The Pentagon is on speed, and has been for years. Its rush to accelerate assembly lines has led to escalating costs, blown schedules and weapons unable to perform as advertised. That’s the bottom line in the Government Accountability Office’s 18th annual report into how the U.S. Department of Defense buys its weapons.
The average cost of major Pentagon weapons has jumped by 54% since they began. That $628 billion overrun is largely “unrelated to the increase in quantities purchased,” the GAO says. And they are assigned to fighting forces more than two years late. “DOD continues to look for ways to deliver systems as fast as possible,” the congressional watchdog agency says. “Until DOD can reconcile gaps in the ambitious schedules that programs promise with the incomplete knowledge they have attained, its ability to accelerate the speed at which it delivers capabilities remains in jeopardy.”
Congress and the Pentagon have teamed up to speed up slo-mo military procurement (the Air Force has been trying for nearly 20 years to replace its aging aerial tankers; the Army has taken just as long seeking a Bradley Fighting Vehicle replacement). But such efforts tend to fail because the U.S. military is rarely interested in good-enough. It wants top-flight programs like the F-35 fighter and the Zumwalt-class destroyer, which it then sabotages by rushing them into production before the blueprints are dry.
Why the rush? The haste seems particularly vexing, given that the U.S. has been mired in wars against insurgents and second-tier opponents since 9/11 (Afghanistan, lost; Iraq, tie). Toss in Vietnam (lost), or Korea (tie), if you want to get all historical about it. For those keeping score at home, that works out to a 0-2-2 record. (And when you’re a superpower, a tie counts as a loss.)
But the Pentagon is forever telling lawmakers, salivating over the prospect of well-paying defense-plant jobs in their districts, that they must fund such sophisticated gold-plated silver bullets now: “We have to put the pedal to the metal and pay the piper because who knows when [INSERT CURRENT TOP PROSPECTIVE FOE HERE] is going to strike!”
Yesterday it was the Soviet Union, today it’s China, and who knows who it will be tomorrow. It’s the closest thing yet to a perpetual-commotion machine that humans have invented.