Center for Arms Control

Security Spending

by Travis Sharp [contact information]

Recommendations for Action in 2009

February 26, 2009

Reduce Funding for Unproven Missile Defense Programs

Technical experts, budget analysts, and military strategists have debated the pros and cons of missile defense for decades. In the last few years, Congress has repeatedly reduced funding for expensive and unproven missile defense technologies aimed at countering future long-range threats and reallocated it toward higher priority systems aimed at existing short- and medium-range missiles. A key reason for congressional reticence has been the lackluster performance of the missile defense testing regime, particularly the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system. For example, as the FY 2009 Defense Authorization conference report noted:

We are discouraged to note that the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) Test and Targets program has had another disappointing year. MDA failed to conduct a single intercept flight test of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system during fiscal year 2008…Over the last several years, MDA has not managed to conduct an average of even one GMD intercept flight test per year, despite the fact that Congress has authorized and appropriated over $200.0 million per year to conduct two flight tests each year.

In December 2008, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) claimed that it successfully destroyed a “threat-representative” missile launched from Alaska with a GMD interceptor launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. This test was touted by missile defense advocates as evidence that the system works and should be placed in Europe as soon as possible. There are a number of problems with this advocacy. First, while the target missile was supposed to include simple decoys, they failed to deploy properly. This failure means that the three-stage system did not have the opportunity to prove whether or not it can discriminate warheads from decoys. If North Korea or Iran one day develop nuclear-armed missiles that could reach the United States, they will have relatively sophisticated countermeasures – and the current GMD system cannot defeat them.

Second, the December test featured a three-stage interceptor design already based in Alaska and California, but the European system is actually based on a two-stage interceptor design that has never been tested. A 2007 report by the Pentagon office that verifies the readiness of defense programs concluded that the effectiveness of the two-stage interceptor “cannot be assumed” and that at least three flight tests are necessary to demonstrate that it works effectively. Legislation passed by Congress in FY 2008 requires that the Secretary of Defense certify that the proposed two-stage missile defense interceptor to be deployed in Poland has demonstrated through “successful, operationally realistic flight testing, a high probability of working in an operationally effective manner,” before acquisition and deployment of operational interceptors can begin. With zero tests completed so far, the two-stage European interceptor design is nowhere near ready.

The final FY 2009 base budget provided $10.5 billion for missile defense R&D, military construction, and procurement. The final appropriation rearranged funding among various ballistic missile defense program elements and was $328 million less than the Bush administration’s request. The $10.5 billion appropriation included $618 million for research and development and military construction on the missile defense system in Europe, a $94 million reduction from the Bush administration’s request.

President Obama vowed in 2007 to “cut investments in unproven missile defense systems.” As Obama remarked during the campaign, “If we can responsibly deploy missile defenses that would protect us and our allies we should – but only when the system works.” Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, noted in January 2009 that he’d “love to see” cuts to the missile defense program. Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA), chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, said in February 2009 that the United States has “overinvested” in the experimental GMD program and should invest instead in programs that can defeat immediate threats facing the United States and its allies.

For FY 2010, Congress should continue its pattern of fully supporting those missile defense systems that demonstrate technological progress in rigorous testing programs and protect against realistic near-term threats. Under this criteria, Aegis ballistic missile defense (BMD), the Army’s Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3), the Army’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), and the Navy’s Standard Missle-3 (SM-3) pass muster. These programs protect U.S. troops in the field from theater ballistic missiles, a far more realistic threat than the long-range ICBMs other systems are designed to defeat. Aegis BMD, PAC-3, THAAD, and SM-3 should continue to be developed.

On the other hand, the Airborne Laser, Kinetic Energy Interceptor, Space Tracking and Surveillance System, and Multiple Kill Vehicle all should be canceled. These programs are extremely experimental in nature and the resources they consume would be better spent on more promising technologies. As for the ever controversial GMD system – which is already deployed in Alaska and California – Congress should halt further construction and deployment, particularly in Europe, until the program proves that it can regularly pass realistic flight tests.

A December 2008 report from the Center for American Progress estimated that by canceling the unproven systems mentioned above and freezing the deployment of GMD, DOD would save $13.15 billion over the next four years. This is money that could be put to better use elsewhere.

Reduce U.S. Nuclear Weapons Stockpile

The United States is approaching a key juncture in its nuclear weapons policy. As of January 2008, the U.S. nuclear stockpile consisted of 5,400 warheads, of which approximately 4,075 were operational and 1,260 were held in reserve. The expiration of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) in December 2009, the 2009 Nuclear Posture Review, and the 2010 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference will present a plethora of opportunities for the new administration, in conjunction with Congress, to chart a new course.

President Obama campaigned on a pledge to “dramatically reduce the stockpiles of our nuclear weapons and material.” A December 2008 report by the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation – which received input from 60 experts from Congress, think tanks, foundations, academia, and advocacy groups – recommended that the administration begin bilateral negotiations with Russia on “permanent, legally-binding, and verifiable reductions” toward a goal of 1,000 deployed and non-deployed nuclear weapons per side or fewer. This number of warheads was seen as adequate for a “minimum deterrence” strategy where the United States would continue to deter potential aggressors and reassure allies with its nuclear arsenal.

The Unified Security Budget task force, led by Institute for Policy Studies fellow Miriam Pemberton and Center for American Progress fellow and former Reagan administration official Lawrence Korb, projected in its 2008 report the savings that could be accrued from reducing the U.S. nuclear stockpile. According to the study, $14.5 billion in savings would be generated by shifting to a force structure of 600 operational warheads with 400 warheads in reserve.

Steven Kosiak, now serving as Associate Director for Defense and International Affairs at the Office of Management and Budget, composed a similar report in 2006. Under Kosiak’s scenario, the United States would deploy 1,000 operational warheads with 50 in reserve. Based on future decisions made about the configuration of delivery vehicles, such as whether or not to buy a new long-range bomber, Kosiak estimated that spending on a 1,000 warhead force structure would be between $2 billion and $2.7 billion less per year over the next 30 years than it is today. That adds up to between $60 billion and $81 billion in total savings over the next three decades.

Oversee U.S. Arms Sales and Weapons Shipments to Iraq

The security situation in Iraq has improved markedly in the past 18 months. This improvement quite naturally has resulted in less attention being paid, both by policymakers and the American public, to developments in Iraq. While the so-called Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) provides a framework that has essentially put the United States on “auto pilot” when it comes to troop withdrawals, there is no lack of issues that require ongoing American attention and congressional oversight. Foremost among these should be U.S. arms sales and weapons shipments to Iraq.

Defense officials in Washington and Baghdad continue to focus on transforming the Iraqi military into a legitimate fighting force. Both the United States and Iraq seem to agree that bolstering the strength and effectiveness of the Iraqi Security Forces will play a key role in stabilizing Iraq in the wake of U.S. troop withdrawals. Recent weapons acquisition proposals would enlarge the Iraqi Security Forces’ purview from merely enforcing internal order to counterbalancing other countries in the region. The sales not only carry implications for the balance of power in the region, but also raise important questions about oversight, accountability, and transparency in a country still riddled with corruption and terrorist attacks.

During the final week of July 2008, DOD notified Congress about the sale of $10.9 billion in U.S. military equipment and support to Iraq through the Foreign Military Sales program. The sale included 140 M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks; 6 C-130J Hercules transport aircraft; 160 M1117 Guardian armored security vehicles; and 24 helicopters with AGM-114M Hellfire missiles and launchers. In early September 2008, several news outlets reported that Iraq is interested in buying 36 F-16 fighter jets from the United States. As Erik Schechter detailed in C4ISR Journal, the United States also is in the process of selling Iraq six Lynx II radar units. With the Lynx II, Iraq will improve significantly its intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance operations. After training is completed for Iraqi pilots and ground crews, the Lynx II will allow Iraqi aircraft, flying above the range of shoulder-launched missiles, to track insurgent personnel and vehicle movements. Finally, Pentagon officials announced in January 2009 that the Iraqi Army plans to buy up to 2,000 T-72 Soviet tanks, which will be stripped down, retrofitted, and maintained under a contract managed by U.S. defense firms.

Assuming all the proposed deals go through, by 2011 Iraq will be militarily stronger than at any point since the Gulf War in 1991. This clearly has clear implications for regional security and the military balance of power.

With these recently proposed packages, the United States has completed approximately $26 billion in Foreign Military Sales agreements with Iraq since 2005. According to the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction’s July 2008 report, the United States also provided $17.9 billion in military-related aid – separate from Foreign Military Sales – since 2005 through the Iraq Security Forces Fund.

Providing Iraqi Security Forces with the equipment they need to achieve their objectives will help increase Iraqi soldiers’ confidence and effectiveness as the United States begins commencing troop withdrawals. Oversight of military equipment going into the country, however, must be bolstered. The Iraqi Ministries of Defense and Interior must begin assuming greater responsibility for administering the procurement process, which continues to be dominated by Multi-National Security Transition Command Iraq and private contractors. Deliveries of all types of weapons and equipment are sure to accelerate in the months ahead. If arms are channeled toward dangerous insurgents and away from Iraqi Security Forces, Iraqi soldiers will lose legitimacy in the eyes of the Iraqi people and the security environment in Iraq could take another perilous turn for the worse. If procedures cannot be reformed, the United States should not hesitate to slow or suspend weapons transfers until effective safeguards are put in place.

Reform DOD’s Weapons Acquisition Process

In a time of increasingly scarce defense dollars, it is critical to optimize each and every penny invested in national security. The White House, Pentagon, and Capitol Hill must repair the broken defense acquisition process and give American taxpayers the return-on-investment they deserve. Top defense officials believe that business-as-usual is no longer an option. “There clearly is going to be very close scrutiny of the budget,” Secretary Gates said in December 2008 after it was officially announced that President Obama would retain his services at DOD. Added Gates: “We need to take a very hard look at the way we go about acquisition and procurement.”

Certain systems pop up again and again during discussions about reforming the way the Pentagon buys weapons. In January 2009 testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Secretary Gates noted a handful of “big-ticket weapons systems that have experienced contract or program performance problems,” including the Air Force tanker, CSAR-X helicopter, VH-71 Presidential helicopter, Osprey, Future Combat Systems, Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter, Littoral Combat Ship, and Joint Strike Fighter. DOD’s acquisition crisis also is well-documented at the structural level. The Government Accountability Office reported in March 2008 that current programs are delivered 21 months late on average, five months later than in FY 2000. The total acquisition cost in FY 2000 of the major defense program portfolio increased from the initial estimate by six percent; by FY 2007, the cost growth percentage had more than quadrupled to 26 percent. GAO’s assessment of 72 weapons programs concluded that none of those reviewed – not a single one – satisfied GAO's standards for a successful, efficient program.

Congress has taken notice of this sorry state of affairs. In its joint explanatory statement on the FY 2009 Defense Appropriations bill, the House of Representatives lambasted DOD’s willingness to accept “lower than reasonable proposals for programs from contractors…as an opportunity to get major programs started because, once started, history has proven that major programs are rarely terminated.” By constantly accepting purposefully underestimated costs, the statement concluded, DOD “lengthens development schedules, costs the taxpayers additional dollars, and delays fielding critical capabilities to our Nation's Armed Forces.” Sen. Levin tried to attach a provision to the FY 2009 Defense Authorization bill creating a new Pentagon office that would generate independent cost estimates so that DOD does not have to rely on contractors to provide them, but his legislation didn’t come up for consideration due to acrimonious end-of-session procedural wrangling. Levin has vowed to make acquisition reform a central part of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s agenda in 2009.

Four principles seem logical for guiding DOD’s acquisition process at this point: 1) Limit requirement changes made after development already has begun and insist upon knowledge demonstration early and often; 2) Keep experienced program managers and support staff in place to provide accountability and continuity; 3) Retain more DOD employees in program development roles so oversight isn’t entirely outsourced to contractors; and 4) Insist upon realistic cost estimates from industry and/or start getting estimates from an independent source. With these principles in mind, Congress and DOD should begin the long, hard slog toward improving the defense acquisitions process. It will be a thankless task but, in the current economic climate, it has never been more important for U.S. security.

Travis Sharp

Travis Sharp is the Military Policy Analyst at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. He has published articles on defense policy in scholarly journals, internet magazines, and local newspapers, and has appeared on or been quoted in media venues such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, CNN, and Al Jazeera.

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