The boom finally lowered on the Pentagon’s budget today, with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates revealing the major weapons cuts contained in the 2010 federal budget. Many of these cuts echo those that TCS has plugged for years, and we applaud his rigor in wielding the budget axe.
Gates reportedly decided to preview his decisions ahead of the administration’s release in part to make the case for national security interests overriding “parochial interests.” However, overcoming parochial (read: Congressional) interests will be challenging when appropriations season sets in since the champions of these systems remained largely intact through the last election.
Here’s a recap of today’s developments, along with links to TCS material.
Future Combat Systems:
The budget cuts a whopping $87 billion from this sprawling “system-of-systems” program to modernize the Army by developing some 14 different projects linked by a computer network. The program is due for a “milestone” review this year, and a Government Accountability Office report released last month said the critical technologies were not sufficiently developed to justify an economic commitment.
Gates agreed that there were many “unanswered questions” about technology to create lightweight armor for manned ground vehicles, the target of the cuts. However, he said that programs scheduled for early production will move ahead: No word yet on whether that includes the Non-Line of Sight Cannon (NLOS-C), slated for production next year. Though the GAO says the NLOS-C technologies are also immature, the program got pushed to the front of the line by its champions in Oklahoma, where it is built.
Transformational Satellite Communications System (TSAT)
The Air Force’s TSAT program was one of the heaviest of the mega-satellites DOD has tried to field over the past decade, only to see them grounded under the weight of their increasing costs and technological additions. We profile several of these in our recent report and database on space security spending, pointing out the program’s restructurings eliminated many of the advantages the program supposedly held over the Advanced Extremely High Frequency Satellite it was supposed to replace. Canceling the space program – DOD’s most expensive at $20 billion -will free up money for two more AEHF satellites, Gates said.
We argued as recently as last month that the U.S. has enough of the expensive planes and that the Pentagon shouldn’t be swayed by arguments from lawmakers and contractors that turn on their potential loss of jobs and dollars.
Gates said he believed that DOD had “fulfilled the program” and made his decision based on counsel from the military—including the Air Force, which previously said it wanted another 60 planes—that they didn’t need any more. He also said jobs lost will be compensated by employment generated by the next-generation Joint Strike Fighter.
Gates said the line for the C-17 cargo plane will stop at the 205 transport planes currently either in force or production. Like the F-22, the program has been on life support for years, sustained by crumbs of cash handed out by Congress despite a lack of support from the Pentagon. In fact, the Air Force outmaneuvered their civilian bosses by using money budgeted for shutting the line down to keep the Boeing production line warm.
The new budget reduces missile defense funding by $1.4 billion. Programs on the cutting room floor include ground-based interceptors in Alaska; the space-based Multiple Kill Vehicle; and the Airborne Laser, a directed-energy program intended to shoot down enemy missiles with a laser mounted on a Boeing 747.
The Airborne Laser is just one of the most problematic elements of this troubled system, which enjoys both an unaccountable budget and the favor of entrenched Congressional support, particularly in the Army Space and Missile Defense Command’s home state of Alabama.
The multi-billion Combat Search and Rescue helicopter (CSAR-X) exemplifies the Pentagon’s broken acquisition system, according to Gates, who terminated the program. The initial competition for the program, which handed the contract to a design that cost billions more than alternatives without meeting the basic needs of the military, was a sign of bad things to come. The program has since endured contractor protests and an inspector general investigation, on hold until it could be put out of its misery.