There has been a disturbing trend in the US military in recent years. The weapon systems that have been touted as the most advanced, most game changing, have been almost uniformly late, over budget, and under performing. The F-22, F-35, V-22, and Littoral Combat Ship have all fallen into this trap. And this trend does not even take into account systems that have been canceled after a long period of investment, such as the Comanche helicopter or the Crusader artillery system. The United States has a long tradition of fielding the very best equipment, and this tradition is under threat.
The procurement process has a lot to do with this. Take the struggle necessary to replace the Air Force’s aging tanker fleet. This contract, which has the possibility to be the largest ever issued by the Defense Department, was originally awarded to EADS, a European defense company. The planes would be built in America and EADS formed a partnership with Northrop-Grumman to ensure that all aspects of the program would remain under American control. The process was derailed when Boeing protested the award, basing their complaint primarily on political, rather than military, concerns. DoD rewrote the requirements, and in the end Boeing received the contract. This saga has played out in a number of other contracts. The Littoral Combat Ship has had a particularly rough time, with three separate variants of the ship being built at one time. Currently the LCS has been a spectacular failure in trials, and the mission and survivability of the platform has been called into question.
There have been significant problems with the creation of two of the biggest prestige projects in the US inventory, the F-22 and F-35. Both of the aircraft were vastly over budget, and their necessity has been doubted. The F-35 was supposed to be a relatively cheap and capable aircraft. Instead, it has been one of the single most expensive procurement projects in US history. And it has yet to be deployed. The F-22 is insanely expensive, is designed to shoot down Soviet bombers at high altitude, and seems to have a problem with poisoning it’s pilots. Both of these planes were essentially ordered to fill a hole in the Air Force inventory that did not exist. The current fleet of F-16s and F-15s are perfectly capable of dealing with any threat that the Air Force might encounter. As the Air Force has been developing these two expensive and unnecessary aircraft, they have been actively trying to get rid of the A-10 Warthog, one of the most effective planes in the inventory and the one plane that has the most impact in the wars that we are currently fighting. The F-22 has yet to fly a mission in support of the war in Afghanistan. This is a stark example of how the goals of the individual services do not take into account the best needs of the war fighter.