As Nick Baumann has reported here and here, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is in the midst revamping the Pentagon’s defense acquisitions programs, preparing to kill those that have been draining the most funds from government coffers, such as the the F-22 fighter and the Zumwalt-class destroyer. If you need more evidence that there’s a problem, see the GAO’s seventh-annual report (.pdf) on cost overruns in selected Pentagon weapons systems. The government auditor found that the number of major defense spending programs has grown from 77 to 96 since the beginning of the Iraq War. Not surprisingly, costs have continued on their upward march from $1.2 trillion to $1.6 trillion over the same period, with R&D costs now an average of 42 percent over budget. More programs, more money, and, yes, more delays. Initial delivery on DOD program investments now averages 22 months.
The reason for much of this is that our military seldom looks before it leaps: the services routinely budget big-ticket projects before the basic technology is in place, meaning that development is routinely delayed as technological hurdles emerge.
From the GAO:
A majority of the programs GAO assessed were unable to fill all authorized program office positions, resulting in increased workloads, a reliance on support contractors, and less personnel to conduct oversight. In December 2008, DOD revised its policy for major defense acquisition programs to place more emphasis on acquiring knowledge about requirements, technology, and design before programs start and maintaining discipline once they begin. The policy recommends holding early systems engineering reviews; includes a requirement for early prototyping; and establishes review boards to monitor requirements changes–all positive steps. Some programs we assessed have begun implementing these changes.