By Andrea Shalal
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon's notoriously slow, bureaucratic and wasteful acquisition system is eroding America's military technological edge and must be reformed, Senator John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said on Thursday.
The Arizona Republican, a former presidential candidate and prisoner of war during the Vietnam War, vowed to shake up how the Pentagon buys weapons by removing regulatory and legislative barriers to innovation, increasing accountability and promoting investment in game-changing technologies.
"Our failing defense acquisition system is not just a budgetary scandal; it is a national security crisis," he told the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.
McCain pledged to scrutinize "large and costly programs of record," a direct jab at big weapons makers including Lockheed Martin Corp, Boeing Co and Northrop Grumman Corp, which dominate the current system.
He also announced plans to examine the way the U.S. Defense Department is organized, and whether the Goldwater-Nichols reforms enacted 30 years ago to better integrate the military services were working as intended, or simply fueling the expansion of the Pentagon bureaucracy and officer corps.
"We are now flirting with disaster," McCain said, warning that the U.S. military risked losing its technological edge given rapid advances by U.S. adversaries, its own inefficiency, and years of wasteful spending, compounded by congressional budget caps due to resume in fiscal 2016.
"Our Defense Department has grown larger but less capable, more complex but less innovative, more proficient at defeating low-tech adversaries but more vulnerable to high-tech ones," McCain said, noting that the Pentagon spent $46 billion between 2001 and 2011 on a dozen programs that never became operational.
McCain said he saw an opportunity to enact meaningful reforms over the next two years given a similar reform drive by Representative Mac Thornberry, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and the new defense secretary, Ash Carter.
He said his committee was looking at how to give the top uniformed officers and civilian leaders of the military services greater responsibility for acquisition, promote more innovation, and speed up the acquisition cycle.
"Innovation is measured in 18-month cycles in the commercial market. The Defense Department has acquisition cycles that can last 18 years," he said.
He also called for steps to attract nontraditional commercial and international suppliers by removing regulatory barriers and addressing impediments such as export controls and "Buy America" restrictions.
(Editing by Matthew Lewis)