Calling for Bigger, Better Solutions: Tackling Pentagon Bloat, Bad Investments | National Security Network

Today, the Senate is expected to vote on the measure passed by the House to undo the $6 billion reductions to the Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) for working-age military retirees over the decade, which are to be paid for by reductions in Medicare. This would give the Pentagon a pass in fully shouldering its part of the burden of deficit reduction at the expense of social programs. Meanwhile, there are rumors that the White House may pursue an increase in Pentagon spending in 2016. Yet, there remains ample space to maintain lower Pentagon top-line budgets, with untapped efficiency reforms alone able to provide up to $37 billion in additional savings per year. Moreover, the Department of Defense remains over-invested in outdated weapon systems while cheaper and potentially more effective alternatives exist. However, there does appear to be limited but important progress towards addressing at least some of these mismatched investments. But over the mid-to-long-term, more imaginative thinking and decisive action will be required.

Unwillingness for modest changes to COLA raise broader questions on the vision and will needed to make serious choices on reshaping the Pentagon. HASC Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA) explains the broader significance of undoing the Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) for working-age military retirees: “We are going to have to do some series of things that previously were unimaginable, OK? So we’re going to have to re-adjust our imagination. We’ve simply chosen not to…We need a strategic response in Congress other than just ‘no, don’t cut that’…I understand that a one percent cut in the COLA is not insubstantial. It is a decrease in what the increase in retirements is going to be…If you’re not going to cut this, what are you going to cut?” Congressman Smith added, “We ought to be able to come up with a strategy whereby $500 billion a year is enough to meet our national security needs.” [Adam Smith via Breaking Defense, 2/6/14]

More room to maintain lowered Pentagon spending in efficiency savings. The Pentagon’s Business Board concluded in a recent report that there is significant room for savings through efficiency reforms: “The US Defense Department could save $27 billion to $37 billion annually over the next four to five years by instituting business practices commonly adopted by major corporations in cash-strapped periods, an influential Pentagon advisory board said in a new report. The majority of the savings could come through a massive overhaul of DoD’s logistics and supply chain, including shuttering military supply depots and warehouses,” reports Defense News. [Defense News, 1/27/14]

Overinvestments in outdated weapon systems continue as politics muddle strategy, but some signs of progress are appearing:

Nuclear aircraft carriers: The Department of Defense has been considering reducing the Navy’s fleet of nuclear aircraft carriers from 11 to 10, though reports indicate the White House may have squashed the idea and key members of Congress have opposed the move as well. However, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has warned that, “the large aircraft carrier may no longer be an effective weapon system for defending U.S. interests overseas as new technologies designed to threaten and destroy surface ships are developed and spread to many countries.” The CBO further notes that reducing the Navy’s fleet of nuclear carriers from 11 to 10 “would save $10 billion in outlays from 2016 through 2023.” Moreover, Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution adds the debate has ignored the fact that “We have 11 additional aircraft carriers in the form of the large deck [amphibious ships]. There may be cases where we can use those as aircraft carriers or as the equivalent.” [CBO, 11/13. Michael O’Hanlon via DoD Buzz, 2/10/14]

M1 Abrams main battle tank: The Washington Post explains, “Military officials say they’ve given careful thought to their strategy and they simply can’t afford to pay for more upgraded tanks. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the Army’s chief of staff, made its case before Congress in 2012. ‘We don’t need the tanks,’ he said. ‘Our tank fleet is 21 / 2 years old average now. We’re in good shape, and these are additional tanks that we don’t need.’…But the Army has run up against congressional opposition. To keep these lines running, Congress has allocated well more than the Army requested for the programs — an extra $181 million for Abrams in fiscal 2013.” In the 2014 NDAA, over $250 million was authorized for spending on the M1, $90 million above the requested amount. [Washington Post, 1/31/14]

Ground Combat Vehicle: The Army recently (and begrudgingly) announced it would postpone its Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) program for three or four years, helping to align the services investments with likely future needs. The GCV was the Army’s next-generation armored fighting vehicle and transport meant to replace some of its Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles. However, the CBO explains that, the GCV “is too large and heavy to operate effectively in congested areas with limited space to maneuver; such conditions were common in Iraq and Afghanistan are likely to occur in the future. In contrast, the Bradley IFV is significantly smaller and lighter than the GCV and could be a better choice for potential future conflict.” CBO notes that cancelling the GCV would save $15 billion during 2014-2023. [CBO, 11/13]

Littoral Combat Ship: The $34 billion Littoral Combat Ship program, which faces shortcomings in terms of survivability and combat power, is finally being tailored back. This may help the Navy’s shipbuilding plan better align with emerging threats. According to Politico, Acting Deputy Defense Secretary Christine Fox, “a career naval analyst, is said to have ordered the Navy to plan to cut 20 Littoral Combat Ships from its program of 52, and she appeared skeptical about the value of the full program in a speech to a defense trade show in San Diego. ‘Given more advanced anti-ship munitions being developed by potential adversaries, I believe it is an imperative to devote increasing focus and resources to the survivability of our battle fleet,’ she said. ‘Niche platforms [like the LCS] that can conduct a certain mission in a permissive environment have a valuable place in the Navy’s inventory. Yet, we need more ships with the protection and firepower to survive against a more advanced military adversary.’” [Christine Fox via Politico, 2/11/14]

Ensuring investments go to the right weapon systems requires tamping down on political interference, something a “weapons BRAC” could address. Lawrence Korb, of the Center for American Progress and former Assistant Secretary of Defense under President Reagan, and Jake Stokes, formerly of NSN, have argued that BRAC could provide a basis for enabling better priority-setting for investment in weapon system. “A similar process should be adopted for weapons systems — we’ll call it a ‘weapons BRAC.’ Instituting such a process would produce several benefits. First, it would provide the right incentive for Congress to fund systems that military and national security experts say the country needs, instead of pet projects favored by influential members of Congress. A weapons BRAC would also increase pressure on defense contractors to provide more accurate cost estimates, meet project deadlines and achieve performance standards, lest they be recommended for termination in the commission’s report. The weapons BRAC should also follow the model of the original base-closure program and provide economic assistance to local communities affected by program terminations to help them retool for other industries. These could be budget-neutral assistance such as low-interest government loans.” [Lawrence Korb and Jake Stokes, 6/15/11]

via Calling for Bigger, Better Solutions: Tackling Pentagon Bloat, Bad Investments | National Security Network.