DoD's Death Spiral (II) … Why the End Game is Either Program
Death or a Complete Overhaul, Not Higher Budgets

September 3, 1998

Comment: #183

Discussion Thread:  #182 and commentaries relating to the phony debate to raise the defense budget: #s 159, 165, 166, 167, 168, 169, 177.

Reference: [1] George C. Wilson, "Officers Complain Weapons Have Become Too Fancy for Army's Own Good," LEGI-SLATE News Service, August 21,1998. Excerpts attached.

Some readers believe that Jacques Gansler raised the specter of the Defense Department's DEATH SPIRAL as part of a "battlefield shaping" operation to prepare Congress and the American people for a large increase in the defense budget. This possibility can not be dismissed out of hand. George Wilson, for example, notes that Secretary Cohen conceded that there has been an erosion in readiness, while acknowledging that modernization has to be accelerated. Indeed, administration officials told Wilson that Pentagon leaders plan "…to seek a higher topline for fiscal 2000 and beyond than the 1997 congressional agreement allows…" [see last two paragraphs, Reference #1].

Will higher budgets will pull the Pentagon out of its death spiral?

I urge you to read carefully the reaction to Gansler's death-spiral lament by Herbert Fenster, an attorney well enough versed in defense issues to have cleaned out the Navy in the A-12 law suit, the largest civil judgment ever lost by the US government:

"The only thing that is remarkable about Jacques' statement is that he was so elliptical about the reasons. They are, as you know, quite obvious: He has two "budgets" which he must manage. The R&D budget is so hugely over-committed that there is no possible way to obtain the deficit funding either in the near term or even by slowing and deferring existing programs. Even the immense amount of pressure which is being exerted on RDT&E contractors to "share" those costs (a practice which is manifestly illegal) will not serve to cure the deficit."

"In short, program death is the only remedy because Congress could not (even if it were in the mood to do so) bail out the programs."

"Then there is the procurement budget. As you have noted in the past, the military infrastructure (just like the nation's non-military infrastructure) is in such terrible shape that funding to fix it could easily consume the entirety of the military procurement budget, leaving nothing for EITHER procurement of new systems for inventory, or for any of the normal O&M objectives. And at that, there is no consideration given to the fact that the environmental remediation of the two centuries old infrastructure - alone - portends a cost approaching the total military budget for FOUR years (yes, about a trillion dollars.)"

"So, program death is the only solution here too. But, it is certainly not feasible if considered alone. Only a massive overhaul in the management of the national defense will even suggest long term solutions. In this connection the very existence of the senior management structure, the existence of the three (or five) services in their present embodiment, the mind boggling overlapping of operations and missions, the mismatch of preparation to threat, size and structure of the industrial complex that supports national defense, - everything - must be considered and seriously questioned." [end Fenster]

AMEN. Note Fenster's reference to the illegality of R&D cost sharing, an apparent reference to the explicit prohibitions of the Anti-Deficiency Act [see #s 151, 152, 169]. If Fenster's analysis is correct, and I believe it is, the implications are truly mind boggling: The front loaders in the government have deliberately over-committed the Defense Department and committed the government to illegal contracts in those cases involving R&D cost sharing. All terminations or truncations, therefore, will be for the convenience of the government. This means the taxpayer will foot the bill for any contract penalties attending remedial actions made necessary by their government's irresponsible decision making practices.

Mr. Fenster is not the only reader contemplating program death. A Master Sergeant from Fort Sill looked at it a from a soldier's perspective in an email response to Comment #182 that says,

"… the guy who wrote Death Spiral is right. We're shorting readiness and other programs to pay for new weapons and systems … But these contractors gotta remember: Once they've spent us out of house, home and good forces, someone'll come along and kick our butts and then … they'll be out of a job! No more gold plating."

Chuck Spinney

[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, the following material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]

Reference #1


Officers Complain Weapons Have Become Too Fancy for Army's Own Good

by George C. Wilson LEGI-SLATE News Service


WASHINGTON (Aug. 21) -- The Army's $5 million M1A2 tank often gets too hot to handle in hot weather, Brig. Gen. Russel L. Honore complained in a recent speech, lamenting that many of today's weapons are too fancy for ordinary soldiers to operate and too costly to fix.

The unusually blunt remarks of Honore, assistant division commander of the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas, inspired a flood of similar complaints in e-mail messages from other officers who warned that problems with their new and old equipment are undercutting their readiness to go to war if necessary.


Some Army officials think Honore oversimplified the problem, placing the blame largely on equipment design when in fact personnel and other issues complicate the problems.

One Army tanker declared, in one of the many messages obtained by LEGI-SLATE News: "Typical Honore. Very uneducated sounding and abrasive. He is truly a warrior, focused on nothing but how to seek and destroy the enemy. We have an awful lot of gee whiz technology that cannot survive the rigorous conditions in which we place it. Additionally, the Army personnel system does not mesh at all with this dynamic piece of equipment that should receive the same careful handling as an F-16 fighter. The M1A2 is a great tank. It sucks logistically. We are nowhere near ready to maintain this piece of equipment ourselves. Personnel turbulence is so steep that once a soldier is acquainted with a new vehicle and can actually start doing preventive maintenance, it is already time to move on."

A junior Army officer in his e-mail inspired by Honore's speech said: "Those of you who believe in all the hype about the Revolution in Military Affairs and the Revolution in Business Affairs really ought to get down in the trenches and spend a few days with the mud soldiers. Watch them go into overload trying to operate and maintain this equipment. Then ask the so-called policy wonks in the Pentagon (we call them defense intellaaaactuals) how they can concoct rationales to bail out the modernization program, which is causing these problems by transferring money from the operating budget to the procurement budget. Also ask them to explain how their acquisition reforms will reduce the rising cost of low readiness."


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