Now, in full disclosure before I begin this, let me remind y’all I used to jump out of airplanes. I wasn’t skilled or talented enough to fly airplanes and I certainly have deep respect for my aviation brothers and sisters. And yes, I always get the “why would anyone jump out of a perfectly good airplane” line all the time. My immediate response is that they all have to land, but paratroopers beat them to the ground. And to a ground warrior, there’s no better sound than the blurp-blurp of that A-10 Thunderbolt II 30mm gatling gun.
However, we have an issue with our current weapons procurement and acquisition processes and systems in our current force, and especially with a current air platform.
But there is also another issue infesting our defense acquisition system.
As reported by the Washington Post, “Just over a year after Northrop Grumman won the multibillion dollar contract to build a next-generation stealth bomber, the company appointed Mark Welsh, who was serving as Air Force chief of staff at the time of the contract award, to its board.
The appointment, announced Friday, is not unusual in Washington, where former high-ranking Pentagon officials often go to work for the defense industry after their military service.
But it comes as President-elect Donald Trump is highlighting the potential conflicts of interests in the “revolving door” between the Pentagon and industry, as he vows to clean up Washington.
On Monday, Trump also took a shot at Lockheed Martin’s $400 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, the most expensive in the history of the Pentagon, saying the “cost is out of control. Billions of dollars can and will be saved on military (and other) purchases after January 20th.”
“The people that are making these deals for the government, they should never be allowed to go to work for these companies,” he said. “You know, they make a deal like that and then a year later, or two years later, or three years later you see them working for these big companies that made the deal.”
In announcing Welsh’s appointment, Wes Bush, Northrop’s chief executive, said “his extensive leadership experience and deep understanding of global security are a great fit to our board, and we are excited about the contributions he will make as Northrop Grumman employees around the globe work to create value for our customers and shareholders.”
Former government employees frequently go to work in private industry, leveraging their experience and access to high-paying jobs in consulting, lobbying and contracting. In 2008, the Government Accountability Office found that 52 of the biggest defense contractors employed 2,435 former generals, senior executives and acquisition officers. Of those, 422 were in a position to work on defense contracts directly related to their former agencies and at least nine may have been working on the same contracts they previously oversaw.”
After a military career, no one wants to see anyone’s talents not being utilized in the private sector. The problem, though, is with a system that’s gone too far to the extreme in rewarding those who may be pushing systems on the military.
One of the problems I recall was when the Army went to a professional Acquisition Corps. That means officers were tracked in a singular career path where their sole purpose was systems development and fielding. Their officer evaluations were based on their success in fielding these designated systems to the force. And let me tell you, there were times when the systems that got through did not perform to standard in the force.
As a Battalion Executive Officer at Ft. Bragg, I remember the issues we had with the towing hitch and rear bumper rails on our FMTV trucks, used to tow our M198 (155mm) howitzers. Also we had issue with the canvas tarp and bow systems that would hold rainwater, and tear, breaking the bow systems. The cost of the repeated repair and purchase of the tarp systems led us to simply not use them…and you can imagine how miserable it would get for our troopers riding in the back of these vehicles in inclement weather.
That’s just a small example. But consider the plight of the F-35 system in development since its announcement in 2001. Imagine back during World War II when this nation was cranking out P-51 fighter planes, and yes, that was advanced technology for the day.
This is the frustration that President-elect Donald Trump is expressing. While some are focused on stock prices, the real focus should be on the concern of the lack of efficiency and the missed timelines and performance suspenses. Meanwhile, these changing mission requirements and cost overruns are eaten up by the American taxpayer, and that’s where we need to improve this process.
I recall when the announcement came that the Obama administration was going to end the A-10 Warthog program, and the question begs, why? The A-10 is the most capable close air support platform in our inventory — ask anyone who’s been in a firefight. I would offer that many of our issues with collateral damage from bombing have come from utilizing aerial platforms not intended for close air support.
Yes, we have an aging fleet in the Air Force, but we should first seek out SLEP (service life enhancement programs) before embarking on brand new technologies. And we must have tighter timelines for these new technologies. I completely understand that the F-35’s advantage is its integrated stealth design and capability. The F/A-18 Super Hornet SLEP could have served as a model, an alternative.
Then there’s the question of what is the purpose of the F-22 Raptor? The last F-22 or F/A-22 was delivered to the U.S. Air Force in 2012. This was a system designed for air superiority, but also ground attack, electronic warfare, and signal intelligence…and it had stealth technology.
This is why the incoming commander in chief, a businessman, looks at the defense industry and finds frustration..as we all should. Last week we learned about the billions of dollars of waste in civilian bureaucracy in the Pentagon. And we clearly see an acquisition system sorely lacking. We have an almost larger civilian force in the defense department than active duty Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines, who’ve taken the brunt of sequestration. We have uniformed personnel advocating for defense systems for which they continue to advocate upon retirement.
And we’re upset because General James Mattis needs a waiver to serve as secretary of defense? Perhaps there should be a stipulation that retired senior officers cannot work for defense contractors with whom they dealt while in uniform.
There are two immediate situations that need to be rectified in our defense department: the bloated civilian bureaucracy and the out of control procurement and acquisition system. The focus of our defense department must once again return to enabling the warfighter on the ground to win. Sadly, when we’re spending $400 billion on a fighter aircraft while they’re having to buy their own gear, something tells me the priorities are not aligned.
And yep, I’m still pissed off about the Boeing selling aircraft to Iran thing.