The recently finalized version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is expected to pass before Congress leaves for the holidays. While the final version of the bill yields some improvement from the earlier House version – and takes some steps backward from the Senate version – it nonetheless contains a number of examples of expenses that should not be part of a well-managed drawdown. The bill authorizes the Pentagon to spend over $550 billion on its base budget for FY14. That’s more than $30 billion above the already increased caps on spending that would be put in place by the Ryan-Murray budget deal and would therefore trigger another round of sequester (unless appropriators reduce the amount given to DoD to be in line with the new caps). But beyond top-line dollars, the bill includes a number of provisions that highlight poor planning for a military confronting a drawdown, offering a guide of what not to do next year.
Some select examples include:
Preventing base closures (BRAC) despite excess infrastructure and billions in potential savings. Lt. General David Barno (ret.), Nora Bensahel and Jake Stokes of CNAS explain the much-needed benefits of a fresh BRAC round: “DOD estimates that it operates roughly 20 percent too many domestic bases… In order to close those bases, Congress must authorize a round of the Base Realignment and Closure process (BRAC). DOD currently saves $12 billion per year from previous rounds of BRAC — $4 billion for the 2005 round and $8 billion for the four rounds before that…Combined with savings from closing [unneeded] DOD schools in the United States and reducing base support and facilities maintenance costs, authorizing and conducting a BRAC round could save up to $17 billion over the decade, with much greater savings afterwards.” [David Barno, Nora Bensahel, Jake Stokes et. al, 6/6/13]
Micromanaging for obsolescence: Forcing the Pentagon to keep weapons it neither wants nor needs. The bill prevents the Air Force from retiring the Global Hawk Block 30 aircraft – high-flying drones used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance – despite military leaders insisting that the older and cheaper to operate U-2 spy planes can get the job done. The LA Times reports, “At a cost of $35,000 per flying hour, the Global Hawk Block 30 aircraft had ‘priced itself out of the niche, in terms of taking pictures in the air,’ Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said at the time. The Air Force planned to stop buying the Global Hawk and mothball 18 of those it already owned to save about $2.5 billion over five years.” The decision to prevent the Air Force from retiring Global Hawks is doubly unfounded given recent disclosures that the USAF has been secretly developing the RQ-180 – a more capable, stealthy drone for reconnaissance, intelligence, and surveillance missions that could be deployed as early as 2015. [LA Times, 12/6/12]
Spending billions on the F-35 before the aircraft is fully developed, costing more later. The bill authorizes $8 billion for Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps versions of the F-35, most of which is for buying additional fighters – so-called concurrent production (procuring a weapon system while it is still in development). The problem, however, is that prematurely purchased aircraft require being upgraded later to be brought up to par with the final versions – costing $1.2 billion in the case of the F-35 even by the most optimistic estimates. The F-35 will be important to watch as days ago the RAND Corporation released a major study of how much it will cost to maintain the F-35, finding that instead of being cheaper than aircraft designed for a single service – one of the reasons the F-35 was developed for all three branches of the military was because it was thought to result in cost savings – the F-35 “is likely to end up costing more than it would to build separate planes for each service…Under none of the plausible conditions we analyzed did’ the F-35 ‘have a lower life-cycle cost estimate” for maintaining and operating the aircraft.
NSN Senior Advisor Major General (ret.) Paul Eaton adds that continued overinvestment in the trillion-dollar F-35 program may result in imbalances across force structure and capabilities needed to address emerging challenges: “We continue to acquire what are essentially legacy systems oriented along Cold War lines at the expense of acquisitions in leap ahead technologies that will serve the defense of the U.S. and our allies more effectively.” [Bloomberg, 12/17/13. NSN 12/18/13]
Keeping the ball rolling on East Coast missile defense – something already rejected by military leaders. The bill requires a report from the Department of Defense on the viability of an East Coast missile defense system, keeping alive the misguided goal of wasting billions on the project. While the reporting requirement is a step up from a previous version of the bill that required building an East Coast missile defense site by 2018, the entire notion is best scrapped. Vice Admiral J. D. Syring, the Director of the Missile Defense Agency and Lt. General Richard Formica, Commander of Joint Functional Command for Integrated Missile Defense, say “there is no validated military requirement to deploy an East Coast missile defense site.” When asked if they supported the initiative, both officers responded, “No” and added that instead, investments in maturing missile defense technology would “result in more cost-effective near-term improvements to homeland missile defense.” [J. D. Syring and Richard Formica, 6/6/13]
Undermining national security by preventing the closure of Guantanamo prison. The Department of Defense reports that Guantanamo prison costs $2.7 million per detainee each year and has cost $4.7 billion since 2002. While the bill now eases rules for the transfer of detainees abroad – no small step forward – it maintains a block on the transfer of detainees to the United States. Without allowing for transfers to the United States, detainees cannot be tried in civilian courts and the facility will remain open for longer. This block remains in place despite bipartisan calls to close Guantanamo. Earlier in the year Senator Feinstein, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and Senator McCain visited the prison and issued a joint statement: “We continue to believe that it is in our national interest to end detention at Guantanamo, with a safe and orderly transition of the detainees to other locations.” Their statement adds to a growing list of criticism of Guantanamo Bay by military and national security leaders, including General Petraeus, who called the prison a “nonbiodegradable” that assists terrorist recruiting efforts. Most recently, General Michael Lehnert – the officer who opened Guantanamo prison – called the facility “a prison that should never have been opened,” adding “it validates every negative perception of the United States.” [Diane Feinstein, John McCain, Denis McDonough, 6/7/13. David Petraeus via NBC, 2/21/10. Michael Lehnert via Reuters, 12/12/13]