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U.S. military procurement system filled with problems

By MARTIN SIEFF, UPI Senior News Analyst

WASHINGTON, Oct. 31 (UPI) -- Former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld entered office at a time of apparently infinite possibilities. He pursued many of them but achieved almost none of them.

The next secretary of defense will inherit a Pentagon procurement system widely recognized as being broken. The military bureaucracies in the U.S. Department of Defense fuss over micromanaged fine details of the proposals they eventually give to major defense contractors, which ultimately accept them because lucrative and guaranteed contracts on weapons systems are canceled far less often than they are pushed through.

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Current Defense Secretary Robert Gates has done his best to get the ultra-expensive chaos he inherited under control. But the effort is an enormous and unending one, akin to Hercules' famous labor of cleaning the Augean stables. Gates' successor will still have his work cut out for him.

The complexity of decision-making on the myriad of weapons systems that the U.S. government is already committed to, or needs to seriously consider purchasing, is mind-numbing. In 2002, the Bush administration understandably canceled the Future Intelligence Architecture program it had inherited from President Bill Clinton.

The Future Intelligence Architecture program was made to create a new intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance fleet of orbiting space satellites which would make the United States secure for decades to come. Conceived by the Democratic Clinton administration and approved by Republican-controlled Congresses, it cost $4 billion before the plug on it was finally pulled by the Bush administration.

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The FIA fiasco was a classic example of a pathology also seen in the congressionally approved and Department of Defense and military contractor-driven visions for ever more complex, expensive and supposedly "do-it-all" weapons systems.

The Littoral Combat Ship program has been in deep trouble, with one vessel already canceled by the Pentagon, because too many "bells and whistles" were planned to be installed on each ship. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is being designed to carry out a multiple variety of missions in different models that in reality require far different air frames. The U.S. Air Force would, some critics allege, be far better sticking to its old heavily armored and successful A-10 ground tactical support aircraft than spending billions on the vastly more expensive F-35 variant.

Rumsfeld and his top lieutenants were avid enthusiasts for the complex Future Combat Systems program to integrate communications and computing systems of the U.S. armed forces at a level vastly beyond anything currently operated.

The Democrat-controlled 110th Congress has been understandably skeptical of the FCS, whose prime contractor is Boeing, because of its cost, complexity and the vast leaps in the dark on cutting edge, untried technologies that it contemplates.

More seriously yet, the Bush Pentagon has been pushing ahead with plans for a new generation of "fast and agile" armored vehicles that are far smaller and more lightly armored than its current fleets, on the assumption that the high-tech advantages the FCS will provide will make it unnecessary to maintain a future generation of Main Battle Tanks comparable in size and armored protection to the American Abrams MBT or the Russian T-90.

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That assumption certainly appears to be dubious in the extreme. Yet the 111th Congress is likely to be amenable to the idea that it can order a fleet of far cheaper, faster and more-miles-to-the-gallon battle tanks than the current generation of them, while Republicans were seduced by the idea of Tom Clancy-style wonder weapons that would make war much more like a video game in which the enemy seldom has a chance to fire back. In reality, of course, it is almost never like that.

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(In Part 3: The programs the Pentagon did right.)

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