Where are all the high-tech, superior, high-priced weapons that have charmed Congress and the public out of billions of dollars? They're stuck in “weapons limbo”—a place familiar to high-profile projects like the troubled F-22A, V-22, and the Future Combat Systems program (FCS) all which have been stricken with cost overruns, technology failures and schedule delays. “Projects are as much as 50 percent over budget and up to four years late in delivery,” Leslie Wayne reported in her New York Times article, “Pentagon Struggles With Cost Overruns And Delays,” leaving our military twiddling their thumbs waiting for fewer weapons over a longer period of time.
According to the article, “Some in Congress say the prospect of paying more for fewer weapons is, in itself, a kind of threat to national security.”
The trend towards more advanced weapons systems has led to spectacular disappointments. As the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has scolded the Pentagon time and time again, “superior” technology is often far too immature to hinge large multi-billion weapon systems on. “The Pentagon sets technical requirements unrealistically high and compounds this problem by trying to rush weapons systems with unproven technologies into production” which leads to schedule stretchouts beyond the hopelessly idealistic deadlines initially promulgated by the Pentagon and contractors to win over Congress. This typically leads to, you guessed it, more taxpayer money to be spent and less to show.
The Times article mentioned Future Combat Systems (FCS)—the Army's audacious plan to build a digitally-connected set of weapon systems—but got the price tag of this “system of systems” wrong, since the Pentagon just revised its estimated cost days ago. According to our pal Noah Shachtman, “the Office of the Secretary of Defense has a new estimate: $300 billion,” for the cost of FCS. And unlike the F-22A, which has been in development for decades, we're only in the early days of the program, so this is likely just the beginning. That $300 billion dollar amount is more than double what the FCS was projected to cost in March of this year when POGO blogged on it.
The recent approval of the F-22A multiyear procurement (MYP) amendment may in fact exarcerbate the cost of the most expensive fighter plane in history. Last month, we addressed this:
Congress' investigative arm, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), has said that multiyear procurement, when compared to procuring Raptors annually, will cost taxpayers over $1.7 billion more and add two years to the length of the procurement program.
Not only will the MYP of the F-22 add zeros to the bottom line, but it also stretches out the procurement.
These inefficient weapon procurements are strangling our defense budget, and cheating the troops out of equipment. Feeding the beast with more money only seems to grow the problem. In a hopeful development, Congress is starting to pave the way for more control and require stricter oversight:
In the House, Mr. Hunter put provisions in the Pentagon budget requiring more reporting on overruns, allowing for rebidding of contracts with exceptional overruns and imposing spending caps on some weapons.
A man that personifies the military-industrial complex, Norman R. Augustine, a former chief executive of Lockheed Martin Corp. and a former Army under secretary, told the Times, “where the big money is lost is in the starting programs and stopping, cutting the budget and then raising it, slowing and then accelerating programs, setting requirements and then revising them.” This is sometimes true, but the government, as a customer, needs to exercise its options. At the same time, the government could choose and design its procurements better from the get go, if it had an objective evaluation of project costs, timelines, risks and benefits, based on accurate, rather than cherry-picked or doctored, information.