What's Wrong With Weapons Acquisitions?

20-Oct-2008 5:00 PM EDT

IEEE Spectrum Magazine

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Newswise — Problems in defense acquisitions have existed for decades. What's new is the economic scale. The Pentagon spends about $21.6 million every hour to procure new military systems. As recently as the mid-1990s, the largest of these cost tens of billions of dollars.The program to build the F-35 jet fighter, by contrast, is expected to cost taxpayers an astounding $1 trillion--close to what the United States spent to fight both the Korean and Vietnamese wars. Equally troubling are the scheduling delays--9 years or more, in some cases--that prevent new military equipment from being fielded in a timely manner.

What's wrong with weapons acquisitions? In the November issue of IEEE Spectrum, contributing editor Robert N. Charette examines the root causes of the massive cost overruns and failures. Behind the deterioration is a convergence of factors, including military systems that are more technologically complex than ever before and that rely increasingly on unproven technologies. Engineers, scientists, and technicians skilled enough to design, build, and de-bug such complex systems are scarce. The ranks of experienced DOD managers to oversee acquisitions efforts have also been thinned, even as the number of major military programs has proliferated.

Often, too, politics trumps technology and common sense. The situation has become so dire that even former top defense officials are weighing in with uncharacteristic pessimism and alarm. "Each day that the acquisition process continues to operate ineffectively and inefficiently is another day that the troops are not getting what they need, the country is less secure, and much-needed programs, both civilian and military, don't get funded," Charette writes.

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