Small Wars Journal

Gates Sharpens Rhetoric In Dispute on F-22 Funds (Updated)

Gates Sharpens Rhetoric In Dispute on F-22 Funds - Greg Jaffe, Washington Post.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates made an impassioned case Thursday for terminating the F-22 program after production of 187 planes, as the Obama administration sought to blunt a bipartisan push to add money to the defense budget for the fighter jet.

"If we can't bring ourselves to make this tough but straightforward decision -- reflecting the judgment of two very different presidents, two different secretaries of defense, two chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the current Air Force secretary and chief of staff -- where do we draw the line?" he said in a speech at the Economic Club of Chicago. "If we can't get this right, what on earth can we get right?"

In recent days, House and Senate lawmakers from both parties have defied the White House and put money back into the $680 billion defense spending bill to keep the F-22 production line open, prompting President Obama to threaten a veto. It is not clear whether F-22 backers have enough votes to keep the program going. "It looks pretty close," Gates told reporters...

More at The Washington Post.

Text of Secreatry Gates' Address - DefenseLink

... Air superiority and missile defense -- two areas where the budget has attracted the most criticism -- provide case studies. Let me start with the controversy over the F-22 fighter jet. We had to consider, when preparing for a future potential conventional state-on-state conflict, what is the right mix of the most advanced fighter aircraft and other weapons to deal with the known and projected threats to US air supremacy? For example, we now have unmanned aerial vehicles that can simultaneously perform intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance missions as well as deliver precision-guided bombs and missiles. The president's budget request would buy 48 of the most advanced UAVs -- aircraft that have a greater range than some of our manned fighters, in addition to the ability to loiter for hours over a target. And we will buy many more in the future.

We also took into consideration the capabilities of the newest manned combat aircraft program, the stealth F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The F-35 is 10 to 15 years newer than the F-22, carries a much larger suite of weapons, and is superior in a number of areas -- most importantly, air-to-ground missions such as destroying sophisticated enemy air defenses. It is a versatile aircraft, less than half the total cost of the F-22, and can be produced in quantity with all the advantages produced by economies of scale -- some 500 will be bought over the next five years, more than 2,400 over the life of the program. And we already have eight foreign development partners. It has had development problems to be sure, as has every advanced military aircraft ever fielded. But if properly supported, the F-35 will be the backbone of America's tactical aviation fleet for decades to come if -- and it is a big if -- money is not drained away to spend on other aircraft that our military leadership considers of lower priority or excess to our needs.

Having said that, the F-22 is clearly a capability we do need -- a niche, silver-bullet solution for one or two potential scenarios -- specifically the defeat of a highly advanced enemy fighter fleet. The F-22, to be blunt, does not make much sense anyplace else in the spectrum of conflict. Nonetheless, supporters of the F-22 lately have promoted its use for an ever expanding list of potential missions. These range from protecting the homeland from seaborne cruise missiles to, as one retired general recommended on TV, using F-22s to go after Somali pirates who in many cases are teenagers with AK-47s -- a job we already know is better done at much less cost by three Navy SEALs. These are examples of how far-fetched some of the arguments have become for a program that has cost $65 billion -- and counting -- to produce 187 aircraft, not to mention the thousands of uniformed Air Force positions that were sacrificed to help pay for it...

Gates Warns Against Excess with F-22s - Julian E. Barnes, Los Angeles Times

Gates and Congress Duel - August Cole, Wall Street Journal.

Defense Chief Criticizes Bid to Add F-22s - Elisabeth Bumiller, New York Times

Gates Challenges Congress - Gordon Lubold, Christian Science Monitor

More F-22 Fighters 'Far-Fetched' - Tony Capaccio and Allison Bennett, Bloomberg

Gates: Future Jet Supporters Risking Today's Troops - Noah Shachtman, Wired

Gates: DoD Must End Business as Usual - Samantha L. Quigley, AFPS

No More F-22s - Washington Post

Wasteful Defense Spending a Clear and Present Danger - Wall Street Journal


The President has threatened to veto the Defense Authorization Bill if the Congress insists on continuing funding for the F-22. Is there a way of reducing the impact that local political and jobs considerations play in the decisions to develop and buy weapons systems -- sacrificing war fighters' needs in the process? Perhaps the Base Realignment and Closure Process (BRAC) adopted in the 1980's to enable rational facility downsizing can be a model for strengthening the DoD weapons acquisition process.

There is widespread agreement that the DoD weapons acquisition process is seriously broken. GAO reports that cumulative cost overruns are "staggering". Systems rarely are fielded close to their original completion forecast date - schedules regularly slip as requirements change and technical issues surface late in the development process. Decisions at major milestones are regularly made for individual programs not the entire portfolio, and even then without complete information on requirements, performance or costs.

In an ideal world, capital investment programs would be internally coherent and reflect the organizations assessment of real threats and opportunities, accurately establish and review requirements, and make appropriate use of limited resources - cash and human. But the DoD weapons system process that starts with service-generated requirements includes too many decision makers and too many decision points, and imposes too little discipline - especially when decision-making moves from the Pentagon to the Congress.

DoD is currently pursuing a number of policy and process changes to address acquisition system performance issues. Those reforms to the DoD-5000-defined process are attempting to introduce more management discipline and performance engineering into the process to achieve better cost and schedule results. But while the structural changes do hold some promise, they fail to address the underlying and inevitable political nature of any process that is responsible for allocating and spending trillions of taxpayer dollars. For each weapons system program quickly develops its own constituency - comprised of the military service seeking new capability, the industrial base that will provide that capability, and the political interests whose districts and states will benefit from the funding the program will generate. In this competitive arena, who is left to speak for the collective interests of the broad defense program, not to mention the taxpayers?

DoD faced a similar situation in the mid eighties as the end of the cold war exposed the extent to which the Department had too many bases and facilities to house and support the smaller forces now required. Many bases were too small and inefficient. Some were in locations that limited activities or were too isolated from other bases. Some were simply too old or too large. But each base or facility had a constituency that was prepared to fight fiercely for its continued existence - and even expansion. The result was essentially a stalemate in which everyone agreed there were excess facilities but no one could agree on which should be closed or downsized. So DoD maintained excess and costly facilities.

The Congress found a solution when in the late 80s it adopted the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) process. The BRAC approach was to have DoD recommend a base closure and realignment package to an independent commission that would review the DoD proposal and forward the complete set of closures and realignments to the President who could agree with the whole package or send it back to the Commission with suggested changes. After Commission review and revisions, the President could then forward the total package to the Congress that could vote to reject the whole package but could not make changes to the recommendations. As a result DoD had the opportunity to build a coherent and executable base and facilities program with at least less obvious sub-optimization resulting from the previous review and appropriations processes. Over the past 20 years 5 separate BRACs have reviewed and approved substantial realignment of military facilities in the US with estimated cost savings in excess of $50 Billion.

Just as DoD had more bases and facilities than it needed or could afford, the total cost of approved weapons systems will be substantially higher than the DoD can expect to afford in future defense budgets. We have too many programs for the funding available. In addition, funding for ongoing but low-value programs crowds out funding for unfunded or underfunded programs with higher payoffs and for new ideas not yet at the program stage. The portfolio of weapons systems now in development clearly sub optimizes the resources being invested.

Adopting a one-time BRAC-like process could lead to a more workable decision cycle and a more coherent outcome. The demands of such a process would mandate better cost and performance metrics and more coherent and disciplined analysis of the contribution each system makes to overall defense capability as expressed in strategic documents such as the Quadrennial Defense Review. There are two key dimensions to the solution - metrics and process.

METRICS: The BRAC legislation required SECDEF to conduct a thorough review of the departments facility requirements and submit to the Commission the following:
• A force structure plan that was based upon an assessment of probable threats and the funding anticipated in future years.
• A set of selection criteria that would be applied to the base and facility inventory to produce a list of closures and realignments.
• A recommended set of actions resulting from application of the selection criteria.
A similar process could be established for the Department review of the portfolio of weapons systems and other development investment activities. The force structure plan already exists. What is required is analysis of the portfolio of investments using a common methodology, not a program-by-program review as is currently done. The analytic framework (essentially comparable to the BRAC selection criteria) might include:
• System capability to act as force multiplier when fielded
• Availability of similar or parallel capabilities in current or other planned programs
• Interoperability
• Range of application - to various scenarios
• Technology risk
• Program schedule risk
• Funding risk and profile
• Supportability risk

There are a number of powerful analytic approaches that are currently used in DoD and other organizations to support decision making on similar complex choices that assess programs and provide composite evaluations and rankings. These tools enable the Department to compare programs in much different domains - the value of investment in new tactical radios compared to development of new sensor technology for example. This analysis would enable the Department leadership to evaluate the value of each funded program against a common set of both quantitative and qualitative factors and arrive at a defensible cost benefit analysis of each program and of the programs collectively. Available utility-optimization methodologies then enable optimization of the program mix for any budget level.

DoD could thus produce an ordered list of its weapons systems priorities that reflect the collective, multi-dimensional evaluation of the value (and cost-benefit) of the entire portfolio of systems. This evaluation is equivalent to the set of base closure recommendations submitted by the Department to the BRAC. The recommendation would be for a five-year program of investment with opportunities for annual reviews to update progress and reorder priorities as circumstances change.

PROCESS: Once the Department had completed its analysis of the investment portfolio as described above, the report and criteria would pass to an independent commission appointed by the President. The commission would review the DoD analysis and determine whether the Department had correctly applied the criteria to the portfolio of programs. They would have the capability to rescore programs within certain parameters and thus produce a different ordered list. The Commission would then prepare a final set of recommendations to the President who could approve and send to Congress for approval of the total package as with the BRAC recommendations. Congress would be able to approve or reject the Commission decisions but not change or micromanage them. The approved package would then replace the acquisition authorizations and appropriations for individual systems in the annual defense legislation, in effect resetting the investment portfolio. Once reset, the process could return to its current cycle based on major milestones and annual appropriations for at least a few years.

BOTTOM LINE: Adopting a BRAC-like approach to the weapons systems process is not a panacea that can resolve all of the performance issues of this complex set of analyses and decisions. Moving to a common and robust analytic foundation and reducing the ability of program constituencies to undermine a coherent and broad defense acquisition strategy will address broad systemic performance issues that are not being reached by the process reforms currently in place or proposed. The result will be a reset of Defense investment programs as the product of a more rational and accountable process that can produce greater capability for the warfighter and better value for the taxpayers.


Sat, 07/18/2009 - 3:14am

This is an insightful, if very sad, situation that shows how insane our political process is. On the one side, you've got a Defense Secretary who is trying to do what is best for the country. Whether he is correct is not 100% certain, but his intentions are not difficult to question. On the other side, you've got a bunch politicians doing what they believe will get them re-elected, fully recognizing and not caring one bit that this may NOT be good for the country.

Reasonable people may disagree over various pieces of legislation, but when it comes to defense budgets, legislators don't even pretend to act reasonably.

Stuart, I think your comment was right on point. Unfortunately, that approach would not stop any of the pork that gets inserted into bills. I remember there was one case where an earmark resulted in the construction of a new type of coastguard cutter. The coastguard neither ordered the vessel, nor wanted it when construction was finished. It was later sold to a northern california sheriffs department for a dollar. But it did save some jobs..

Ken White (not verified)

Sun, 07/19/2009 - 10:33pm

Loren, I suspect you'd find almost as many people in the Air Force that agree with cutting the F-22 as disagree. I'm even more sure you'd find more in the Army who objected to the FCS than were looking forward to it. This is mostly political and little about pure needs of the service -- much less the Nation.

Loren (not verified)

Sun, 07/19/2009 - 6:09pm

I understand that reading through the many articles these past few days, it does appear that members of Congress are willing to fall on their swords for this program simply as a means to garner support from their voters. However, I think it is worth noting that the push-back to Gates's decision to cancel this program (along with several other DOD weapons procurement programs) is far greater than just these few self-serving members of Congress. There are still members of the Air Force who strongly support the continuation of the F22 program. Though they arent as vocal about it today, they certainly were vocal enough about it when Gates first announced his intentions several months ago. I find it hard to believe that they have suddenly had a change of heart in something they once believed so strongly in.

Same thing can be said about the FCS program for the Army. Several senior Army officials were critical of Gatess decision to cancel portions of this program, not just members of Congress. Though the most vocal opposition to Gates today appears to be coming from those select members of Congress who stand to lose the most, lets not assume they stand alone in this opposition.

Yes, I find it distrubing the appearance of certain members of Congress blatantly going against the wishes of both the Defense Secretary and the President for what appears to be the benefit of their re-elections; I also find it disturbing that these members of Congress cant come up with a better argument for why Gatess plan is flawed - but I think its worth reminding ourselves that the pool of opponents is far greater than that; that there is a loud and arguable defense for sustaining the programs that Secretary Gates has proposed to end.