Mixed News on Defense | Citizens Against Government Waste

Mixed News on Defense

The WasteWatcher

The summer appropriations process for the Department of Defense (DOD), beginning with the initial authorizing bills, has thus far brought a mixed bag of news.

On the positive side, the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) directs the Pentagon to look for commercial products capable of performing functions currently under the purview of the Army’s Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS-A), a network-based tool that is intended to provide real-time access to intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.  Over the past year, DCGS-A has come under intense scrutiny because of cost overruns and poor performance.  House Armed Services Committee (HASC) member Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) has pressed for available commercial products to compete to be incorporated for use by the Army alongside DCGS-A.  According to a June 6, 2013 article appearing in Politico:

The provision in the bill, currently making its way through the House, would also require the Pentagon to provide Congress more detailed cost figures for the system, opening the door to future reductions in funding for specific parts of the sprawling intelligence network.

DCGS-A has been under development for more than a decade, costing taxpayers in excess of $2.3 billion.  Over the next 20 years, the estimated cost of DCGS-A, including the training of users, is $28 billion.  Most alarmingly, many warfighters who have used DCGS-A while deployed have been highly critical of the system.  For example, a July 22, 2012 Washington Times article quoted an 82nd Airborne intelligence officer as saying, “Bottom line from our perspective is that [DCGS] has continuously overpromised and failed to deliver on capability that will meet the needs of the warfighter.  All the bullet points they can list on a slide sitting back in the Pentagon don’t change the reality on the ground that their system doesn’t do what they say it does, and is more of a frustration to deal with than a capability to leverage.”

Taxpayers received additional good news with the inclusion of a measure by HASC member Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) in the NDAA that prevents the DOD from funding the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) in fiscal year (FY) 2014.  President Obama refused to add money for the troubled program in his FY 2014 budget, keeping with the administration’s promise to cease funding following a two year proof of concept phase that concluded after FY 2013.  Citizens Against Government Waste has argued against MEADS on this space previously.

Unfortunately, members of Congress have again signaled their intention to press for additional funding for the M1 Abrams tank upgrade program, opposed by the DOD.  In an attempt to pressure the DOD to reverse its decision to halt the program, on May 21, 2013 more than 120 lawmakers signed a letter to Army Secretary John McHugh.  Of course, the Army has two very good reasons to discontinue funding for the M1 Abrams retrofit initiative: the tank did not fare well in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Army believes it has enough.  The Army intends to retrofit the remainder of the 2,384 tanks it needs by the end of this year, after which it would delay the program while pursuing a next generation tank.  This would save taxpayers $3 billion.

The letter from the members invoked the lamest of all the often-used excuses for continuation of a weapons system: impact on local jobs.  According to the letter, the Army “…undervalues the damaging impact to the highly specialized industrial base that supports the program.”  All too often members of Congress misconstrue national security spending as a jobs program.  It appears this tendency will continue during the summer’s appropriations process.

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