The New York Times today has an “Op-Chart” purporting to depict “The Pentagon’s biggest boondoggles.”
According to the Times, the list of “boondoggles” is “just a sampling of what systems could be ended without endangering America; indeed, abandoning some of them might actually enhance national security.”
Some of the alleged “boondoggles” whose abandonment, according to the Times, would actually enhance our national security include our Ballistic Missile Defense system and the F-35 Lightning II, fifth generation fighter aircraft program.
Now, I agree that some of the programs listed have had significant cost and schedule over-runs and are pushing the envelope when it comes to technology. For example, the goal of the Ballistic Missile Defense System/National Missile Defense System is sometimes likened to “hitting a bullet with a bullet,” and, yes, we have been working on it for nearly 50 years at a cost of $135 billion to-date. And, yes, the original cost estimate of the F-35 program was $178 billion and now stands at $325 billion.
I found two definitions for the term:
1. work or activity that is wasteful or pointless but gives the appearance of having value.
2. a public project of questionable merit that typically involves political patronage and graft.
I don’t know if I would call the programs listed by the Times as wasteful or pointless, or involving graft. “Political patronage,” perhaps.
And some of the “problems” listed:
On the National Missile Defense system—after calling the ultimate goal of the program “laudable”: “The Russians oppose the project because it threatens their deterrent capability.”
On the F-35 program, the “problem” according to the Times is that “only one American fighter plane has been shot down by an enemy aircraft in nearly 40 years.” If this is a problem, it is probably because of the other “problem” mentioned by the Times: the problem that “our fighter aircraft are already a full generation ahead of nearly everybody else’s.”
Perhaps this “problem” alone merits scrapping the F-35 fighter aircraft program.
Now, in my zeal to defend some of our military “boondoggles” I am not denying that there is—and has always been— waste, inefficiency, “gold-plating” and “overkill” in our military systems development and acquisition programs.
And I am not arguing that, in our present dire fiscal environment, we should not “scour” for defense programs that can be reduced or even eliminated.
But to call some of our most important defense programs “boondoggles” and to say that their elimination—even if such funding goes towards other military programs—will actually enhance our national security is, in the opinion of this layman, a stretch.
If cost and schedule had been the primary or only factors in the development of our Fleet Ballistic Missile/Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles System(s), we might not have today one of the most important “legs” of our triad of strategic nuclear forces.
What are your thoughts?
Image: Courtesy dssfeed.blogspot.com