The Pentagon is a classic example of a federal agency that spends money on unnecessary programs. Congress is an integral part of the problem as they appropriate money for programs that are duplicative and unnecessary. This problem was highlighted when the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) exposed that the Omnibus spending bill which was passed earlier this year was filled with more than $7 billion in unrequested earmarks.
The debate over earmarks isn’t the only problem that taxpayers must continue to fight, there is also the question of efficiency and how best to spend money when it is actually necessary. Though TPA focuses a great deal on the wasteful spending on projects and programs that are not needed, there is a need to focus on how to make sure that spending is done responsibility when dealing with competing technologies and programs that aim to achieve the same outcomes or serve similar purposes and interests. The F-35 is a glaring example of the Pentagon spending money on a weapons system that is unneeded and overly expensive.
Besides the much-publicized problems with the F-35, two weapons systems that put a spotlight on this problem are the Tomahawk Missile program and the Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) program. Proponents of the LRASM contend that it is time to move on from the long-used Tomahawk and that the new weapon will be the first anti-ship missile, “capable of conducting autonomous targeting, relying on on-board targeting systems to independently acquire the target without the presence of prior, precision intelligence, or supporting services like Global Positioning Satellite navigation and data-links.”
The program was initiated in 2009 but five years later the road is still a long and not totally certain one for the new missile system. LRASM has no clear return in terms of what taxpayers will get and the fact of the matter is the program is not projected to actually be in-service until 2024, still a decade away from finding out if Congress made the right bet on the taxpayer dole.
What should also be of concern is that the Tomahawk has been a successful weapons system. Upgrading a proven weapons system should be considered before scrapping a working defense program that will cost less than going with an untested, unproven system. Michael James Barton detailed this very concern in the Washington Examiner earlier this month:
Some policymakers have expressed support for replacing the Tomahawk program with an alternative weapons system known as the Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM), which has half the range of the Tomahawk and is more expensive. LRASM proponents hope to start putting it on aircraft by around 2018, but delays could push this date back even further. And as the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile program demonstrates, a number of factors ranging from technical problems to cost overruns consistently push back the operational dates for new defense weapons. The Tomahawk, meanwhile, is already fully integrated with all major U.S. combatant ships and submarines. And work is already underway to improve the Tomahawk to meet the next generation of threats our nation will face… The bottom line? Upgrading the Tomahawk system is less expensive and less risky than phasing it out in favor of a missile still at the early stages of development.
There should be a focus on finding ways to bring the Tomahawk along into the future with upgrades that will improve the system, keep costs under control, and continue the work product that has made it a successful and reliable program for decades. In terms of saving taxpayers money, the Tomahawk already has the jump, according to a recent report from the Naval Aviation Enterprise:
In response to additional 2012 budget challenges, the Tactical Tomahawk weapons system team was tasked to find potential areas to save money or avoid future costs. Through a combination of contract negotiations and Government Furnished Equipment re-use, the program saved $117 million in FY12/13; these funds were either recapitalized within the program or returned to the resource sponsor. To continue their migration from “will cost” to “should cost,” the Tactical Tomahawk weapon systems program employs a three-step approach: identify and analyze cost drivers (acquisition strategy, technical and vendor management, and schedule and requirements management); analyze and prioritize cost-savings opportunities (canister manufacturing, competitive procurement of parts, and the target production contract); and develop an implementation plan and set cost reduction targets.
Defense appropriators should take a hard look at the track record of all successful weapons systems that will cost less to upgrade and be ready for use a lot quicker than a technology still in development that could end up costing taxpayers far more time and money.
Innovation and competition is always important, but when taxpayers are subsidizing the cost there has to be certainty for a return on the money.