it was required to have a swim capability to maneuver inland in conducting shore-to-shore operations in the littorals. Faced with criticism the program was redundant the service placed the MPC program on hold , in June 2013 -- for another ten years.
Undeterred amid growing questions as to the relevance of amphibious operations, the Department of the Navy and DOD released a study in 2012 asserting amphibious capabilities served a central role in the defense of the global interests of a maritime nation.
Accordingly, the Department of Defense endorsed the Marine Corps decision to develop a "more affordable and sustainable" vehicle, whereupon the service submitted requests to begin funding a proposed Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV) program.
In fiscal years 2014 and 2014, the Marine Corps have requested a total of $242.667 in Research, Development, Test & Evaluation funding for the ACV.
While the Marine Corps has not undertaken a contested amphibious landing since the Korean War, anticipates long-range threats will force the fleet to stay at least 65 nautical miles offshore, and alleges the number of current amphibious ships is inadequate, the service intends to procure 573 ACVs.
Beginning in 2000, the Army undertook a comprehensive transformation strategy centered on the Future Combat System, an ambitious $200 billion research and acquisition program to develop a networked system of eighteen manned and unmanned systems. In April 2009, Secretary of Gates announced a restructuring of the program, including the cancellation of the manned ground vehicle component. Consequently, DOD directed the Army to develop a ground combat vehicle (GCV).
The Army acquisition system's response was underwhelming.
The Army released a GCV Request For Proposals (RFP) in February 2010 only to rescind the request in August 2010, after a red team exercise showed that the program entailed too many performance requirements, too many capabilities, and relied on too many immature technologies. Furthermore, preliminary cost estimate totaled $20 million per vehicle, double the planned $10 million per vehicle cost limit. After issuing a revised RFP in November 2010, the Army awarded two technology development contracts ten months later to General Dynamics and BAE for a total of $889.6 million.
Nonetheless, in April 2013, the Congressional Budget Office released a report assessing the Army GCV program alongside three alternative vehicles -- the Israeli Namer, the German Puma, or an upgraded Bradley. The CBO found that “none of those alternatives would meet all of the Army’s goals for the GCV program, [but] all are likely to be less costly and less risky (in terms of unanticipated cost increases and schedule delays) than CBO anticipates will be the case under the Army’s plan.” [Emphasis added]
Less than a year later, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced in February 2014 the GCV program would be terminated. Army leaders contended the GCV program's termination reflected budgetary priorities, not performance concerns.
The Army was supposed to transmit its Tactical Wheeled Vehicle Strategy Report to Congress in March 2013. Instead, the service postponed its issuance until March 31, 2014, citing the Secretary Hagel’s Strategic Choices and Management Review. To date, the Army has still not released the strategy.
Since the late 1990s, the Navy has been struggling to meet force structure goals. In 1997, DOD established a 310 ship goal in its first Quadrennial Defense Review Report. The Navy dropped below 300 ships six years later and revised the goal downward to 306. At present, the Navy has 289 ships in its fleet.
A key component of Navy plans to meet the 306 ship goal has been the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), which began in 2001. Envisioned as smaller, less expensive surface combatant, the LCS would be modular, equipped with swappable mission packages. The Navy planned to acquire 52 LCSs, which would have accounted for one-sixth of the 306 ship goal. The Navy awarded contracts to two industry teams in 2004 to design two versions of the LCS, with options for each team to build up to two LCSs each.
As with the EFV and the GCV, Navy acquisition of the LCS has encountered numerous setbacks. Originally projected to cost $220 million per ship, the unit costs have risen to $450 million. In light of the cost growth and construction delays on the first sea frames, the Navy restructured the program, resulting in cancellations of the options to construct the follow on ships.
The program suffered another major blow in January 2014 when the DOD’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) identified a number of critical shortcomings, including the lack of a “significant offensive capability” and the absence of “systems designed to detect torpedo attacks or mines”. More pointedly, the DOT&E report concluded the LCS could “not expected to be survivable in high-intensity combat.”
The next month, Secretary Hagel announced DOD would reduced the planned LCS acquisition from 55 to 32. Nevertheless, the Navy’s fiscal year 2015 budget proposal the following month totaled $1,421.7 million in procurement funding for the procurement of three LCSs for an average of $475.7 million per ship.
In March 2014, the Navy announced it would modify how the service calculates the number of ships, whereby eleven cruisers queued for retirement, ten coastal patrol craft, two hospital ships, and one high-speed transport previously uncounted would be considered part of the battlefleet. For years, the Navy’s 30-year shipbuilding plan had bordered on fiction; the new rules assured the plan was downright farcical.
Addressing average aircraft age and developing next generation capabilities have been longtime Air Force priorities, going back to the procurement holiday of the 1990s. Integral to Air Force planning has been the development and acquisition of the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
In 1999, the Air Force originally projected a production run of 750 F-22s, but by 2010, DOD leadership decided only 195 aircraft would be procured; the final requirement was 187 aircraft plus test and development variants. The disagreement over how many to acquire led to a major showdown between the Office of the Secretary of Defense and Air Force leadership. In June 2008 Secretary Gates asked the service secretary and chief of staff to resign, because, according to subsequent press coverage, the service leadership continued to insist on a larger F-22 fleet.
Like the EFV, the GCV, and the LCS, the F-22 program was similarly marred by cost growth, production delays, and performance shortfalls. In 2010, DOD estimated the total acquisition cost at $67.3 billion, translating into a Program Acquisition Unit Cost of $369.5 million and an Average Unit Procurement Cost of $185.7 million.
The F-35 program has fared no better. In 2010, DOD estimated a Program Acquisition Unit Cost of $154.4 million and an Average Unit Procurement Cost of $132.8 million. According to latest DOD reporting, acquisition costs now total $398.6 billion. DOD plans to procure 2,456 fighters; the associated life cycle cost is estimated at $1.02 trillion.
Proponents have asserted future costs would be minimized as a common airframe will be employed across the Air Force, the Navy, and the Marine Corps, and more critically, U.S. allies: Australia, Canada, Denmark, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Turkey, United Kingdom. As noted previously, however, these partners have investigated the F-35 and have also found it wanting.
The scope and ambition of the F-35 program stands in stark contrast to the Air Force’s determination to divest itself (again) of the A-10 Thunderbolt II (“Warthog") close air support aircraft.
The Air Force alleges scrapping all the A-10s currently in the air fleet will save the service $3.7 billion in operating costs. Furthermore, the service asserts the close air support mission can be just as effectively accomplished by F-35s armed with precision-guided munitions.
In the intervening decade of operations, the F-35 (nor the F-22) has completed a single combat mission; in contrast, the A-10 been deployed effectively in successive operations since the Persian Gulf War. Additionally, savings of $3.7 billion would barely cover the increased cost of $4.3 billion associated with the F-35 engine program alone, which now totals $68.6 billion.
In trying to justify why the Air Force should divest the A-10, GEN Michael Hostage, the service’s commander for Central Command, asserted the A-10 is not always available and if ground forces need close air support they were likely to accept any aircraft performing that mission, like an F-15 or an F-16. Hostage’s comments can be juxtaposed with those of a veteran of 67 combat air strikes during the invasion of Iraq in 2003:
- “My team has made decisions not to conduct a mission based off of the fact that we could not get A-10s to support us, even when other aircraft were offered up;
- “I generally will not employ the other types of aircraft” - like B-1s, F-15s or F-16s - “danger close, regardless of munitions, if I have other alternatives,” including the A-10;
- “I have personally sent F-16s back to a CAS [close air support] stack and pulled A-10s out because … I [have] had no luck with F-16s that could not identify my friendly armored vehicles closing on enemy positions. … F-16s simply [can] not 'see' the enemy vehicles.” (Emphasis added)
Commenting on “danger close” situations, GEN Hostage readily admitted “If I had a danger close situation and I had a choice between an A-10 and an F-16, I would most certainly pick the A-10.”
The F-35 is scheduled to join the U.S. air fleet between 2015 and 2019.
The travails of the EFV, the GCV, the LCS, the F-22, and the F-35 are hardly unique, as acquisition overruns extend back to the founding of the Republic and the fabled procurement of the Navy’s first six frigates in 1794.
Countless official and unofficial commissions and studies have independently identified and documented the many causes at the source of dysfunctional acquisition programs. Unstable requirements, unaccountable program management, unmerited expectations of technological maturity, overly optimistic initial cost estimates -- all have cumulatively undermined the Department of Defense’s ability to equip the force.
As a 2010 McKinsey & Company study found, military establishments that do not integrate functions and capabilities (or across national lines), while simultaneously maintaining unneeded overhead are not only are more expensive to operate and maintain, but they also are likely to be less lethal.
Nearly every major independent deficit reduction commission has recommended reduced procurement as a viable course of action, with more than a few naming the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as a suitable candidate for reduction or elimination.
Critical self-examinations on the part of the services have been few and far in between. The most scathing has been the Army’s 2011 review (originally for internal use only), which found that between 1990 to 2010, the service had terminated 22 major programs with no deployed systems to show for them. According to the analysis, the cost of these abortive programs averaged between $3.3 billion and $3.8 billion per year since 2004. No equivalent study has emerged from the Navy or the Air Force.
Fortunately, discontent with the status quo has arisen from below. LT Benjamin Kohlmann, an F/A-18 Hornet instructor pilot for the Navy, penned an essay in April 2012 calling for "disruptive thinking" across DOD and is now at the forefront of a thriving grassroots movement to spark innovation in the department. Similarly, LT COL Dan Ward, an acquisition officer for the Air Force, has conceived of F.I.S.T. (Fast, Inexpensive, Simple and Tiny), an approach to rescue the DOD acquisition from the lumbering morass it has become; his book on the subject will be released this month.
Unfortunately, weapon systems are merely the tip of the iceberg. Since its establishment, the Department of Defense has taken the military of Marshall, Eisenhower, MacArthur, and Bradley and transformed it into a bureaucracy with a ravenous appetite for roles and responsibilities and authorities and regulations and overhead and infrastructure and terabytes of data. The resulting “Fifth Estate” is replete with “fiefdoms,” “iron rice bowls,” and “self-licking ice cream cones,” the source of endless insider cynicism and outsider frustration.
During World War II, flag officer staffs were miniscule. According to recent military department budget requests, the number of all general officers / flag officers across the department totals more than 900. The number of Navy admirals is 230 -- or 1.25 ships per flag officer!
According to the FY2013 Base Structure Report, DOD’s real property inventory encompasses more than 557,000 facilities covering over 27.7 million acres at over 5,000 sites worldwide. The total plant replacement value (the calculated cost to replace the current physical plant using current construction costs and standards) is approximately $827.92 billion! (Divest overseas locations and keep the change!)
Returning to the coverage of Japan’s planned procurement, the criticisms leveraged could easily be applied to the United States:
- "The procurement scheme has some good aspects, and the people who drafted it have their hearts in the right place [but] it continues the tradition of spending on a few pieces of expensive high-end hardware while ignoring less handsome items needed to ‘fill in the gaps’ for an effective defense.”
- Defense procurement is partly driven by a belief that if just the right “equipment list” is put together, [the country] will be perfectly defended.
- “There never has been a silver bullet, and there never will be. By shooting their wad on a few very high-end capabilities, they are creating easily exploited vulnerabilities.
- “Ironic, isn’t it? The [decision-makers] are, in effect, making themselves more vulnerable, not less, by procuring asymmetric capabilities that will allow [an adversary] to focus on and exploit the gaps.”
- 01/31/2011 Department of the Army, Army Strong: Equipped, Trained and Ready Final Report of the 2010 Army Acquisition Review
- 07/21/2011 DOD Buzz, What Went Wrong With Army Acquisitions
- 02/06/2012 Congressional Research Service, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Program, RL30563 (Federation of American Scientists website, URL)
- 04/02/2013 Congressional Budget Office, The Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle Program and Alternatives
- 07/11/2013 Congressional Research Service, Air Force F-22 Fighter Program, RL31673 (Federation of American Scientists website, URL)
- 09/23/2013 Air Force Times, Future of A-10s uncertain, Cash woes make jet likely target
- 11/27/2013 InsideDefense.com, Questions Continue To Hang Over Army's Future Vehicle Strategy
- 01/31/2014 Department of Defense, Director, Operational Test and Evaluation FY2013 Annual Report
- 03/14/2014 Congressional Research Service, The Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) Program: Background and Issues for Congress, R41597 (Federation of American Scientists website, URL)
- 03/19/2014 Congressional Research Service, Marine Corps Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV) and Marine Personnel Carrier (MPC): Background and Issues for Congress, R42723 (Federation of American Scientists website, URL)
- 04/07/2014 Congressional Research Service, Navy Force Structure and Shipbuilding Plans: Background and Issues for Congress, RL32665 (Federation of American Scientists website, URL)
- 04/08/2014 PBS, Airmen at odds with Air Force brass over future of beloved A-10 plane
- 04/14/2014 Congressional Research Service, Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Program: Background and Issues for Congress, RL33741 (Federation of American Scientists website, URL)
04/22/2014 InsideDefense.com, Last Phase Of Planned F-22A Modernization To Cost $1.5 Billion
The retrofit program to upgrade the F-22A to the most advanced planned configuration will carry a $1.5 billion price tag, modifications that are intended to cap a four-stage modernization project to incorporate new and enhanced ground-attack capabilities needed to meet current and future threats, the Pentagon has revealed.
04/23/2014 InsideDefense.com, Australia Confirms Plan To Buy 58 More F-35s
The Australian government confirmed last night its intent to buy 72 F-35 aircraft or more, depending on the future condition of its F/A-18 Super Hornets.
Australia's long-awaited announcement of a decision to buy 58 conventional-variant F-35As on top of the 14 it has already started funding will come as welcome news to prime contractor Lockheed Martin and the JSF program office, but it does not represent a quantity increase -- it is simply an approval by the Australian government to purchase the aircraft the country had been eying for some time. Still, the country not reducing its buy is significant. Over the last year, several partners have deferred some F-35 acquisitions, and the program has balanced those lost order quantities with increased foreign military sales buys.