Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas, who is Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, recently introduced legislation to reform the military’s acquisition process. I don’t relish Congressman Thornberry’s job, because as anyone who has served in the Armed Forces knows, the acquisition process is an ugly business that often fails to serve the best interests of both the military and the United States taxpayers. Despite not being perfect, the “Defense Acquisition Streamlining and Transparency Act’’ is a welcome relief.
While the Joint Strike Fighter might be the all-time bad example of the military procurement process, undeniably, the years of development and investment in certain missile defense systems may be a close second — at least in terms of cost overruns and missed marks. This is not to say that there have not been successes when it comes to procurement, and that our nation, armed forces, and allies are better off for those advancements. But there have been and continue to be some examples that should anger any sensible and patriotic American.
One such example missile defense acquisition failure is the U.S. Army’s Integrated Air and Missile Battle Command System (IBCS). This system is both significantly late and over budget. On May 25, it was reported its initial capability is going to be delayed by four years.
In 2006, when IBCS was conceptualized, it was hoped that it would create a distinct, clear and connected view of the battle space and give our commanders and warfighters the ability to easily track potential enemy missiles and the ability through seamless communications to make quick and impactful decisions.
A major benefit of IBCS — were it to be operational — was the ability for military personal across different branches to communicate effectively to shoot down potential threats. For example, an Army missile could shoot down an incoming threat that was first detected by an Air Force sensor and then tracked by a Navy sensor across its flight path. On the modern battlefield, troops from different branches are often in close contact and fighting a common enemy. This is why having this ability to communicate, connect systems and work together was and is so desirable by our commanders.
But regrettably, despite the critical needs for what IBCS could offer, the system has been plagued with numerous problems and failed to meet many important markers. To date, it is three years behind schedule and the system has not progressed past the Engineering and Manufacturing Development phase. In fact, last year, IBCS failed an important operational test that was a lower level test than was originally planned.
While IBCS is supposed to be able to connect with any branch of the military, it still cannot work seamlessly with Army sensors designed to detect missiles. How will IBCS connect across all platforms if it cannot even work seamlessly with the Army’s sensors?
Another concern with IBCS is that it is not able to effectively protect itself from the threat of cyber-attack. Recent reports state that IBCS does not include sufficient cyber hardening or electronic protection. The software is vulnerable to a cyber hacking because of its dated conception. For example, IBCS relies on GPS, which is a decades-old system that is vulnerable to cyber-attack.
If IBCS could be perfected, it would be an amazing asset to our military. But, IBCS is failing on multiple fronts. In my opinion, it is becoming clear that we need to move away from these massive procurements to a more streamlined system that seeks out gradual improvements that will rapidly increase battlefield capabilities.
I wholeheartedly agree with Vincent Sabio, program manager at the Department of Defense’s Strategic Capabilities Office, when he recently said, as the Army Times reports, “the industry/defense partnership needs to move away from a ‘high quality’ production system that sometimes brings costly systems into the inventory, or fails to produce systems after decades of investment, to a ‘good enough’ approach that aims to ‘fail early and fix early.’”
In 2009, when work began on building IBCS, it was hoped it would be ready some time in 2015 and cost $5.4 billion. Now, we are looking at a best-case scenario of being ready by 2022 and costing around $7 billion dollars. This is simply unacceptable. It seems pretty clear that the Army should begin looking at alternatives and move away from IBCS. We can no longer afford to invest in this system, just because we have already invested so much into IBCS. That might be good for the defense contractors, but it is bad news for the warfighter. To me, even though I am a contractor, I will always choose what’s best for our men and women in uniform.