House Armed Services oversight will force the Pentagon to step up its game

One of the most important consequences of last November's election will be a sharp increase in oversight by committees of the House of Representatives. The normally bipartisan House Armed Services Committee (HASC) will apparently not be an exception to this change in climate.

That oversight begins today when the committee receives testimony on the Pentagon's new efficiency programs from Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn and the four deputy chiefs of the services. According to The Hill, a top concern of many members of the committee is the Pentagon's cancellation of the Marine Corps' Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) program. According to the article, HASC members have not received from the Pentagon data or analysis behind the decision. The apparent lack of thorough analysis implies that Defense Secretary Gates's office and Marine Corps leaders do not have a convincing plan for how the Marine Corps will accomplish its amphibious assault missions in the future. This, in turn, implies that the Pentagon is not prepared to describe how the Marine Corps will accomplish its assigned missions, and if it can't, whether the Pentagon proposes changing what those roles and missions should be.

It is easy to pick on the troubled EFV program. In his press conference on January 6, Gates explained how the grossly expensive EFV program promised to absorb virtually all of the Marine Corps' acquisition budget for years to come, an untenable course of action. In a recent column I wrote for Foreign Policy, I described how recent advances in adversary anti-ship missile capabilities have voided the access solutions the EFV originally offered. Although revolutionary when first proposed more than two decades ago, the EFV's capabilities are now outclassed by guided missile capabilities now available to even low-end adversaries.

But easy as it may be to shoot at vulnerable targets like the EFV, this does not relieve the Pentagon and the services from completing their required staff work. In some cases, killing an individual program like the EFV results in an unraveling of associated concepts and assumptions. In this case, OSD and the Marine Corps have yet to present a convincing alternative of how the Marine Corps would either replace the EFV or operate without it, even though they have had many months if not years to prepare for such a contingency. It seems as if many members of HASC are disappointed with the Pentagon's lack of preparation behind the decision to terminate the program.

There are many more issues beyond the EFV where HASC will bring to bear stepped-up oversight. More rigorous oversight will force OSD and the services to present more thorough explanations of the logic and consequences of their policies. The Pentagon will now have to step up its game. With money getting tight, this will only get more challenging to do.

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Two replies:

Brian, there is no question that "parochial interests in state and local economies, jobs, etc." is always a congressional motivation. After all, you will recall that in the 1790s, in order to get congressional funding for USS Constitution and her five sisters (the original Six Frigates), the work was parcelled out to six different shipyards, somewhat regardless of cost or contractor efficiency. So nothing new there.

But that is separate from the point I tried to raise, namely that when an administration scraps a major plan, it should have a Plan B thoroughly prepared and ready for briefing. That doesn't seem to be the case with the EFV cancellation.

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K Luoma:

The problem for the Marine Corps and the amphibious assault mission is adversary guided missiles, ranging from short range anti-tank missiles, to over-the-horizon anti-ship missiles, and now the 1500 km range Chinese anti-ship ballistic missile. For a primer on these problems for the EFV, please see the column I wrote for FP a few weeks ago (click here). When you read that, make sure to click the link to the article written by Robert Work and Frank Hoffman for more analysis.

My question, borne of ignorance, is: what are the Marine's doing right now? Do they not already have Amphibious Assault platforms that enable them to secure beach heads?

Why, because a future system is being cancelled, are they degraded in their current capacity to accomplish their mission? Has their mission outdated their current equipment and rendered their current platforms obsolete? I'm not being trying to be contentious; I'm asking this because I really don't know.

No disrespect to Congress (they should be questioning, that's their job) but how much of their concern do you think is driven by an actual desire to see the "data and analysis behind the decision" versus more parochial interests in state and local economies, jobs, etc.? In other words, will any amount of explanation from DOD and its components really convince Congress if its members' interests are less about national security than domestic politics?