Unfortunately, the F-35 is not an isolated incident. In 1982, the Army began developing the Light Helicopter Experimental (LHX) program to replace the Vietnam-era OH-58 Kiowa helicopter. The LHX, which later become known as the Comanche, spent over 20 turbulent years in development. In 2004, the faltering program was ultimately cancelled by then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, after the Pentagon had wasted $7 billion on the failed helicopter replacement program. In 2010, DoD realized they could modernize the Kiowas to meet the Army’s present and future needs at a cost of $4.1 billion or less.
Instead, the DoD wasted nearly twice the cost required to modernize the proven technology the Army needed—sending $7 billion and 30 years down the drain for a pie-in-the-sky “solution,” that left them back at square one.
Wasteful spending is not limited to military aircrafts. For 30 years the Navy has relied on land-attack cruise missiles, known as Tomahawk, to effectively execute their combat missions. After spending the last decade in active theater supply for reliable missiles is low and demand is high. The Navy needs to replenish their stock and improve their systems to be able to meet the demands of evolving global security threats.
In 2009, the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) initiated the development of the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM), a $90 million, two-track system designed to replace Tomahawk by 2015. Technical problems led to the cancellation of one track and the other track is plagued with rising costs and a continually delayed delivery date. The reality is that the $90 million originally estimated, has now sky rocketed (pun intended) to more than $400 million for LRASM, and it is likely a decade away from being battle-ready. On top of the $400 million, it now appears that the Pentagon is ready to spend an addition $200 million for fiscal year 2015. For a fraction of the price, the Pentagon could have redesigned proven Tomahawk technology that would meet the Navy’s changing needs and be available by 2015.
At a time when budgets are decreasing and threats are increasing, the Pentagon shouldn’t be spending money the US doesn’t have, on technology our warfighters won’t be able to use for decades. This is true especially when there are viable, significantly lower cost solutions that would meet the more pertinent needs of our military and better address today’s evolving national security threats.
With layers of complicated bureaucratic processes and political support from lawmakers, the Pentagon has been able to get away with wasting billions of dollars on needless defense procurement projects, for far too long.
The Pentagon, Congress and the Administration must realize that when you have something that works, stick with it. Commit money to evolve successful technology and learn from its failures to create next-generation systems, without wasting billions of dollars, years of institutional knowledge and jeopardizing national security on what will never be the next prince charming.