It was almost comforting to hear the Republican candidates try to outdo each other on Saturday night, saying they’d pour money on the problems of our military to solve them. As if that solution ever worked. One of the biggest problems we have is that we’re doing some really dumb things.
Some are so dumb it beggars the imagination. Other things are so costly — and dumb — that they are going to beggar the Pentagon budget for decades. We’re buying the wrong stuff.
Three examples prove this theory. First is President Obama’s recent executive order to the Army directing it on how to buy a rifle to replace the old M-16. Second is the continued machinations of the Air Force and Navy to justify buying the combat-ineffective F-35. And third is the Navy’s insistence on buying more of the Littoral Combat Ships (“LCSs,” aka the “little crappy ship”) which can’t survive in combat.
As my pal Rowan Scarborough reported last week in the Washington Times, Obama issued a January executive order directing the Army to design the needed replacement for the M-16 rifle (and the derivative M-4 carbine, which is famous for its malfunctions) not to make it more lethal but to make it safer. That is, less likely to accidentally discharge and to make it harder for an “unauthorized” person to fire the weapon.
As long as there are firearms, there will be accidental discharges. No matter how many safeties you put on a gun, all it takes is for some dummy to pull the trigger of a loaded weapon at the wrong time and when the safeties are off. The answer to that problem is training, not rifle or pistol design.
As for “unauthorized” users, why on earth would we want to bar them from using a weapon in combat? If your average combat soldier — let’s call her Lisa — has her weapon jam, the obvious thing to do it to pick up the weapon of another soldier who’s been wounded or killed and to keep fighting. But if Lisa picks up Betty’s rifle, wouldn’t we want her to be able to keep shooting? The rifle could be made safe from unauthorized use, but the only people benefitting from it would be the enemy.
That’s not only dumb, but it will raise the price of the weapon to include the “safe” technologies.
The latest on the most expensive weapon system ever bought by the Pentagon ($400 billion to buy, more than $1 trillion to own and fly for its projected life) arises from — and after — the Marines declared the F-35 “IOC” date last summer. The IOC is the initial operational capability date, meaning the day on which the aircraft is cleared for combat.
But, as the Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation concluded in a report issued last week, the Marine version — like the Air Force and Navy versions — isn’t ready for combat.
According to the DOT&E report, the Marine declaration of IOC was done with special support from Lockheed, the aircraft builder, and skipped key software tests. In short, the IOC test wasn’t done under combat conditions.
The report said, “…the F-35B Block 2B aircraft would need to avoid threat engagement… in an opposed combat scenario, and would require augmentation by other friendly forces.” This matches what I wrote two years ago, quoting the then-commander of Air Combat Command, Gen. Mike Hostage. He said, “If I do not keep that F-22 fleet viable, the F-35 fleet frankly will be irrelevant. The F-35 is not built as an air superiority platform. It needs the F-22. Because I got such a pitifully tiny fleet, I’ve got to ensure I will have every single one of those F-22s as capable as it possibly can be.”
It also is consistent with a report leaked last year in which a 1972-vintage F-16 outflew and out-fought the brandy dandy new F-35. The F-35 is supposed to replace the F-16 and the A-10 attack aircraft (which, at least for now, is being kept for the fight against ISIS).
The F-35 is not only incapable of air-to-air combat, its software is so complex that it often keeps the aircraft on the ground. The DOT&E report also says that the production schedule for the F-35 is unrealistic: “It could be achieved only by eliminating a significant number of currently planned test points, tripling the rate at which weapons delivery events have historically been conducted, and deferring resolution of significant operational deficiencies to…” a later-produced version of the fighter.
Failing tests is a huge red flag. Deferring them to a later date to falsely achieve supposed combat capability measurements is acquisition malpractice.
But the F-35 is too big and too important to the services to recognize its failures, so the Air Force, Navy, and Marines keep buying it. Keep in mind that the F-35 will consume more than half of each service’s acquisition budget for the next couple of decades. It would be far better to limit or even terminate the program and stop hemorrhaging money from the services’ budgets.
The case of the “Little Crappy Ship” is just as bad though not as expensive. According to a DOT&E report of a few years ago, the LCS can’t survive in combat. It’s supposed to go into coastal waters to support air and ground operations, but when it does it’s too vulnerable to enemy fire. To avoid it, the LCS will have to stay out of range thereby precluding it from performing its primary mission.
The Navy wants to buy fifty-two of them at a price of $450 million each. (The eleventh LCS was launched recently.) Defense Secretary Carter wants the Navy to cut the buy to forty ships, but Navy Secretary Ray Mabus is fighting him on the cut and may take the battle to Congress. The mess of the LCS is just getting messier.
The combined effect of these poor choices and bizarre presidential directives is not hard to derive. If the Air Force, Navy, and Marines bet all their fighter and attack marbles on an aircraft that can’t fight, their combat capabilities will be reduced massively. If the Navy buys a ship that can’t fight where it’s supposed to its combat capability is further reduced. And if the Army and Marines have to design their new rifle to meet safety standards, it will cost more and reduce their combat capability.
Weapon systems — aircraft, ships, small arms. and everything else — should only be purchased if they increase the lethality of our forces. Bad choices can mean wars — and lives — will be lost.
We need to buy the right stuff. In Tom Wolfe’s great book by that name (and the movie made from it), we saw how the bravery and personal sacrifice of our first astronauts made our space program a success. If we buy the wrong stuff there’s only so much our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines can do to overcome the artificial obstacle between them and victory. Depriving them of the best weapons based on the most advanced technology puts them at a disadvantage they shouldn’t have to bear.