Tiny Program Triggers Credibility Battle in Versailles

May 17, 2002

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The Army's Crusader self propelled howitzer is in play. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told the Army to cancel it, but members of Congress moved quickly to save it by inserting protective language in the draft defense authorization legislation. The stage is now set for a classic Versailles food fight.

At issue is $9 billion in future expenditures. That may sound large, but it is actually only 1.1 percent of a bucket that is overflowing with new goodies.

This can be seen if one examines the most recently released Selected Acquisition Report (SAR) submitted by the Pentagon to Congress [attached separately to this message as Reference 1]. Last December, the Pentagon issued a SAR detailing a modernization wish list requiring $682 billion in future expenditures (for FY 2003 and beyond) for most of the programs now on its books. But it also included an initial notification of another $75 billion for additional programs that will be put on the books in the next SAR. This brings the total in unspent balances to $757 billion. Even that is an underestimate because the $75 billion in new programs included $47 billion for research and development of a missile defense system but did not include the cost of buying this system. Nor did the SAR include the costs of Crusader's procurement or any planning allowances for future cost overruns. So $757 is low, but if we accept it as the basis for comparison, the $9 billion to buy out the Crusader equals 1.1% of the wish list.

Yet as George Wilson points out in the following essay, Crusader food fight has become a litmus test of President Bush's and Mr. Rumsfeld's abilities to shape our nation's defense policy. Only in the hall of mirrors that is Versailles on the Potomac could such a battle royal be joined over 1.1% of a shopping list.

Read Wilson's essay and ask yourself—Is this glass is half empty or half full?

Is Crusader The Beginning, Or End, Of Reform?

By George C. Wilson
National Journal May 11, 2002
[Reprinted with permission of author]

The Bush administration, as it approaches 18 months in office, is finally questioning whether it is ordering more weapons than the nation can afford. Evidence that President Bush may be turning away from his current, Cold War-style spending spree--something he promised during his election campaign to avoid--is in hand. The first piece of evidence is an internal Pentagon memorandum, obtained by National Journal, that outlines the projected total costs of all major weapons purchases over the next five years and beyond. The second clue comes in Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's announcement that he intends to cancel the Army's Crusader artillery weapon, a heavy gun that was originally designed to take on the Soviets on the plains of Central Europe.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz wrote the April 29 memo on weapons costs to the service secretaries and the Joint Chiefs "to facilitate analysis and discussion" as the Pentagon's top leaders begin drafting the important, and top-secret, Defense Program Guidance. The DPG sets out the parameters of the Pentagon's budget for future years.

In the memo, and the six pages of accompanying tables, Wolfowitz presents total projected costs—including research, development, test and evaluation, and actual purchase—for all the big-ticket weapons slated for 2003 through 2007, and then an estimate of what it would cost to complete the purchases of those weapons in the years beyond 2007. Remember, the Pentagon's procurement chief has said recently that everything is on the table when it comes to deciding where to cut.

For the next five years alone, the projected major weapons purchases total just under $250 billion. Completing those buying programs—to reach the full numbers of planes, ships, and tanks the services want—would push the price tag up to almost $600 billion in the years beyond 2007. That's without counting the cost of actually deploying Bush's missile defense system, rather than just continuing to research and develop it. And Wolfowitz's rundown also leaves out hundreds of purchases of smaller but still-expensive weapons. That is why defense experts estimate that the buying binge that Bush is now embarked on will end up costing about $1 trillion if plans aren't changed.

On top of climbing hardware costs, bills are piling up in the Pentagon's in-basket for homeland defense, fighting the war in Afghanistan, repairing weapons already in the field, training and feeding an active-duty force of 1.4 million men and women, and covering the soaring medical costs for military retirees.

All of this forms the backdrop, and probably much of the inspiration, for Rumsfeld to finally get over his stage fright and actually play the role of Rummy the Knife. His first act opened on May 7, when he announced his intention to kill the Crusader artillery system. Congress, the military-industrial complex, and the Army immediately went to battle stations to save Crusader. This instant mobilization illustrated how difficult it will be for Bush and Rumsfeld to kill that program—or any of the other big weapons on the Wolfowitz list.

Although the Pentagon issues quarterly "selected acquisition reports" showing how weapons costs have gone up or down, Wolfowitz's memo and tables look into the future in unusual detail. His summary is the closest thing to an official acknowledgment that the administration has no idea what the Bush national defense will cost.

The administration's missile defense effort adds up to $46.3 billion from fiscal 2003 through fiscal 2007, the vast majority of which is for research, development, and testing, according to the new Wolfowitz tables. The next column over on the tables is labeled "TC," or "To Complete"—how much it would cost to finish the weapons purchase. For missile defense, this column has only the capital letters "TBD"—for "To Be Determined." So there is no assurance from today's Pentagon that tomorrow's limited national missile defense will have a limited cost.

The memo also sets out starkly how enormously expensive it is for the Pentagon to be buying three fighter-bomber airplanes all at once. For years, a number of defense experts, including former Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., who chaired the Armed Services Committee, have been warning that there will never be enough money to buy the three fleets of planes: the Air Force F-22; the Navy F/A-18 E and F; and the Joint Strike Fighter, which is slated to be flown by the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps, as well as the air forces of several friendly nations.

The new cost estimates, and recent statements by Edward C. "Pete" Aldridge, the Pentagon's procurement chief, suggest that Nunn was right and that the Air Force will have to settle for fewer than the 308 F-22s it wants. Right now, the Pentagon plans to spend $26.6 billion for 178 F-22s over the next five years. The figures sent out by Wolfowitz, and prepared by the Pentagon's comptroller, show that it would take another $11.8 billion to buy the additional 130 F-22s on the Air Force shopping list in the years beyond 2007. Top Pentagon officials are daring to suggest that this may be procurement overkill.

"The issue we have here is: Are we buying the right number of aircraft?" Aldridge told reporters last week, adding that the world has changed since the F-22 orders were agreed upon. "Given how the Joint Strike Fighter is under way, given the fact that we've got the F-18" that Boeing is building for the Navy, "to me, everything is on the table … Do we need all" of the planned number of F-22s? "What is the right number, given the new environment, given the new priorities?" he asked.

The cost figures in the memo show the Navy spending $17 billion to buy 234 F/A-18 E and F planes over the next five years and another $15.3 billion to buy an additional 219 planes after 2007. If the Joint Strike Fighter now in development proves itself capable, the Pentagon may reduce its purchases of the F/A-18 as well as the F-22. The new Pentagon tables show $24.7 billion in spending on 32 Joint Strike Fighters over the next five years and $176.9 billion more to buy 2,812 additional copies after 2007.

Franklin C. Spinney, an aircraft analyst inside the Pentagon who has been studying the procurement trends for decades, shakes his head in dismay over the current buying plans for fighter-bombers. "We chose to put our head in the sand in 1991 and 1992, and it's still there," he lamented. He calculated that the Pentagon, between 1991 and 2002, spent $55 billion for only 210 high-cost fighter-bombers, mostly F/A-18 Es and Fs and a few F-22s and Joint Strike Fighters. With that same amount of money, Spinney calculated, the military could have purchased 1,660 current-generation fighter-bombers similar to the F-16 C and D and the F/A-18 C and D. They are plenty good enough for the post-Cold War threats, Spinney argues, and would have modernized today's aging squadrons of fighter-bombers. As things stands now, the tactical aircraft specialist said, the military will receive only a few of the Cadillacs and have to spend billions fixing up the old, still-flying, Chevrolets. "This didn't have to happen," he said.

Another aircraft that could be downed by this new Pentagon review of its procurement plans is the Marine Corps V-22 Osprey, the hybrid aircraft that takes off and lands like a helicopter but flies like a plane. The Wolfowitz circular shows that it will cost $11 billion to buy 98 Ospreys through 2007 and another $15.5 billion to complete the planned buy of 357. Two former Defense secretaries—Harold Brown and Dick Cheney—tried to cancel the V-22 on grounds that it was too expensive. But both times, Congress reversed their decisions.

In addition to decrying its high cost, critics contend that the Osprey is fundamentally flawed aerodynamically, a contention that will be explored during the current test flights of the revolutionary plane. Aldridge calls himself a "skeptic" about the Osprey. "It's close to being marginal" when maneuvering at low speeds, he said last week.

Meanwhile, for the Army, the Wolfowitz memo shows that the Pentagon planned to spend $3.7 billion over the next five years on Crusader, which is designed to fire 10 artillery shells a minute. It would take another $5.2 billion to complete the planned buy of 887 Crusaders, for a total of $8.9 billion. Before fiscal 2003, $1.9 billion was appropriated for Crusader, bringing the grand total to just under $11 billion.

Rumsfeld wants to save as much of the $11 billion as he can by canceling Crusader. But as soon as the Defense secretary's intentions leaked out, the Oklahoma delegation and other champions of the weapon, including the Army, galloped to its rescue. Crusader would be assembled in Oklahoma. Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Okla., chairman of the House Republican Conference, was meeting with Bush on May 1 when he learned about this sudden threat to Crusader. He and Sen. James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., lodged their protests right there in the White House. The Army, which is supposed to be under the Defense secretary's control, infuriated Rumsfeld by quickly sending a list of "talking points" to Congress that members could use to defend Crusader.

"Relying on Paladin," the Army's older artillery system, "and airpower, puts ground forces and American soldiers at risk," according to the talking points. "Studies show Crusader enhances the joint force and reduces American casualties by 30 percent." The Army's implication that Rumsfeld is endangering American men and women in uniform by canceling Crusader did not sit well with the secretary.

The more consequential question is whether Bush will go all-out to make Rumsfeld's cancellations stick, no matter how angry Congress gets. President Carter was the last commander in chief to do this for his Defense secretary, Harold Brown, as they canceled the B-1 bomber and one additional aircraft carrier. President Reagan and Congress later reversed the cancellations, but Carter and Brown made their decisions stick while they were in office.

"There's a lot of power out there," said former Marine Corps Commandant Charles C. Krulak in describing how it took four years for him to cancel an obsolete Hawk anti-aircraft missile. "When you say, `I'm going to stop a program,' the political-military-industrial complex rolls in there and says, `No you aren't.' "

If Bush wimps out on Crusader and other overdue cancellations, the political-military-industrial complex will go on its merry way and continue to take the taxpayers to the poorhouse in Cadillacs.

Chuck Spinney

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