Commission Co-chair Bashes Pentagon Acquisition System

By Mandy Mayfield

Photo: iStock

China has a more efficient acquisition system than the Defense Department, which could put the U.S. military at a disadvantage in a future conflict, the leader of a high-profile study group said Nov. 28.

Retired Adm. Gary Roughead, co-chair of the congressionally appointed Commission on the National Defense Strategy of the United States, said the Pentagon doesn't on-board new technology fast enough.

“The Chinese have adopted our rapid innovation [model] and we have adopted the communist model of how we process new capabilities in our system,” he said during a panel discussion hosted by the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C.

Defense Department leaders have identified China as a peer threat in a new era of great power competition.

Roughead, who served as chief of naval operations from 2007 to 2011, said bureaucratic red tape is hindering U.S. military modernization.

"Because of the processes that we have created, it is taking us far too long to get capabilities out into the operating forces," he said. 

Defense Department leaders and lawmakers have expressed similar sentiments regarding the Pentagon's procurement system. In recent years, Congress has granted new acquisition authorities to the department, and the military has created new rapid capabilities offices and other organizations aimed at speeding the development and delivery of new technologies to warfighters.

The commission co-chaired by Roughead is a bipartisan group of experts tasked by Congress to assess the Pentagon's latest national defense strategy. The commission released its report to Congress Nov. 14. The study warned that the United States could potentially lose a war against China or Russia due to a number of issues, including unstable military funding and readiness shortfalls.

Roughead’s comments during the panel discussion came one day after he and commission co-chair Eric Edelman testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee. During the hearing, Roughead said the $700 billion defense budget topline for fiscal year 2020 being floated by the White House would be insufficient to meet the military's needs. The Pentagon had been planning to receive $733 billion in 2020.

However, Edelman noted during the panel that the new report should not be viewed as a doom-and-gloom document.

"This shouldn’t be read ... as a cry that all is lost, there is no hope here," he said. Steps can be taken to address the problems that the U.S. military is facing. "Our adversaries have their own challenges," he noted.

Topics: Acquisition, International

Comments (1)

Re: Commission Co-chair Bashes Pentagon Acquisition System

I think a big part of the problem is "systems thinking." When the US develops a new weapons system, it develops everything brand new. This means a new platform, with new electronics and new weapons. The everything built from scratch method makes new weapons systems subject to scope creep, just one more new feature over and over, which often kills the project. It also makes new weapons systems extremely hard to debug because the number of interactions with new subsystems that could be the source of problems becomes an exponentially increasing number as the number of combinations of new subsystems increases. Everything new also increases risks, because if a key piece of the weapons system can't be developed as planned, the whole system can become worthless, like the problem with the cancellation of the Long Range Land Attack Projectile (LRLAP) for the Zumwalt-class guided-missile destroyer.

I would argue that platforms, electronics and weapons all have different length life cycles, so they should be developed separately. Platforms, like airplanes ships and tanks, last for up to 20 years. Weapons last for about 10-15 years. Electronics need to be upgraded every 5 years. I think that new platforms should be developed with as much off the shelf weapons and electronics as possible, with the design built to accommodate subsequent upgrades in both weapons and electronics when they are available. If past history of weapons systems has taught us anything, it's that platforms are upgraded with new weapons and electronics. We should develop platforms with the idea that they will be upgraded, and not try to cram every new idea we have into each new platform as a weapons system.

Douglas Proudfoot at 5:31 PM
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