Washington: If you want proof that budgets are getting tighter and the Pentagon gets the message, just look at the last two days.
One system is dead and two are badly wounded, potentially totaling cuts of more than $22 billion.
The Army made it sort of official yesterday that the Enhanced Medium Altitude Reconnaissance and Surveillance System (EMARSS) will vanish and the service instead will rely on what was originally an Air Force asset. The House Appropriations Committee had already moved to cut EMARSS’ $524 million funding from budget early this summer. The Air Force system, the MC-12 Liberty, is a modified two-engine Hawker Beechcraft KingAir that carries a largely classified suite of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sensors. The system was rushed into production to improve ISR capabilities in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Number two on the list is the nearly $20 billion Ground Mobile Radio program, apparently mortally wounded by the Office of Secretary of Defense after it failed to meet expectations after several years of field tests. It’s subject to a Nunn-McCurdy program review and word is that acting acquisition czar Frank Kendall is leaning toward the conclusion that the Pentagon can’t certify that the system is vital to national security, as required by the process set in motion after a program rises 25 percent or more in cost.
Finally, the Navy and Army are ready to throw the $5 billion Joint Air to Ground Missile system overboard to save some money, a not uncommon approach by services when they feel “saddled” by a joint program requirement. After all, it’s not really their system. But JAGM is considered one of the Pentagon’s groundbreaking programs because of its recent shoot-off and requirement that the two competitors build almost production-ready prototypes and test them first. Our colleagues at Inside Defense broke the story of JAGM’s apparent impending demise.
But we hear that the Office of Secretary of Defense may come to the rescue on this one because there are no other missile programs being developed and the requirement was recently validated.
“Raytheon is optimistic JAGM is well positioned for today’s fiscal realities because JAGM is the only weapon that meets a DoD-validated requirement to give fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft the capability to engage moving targets in adverse weather from safe distances,” Raytheon spokesman Mike Nachshen said in an email. “The result of the taxpayer’s prudent $900 million investment in the JAGM program is a mature, capable weapon that fills a critical capability gap for the warfighter.”
Lockheed spokeswoman Melissa Hilliard said they, “have not received any notification from the Government to cease supporting our JAGM proposal response, and we continue to fund activities that will enable us to enter the engineering and manufacturing development phase on or ahead of schedule.”
Defense analyst and consultant Loren Thompson cautioned that, while the Army can take some significant reductions to its formations, “without really being at risk because the overseas commitments are going to scale back so much,” it “must not back away from its technology agenda. What it can’t afford to do is stop investing in next-generation technology. And yet programs are dropping left and right.”
The fate of these programs may mark the true beginning of the defense procurement drawdown.