Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

Blog-on-Blog: Boot-ing Gates Push for Weapon Systems Cuts

Posted by K.E. White on March 18, 2009

A Boston Globe article reveals that Defense Secretary Gates will be pushing Congress to cut certain weapons programs. The report comes after it was announced Gates would skip a NATO summit to focus on the defense budget.

A Boston Globe article reveals that Defense Secretary Gates will be pushing Congress to cut certain weapon programs. The report comes after it was announced Gates would skip a NATO summit “to focus on the defense budget.”

Max Boot comes out against Defense Secretary Gates emerging plans to cut weapon programs, as reported in today’s Boston Globe.

From the Globe report:

Two defense officials who were not authorized to speak publicly said Gates will announce up to a half-dozen major weapons cancellations later this month. Candidates include a new Navy destroyer, the Air Force’s F-22 fighter jet, and Army ground-combat vehicles, the officials said.

More cuts are planned for later this year after a review that could lead to reductions in programs such as aircraft carriers and nuclear arms, the officials said.

Now Max Boot over at Contentions criticizes this report for not being critical of the cuts. Now the piece does assume that certain weapon programs are wasteful. But Boot doesn’t seek to illuminate this debate with facts, instead  he uses a nice combo-punch of strategic anxiety and economic pragmatism: “But can we really afford to cut our acquisition programs at a time when we are fighting two wars and when major rivals such as China and Russia are pursuing aggressive programs of military expansion? And why, at a time of deepening recession, do we want to throw thousands of highly skilled defense-industry employees out of work?”

But absent in his entry is any defense of the programs Boot wishes to protect. In fact, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld singled out the F-22 for the chopping block in 2002. And here’s a Brookings article defending another Rumsfeld-favored weapons program cut.

The Brookings opinion peice illustrates just how difficult it is  to cut weapons spending:

But no secretary of Defense, even a popular wartime leader like Rumsfeld, can easily kill weapons that a military service and Congress strongly support. Just ask Dick Cheney, who tried to kill the Marine Corps Osprey aircraft a decade ago.

While secretaries of Defense and presidents do run wars, they have no greater control over the Pentagon budget than Congress, which has the constitutional responsibility to raise and equip armies and navies.

Largely for these reasons, the Clinton administration did not seek to cancel large weapons programs, and, until the Crusader, Secretary Rumsfeld had not tried to do so himself.

Now there might be honest disagreements over the merits of certain weapon systems the military should fund. But critics must do more than absurdly argue that any weapon systems—whether it works or not—holds inherent value. It’s doubtful simply spending (even) more will result in greater security.

Especially when one considers this March 2008 GAO report reviewing the DoD’s aquisition program and 72 individual weapons programs. It’s findings–presented here in greatly condensed form–paint a worrisome picture:

Of the 72 weapon programs we assessed this year, no program had proceeded through system development meeting the best practices standards for mature technologies, stable design, and mature production processes—all prerequisites for achieving planned cost, schedule, and performance outcomes.

The results of our analysis indicate that DOD programs continue to be suboptimal and that the lack of knowledge at key junctures of system development continues to be a major cause of these outcomes. The final result is lost buying power and opportunities to recapitalize the force. 

Arguments that consider all weapon programs spending sacroscant are rhetorical pitfalls: they promise only to blur facts, inject partisanship, encourage waste, and–most troubling–avoid sober discussions about what will and will not promote American security and protect the lives of America’s servicemen and women. 

Update 4:18 pm:

GAO chimes in again, as reported in today’s NYTimes:

A top government oversight official told the House Budget committee today that the Pentagon’s weapons acquisition process is “fragmented and broken,” creating cost overruns close to $300 billion with little oversight.

“Major weapon programs continue to cost more, take longer, and deliver fewer quantities and capabilities than originally planned,” said Michael J. Sullivan, director of acquisition and sourcing management at the Government Accountability Office. Often, he added, Pentagon officials are “rarely held accountable for poor decisions or poor program outcomes.”

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