Army Vice Chief: Pentagon Should Target Waste in High-Tech Surveillance and Munitions Programs

5/12/2011
By Sandra I. Erwin
One the military’s booming industries — the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or ISR, sector — may have become too bloated after a decade of rampant growth. With budget pressures now looming, this may be one area where the Pentagon may find fat to trim, said Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli.
Every branch of the U.S. military operates vast ISR fleets, including large numbers of spy drones of all shapes and sizes, and manned aircraft —fixed- and rotary-wing — equipped with loads of sensors. It is conceivable that there is redundancy and inefficiency across the board, Chiarelli said May 12 during a breakfast meeting with reporters.
A sweeping review of military roles and missions is under way at the Pentagon, and should be completed over the summer. The goal is to identify expendable functions and programs in order to reduce defense spending by $400 billion over the next 12 years. President Obama and congressional leaders said military funds would not be spared from cuts in future budget deals aimed at controlling the nation’s soaring debt. For the Pentagon, this means it will probably have to target personnel, procurement and operations accounts.
“The services are working together to look at programs, redundancies and duplications, and to ask the hard questions,” Chiarelli said. It is not unusual for the military services to have overlapping programs. Every service, for instance, has its own air force and its own information networks. Redundancies are justified in some cases, but there are areas where inefficiencies should be targeted, Chiarelli said. The Army last year completed a series of “capability portfolio reviews” that address that very issue, he said. “The reviews have been extremely successful. … They allowed us to make sure we don’t have redundancies, that requirements make sense and we don’t have broken programs,” said Chiarelli. “Now we need to expand that, and take a look across the services, to see if we have duplications, and if we can play to the strength of one service.”
“One of the first areas I would take a look at is ISR,” he said. Both the Army and the Air Force, for example, operate similar fixed-wing unmanned air vehicles for ISR missions. Over the past several years, theArmy has bulked up its UAV fleet, even as Air Force officials questioned the need to have duplicate fleets. The Army made a convincing case to Defense Secretary Robert Gates that it could not solely depend on Air Force ISR support and that brigade commanders required their own UAV squadrons.
With leaner times approaching and U.S. forces in Afghanistan drawing down, the Pentagon may no longer afford or need so much ISR support. “Maybe it makes sense [for everyone to have] this capability,” Chiarelli said. “But it also makes sense to see if we can find some efficiencies, in just about every single program we have.”
Another area that is ripe for scrutiny is precision-guided munitions. “I would like to take an all-services look at precision munitions,” Chiarelli said. Smart munitions, such as satellite- or laser-guided bombs, are in every service’s inventory, and are also very expensive, he said. The Army’s internal review concluded that it could afford to give up some of its high-tech munitions, on the assumption that the other services would step in and provide close-air support. It is now time to “sit down with all the services and take a look at what we’ve got … and see if we’ve got economies of scale,” said Chiarelli.
Budget drills, particularly during times of contracting resources, tend to spark inter-service turf wars. Chiarelli said he has been surprised to see a more collegial atmosphere of late, as the services prepare for the Pentagon roles-and-missions review and a leadership transition. Defense Secretary Robert Gates departs in late June, and his expected replacement, CIA Director Leon Panetta, will be the one making the tough calls. “In my three years [as vice chief of staff of the Army] I’ve never seen the services work better together doing that,” Chiarelli said.

Topics: Defense Department, DOD Budget, Strategic Weapons, Robotics, Unmanned Air Vehicles

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