The Howling Wilderness of Acquisition Reform:
F-22 a Case Study of How Business-as-Usual Shapes the Anatomy of Decline

July 20, 1999

Comment: #299


[1] William Cohen, Letter from the Secretary of Defense to the Honorable C.W. Bill Young, Chairman, Committee on Appropriations, U.S. House of Representatives, 15 July 1999.  Attached.

[2] Greg Schneider, "Red-Hot Fighter, Trail Of Deception," Baltimore Sun July 18, 1999, Pg. 1 [Part 1 of 3-part series]

[3] Greg Schneider, "The World's Most Ambitious Fighter," Baltimore Sun
July 19, 1999, Pg. 1 [Part 2 of 3-part series]

[4]Greg Schneider, "F-22 Has Already Doubled In Price And Costs Are Going Up," Baltimore Sun, July 20, 1999, Pg. 1 [Part 3 of 3-part series].

As I have said repeatedly in earlier messages, the Defense Department is in a death spiral. The senior leadership in the Pentagon refuses to address three inter-related problems: (1) it has crafted a modernization program that can not modernize the force on a timely basis because new weapons are too expensive to replace existing weapons on a one-for-one basis, (2) it is faced with a rapidly deteriorating readiness posture but refuses to address the cause of the rising cost of low readiness (which is a consequence of the aging effects as well as the increasing complexity of the modernization program), and (3) it tolerates a corrupt accounting system that renders it impossible to sort out the detailed information needed to fix the first two problems and makes a mockery out of the principle of accountability that is the foundation of our Constitution.

The death spiral takes the form of smaller forces equipped with aging weapons, continual pressure to reduce readiness, and increasing pressure to raise the defense budget.

No mission area illustrates this death spiral more vividly than the tactical air forces (TACAIR) of the Air Force ... and the cornerstone of TACAIR problems leadership's refusal to face the future consequences of its decision to buy the F-22 air superiority fighter -- the most expensive and complex fighter in history.

Last week, those consequences made an early walk on appearance in the theater of Versailles on the Potomac. The Defense Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, HAC(D), regarded by many as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Pentagon, stunned the inhabitants of Versailles by voting to cancel the second year of production of the Air Force's F-22. Even worse, the full appropriations committee affirmed the subcommittee's vote. The full House is scheduled to vote later this week. My guess is that this vote may pass the House, but it probably will not make it through the conference with the Senate. Nevertheless, the House votes are a harbinger of the increasing financial pressures that are going to roll over the Pentagon in 21st Century when competing demands for social security and Medicare start going through the roof.

Defense Secretary Cohen objected strongly to the HAC(D)'s decision in a letter to the Chairman of the full appropriations committee [see Reference #1]. Mr. Cohen argued that the HAC(D)'s decision is tantamount to killing the program, that it will jeopardize our future warfighting capability, and it will place our forces at higher risk. Moreover, he claims there are no other practical options to the F-22 because redesigning the JSF for air superiority will dramatically increase its cost. He further claims that upgraded F-15 will not provide the needed dominance and will cost essentially the same as the F-22. Mr. Cohen ends by telling the Chairman he cannot accept a defense bill that kills this cornerstone program. Note that he does not mention any problems in the program.

I must respectfully disagree with Mr. Cohen's argument. First of all, it is absolutely beyond me how an upgraded F-15 could possibly cost more than an F-22, but then anything is possible in the emerging Quote-Cost Economy of the Howling Wilderness of Acquisition Reform. More importantly, my analyses suggest that the F-22 is a cornerstone of the defense death spiral and the consequences of keeping it alive are far more likely to weaken the capability our military forces over the long term. My reasoning is contained in "Defense Budget Time Bomb" (1996).

But don't take my word for it.

Greg Schneider's stunning three-part series of investigative reports in the Baltimore Sun provides all the information you need to understand the history of and the issues surrounding the F-22 program [References #2, #3, and #4]. Judge for yourself whether keeping this program alive is good for the defense of our country.  Excerpt:  "But the military had to make the plane seem affordable to win funding from Congress. So the F-22 fighter program was born in the mid-1980s with a false promise, and deception has become routine over the past 16 years as the Air Force tries to protect its top-priority new weapon system."

Then ask yourself a question: Did the individual who induced the Secretary of Defense to sign the letter in Reference #1 do Mr. Cohen a service or a disservice?

Chuck Spinney

[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, this 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.]

[ Attachment #1]------------------
WASHINGTON, DC 20301 -1000

15 JUL 1999

Honorable C.W. Bill Young
Committee on Appropriations
U.S. House of Representatives
H-2 IS, U.S , Capitol
Washington, DC 20515-6015

Dear Mr. Chairman:

I was dismayed to team about the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee's mark last Monday that cut S 1.8 billion in procurement funding for the F-22 aircraft. The Department of Defense cannot accept this decision. This decision, if enacted would for all practical purposes kill the F-22 program, the cornerstone of our nation's global air power in the 21st century.

For fifty years every American soldier has gone to war confident that the United States had air superiority. Canceling the F-22 means we cannot guarantee air superiority in future conflicts. It would also have a significant impact on the viability of the Joint Strike Fighter program. The F-22 will enable the Joint Strike Fighter to carry out its primary strike mission. The JSF was not designed for the air superiority mission and redesigning it to do so will dramatically increase the cost. An upgraded F-15 will not provide this dominance and will cost essentially the same as the F-22 program.

I know the difficult budget environment the Congress has to deal with these days. I support your efforts to give our nation the best possible defense at an affordable cost. However I believe the nation's defense requires the F-22. The proposed cut jeopardizes our future warfighting capability and will place our forces at higher risk.

I pledge my strongest effort to ensure the program will be delivered within the cost caps that we've agreed to with the Congress. I am confident the Department has the proper management controls to ensure the success of the F-22 program. As always, I would be pleased to discuss these matters with you at any time. But I must tell you that I cannot accept a defense bill that kills this cornerstone program.


/s/ Bill Cohen