Foreign Policy Blogs

Three Flops That Make Leon Panetta Sad

sad-leon-panetta

Photo Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Some of the provisions in 2011 Budget Control Act, meaning the failure of the 2011 “supercommittee” to find $1.2 trillion in cuts, are sweeping the media back into a fury of preemptive Armageddon terror.  The rapidly approaching sequestration (a procedure by which automatic spending cuts are implemented)–which will hit both defense and non-defense spending if Congress fails to act–is raising hell among both Democrats and Republicans alike.  Depending on who you talk to, the numbers begin at $55 billion in cuts in 2013 FY and rise depending on your baseline (e.g., the Congressional Budget Office, Obama’s defense budget request, or projects for 2013).  Somewhere between the angry squawks, you’ll hear that there’ll be upwards of $492 billion in cuts over the next nine years (2013-2021).  There’s no doubt that sequestration is a big deal, and no one is being asked to “Stop Worrying and Love the Cuts;” after all, who would?

Well, the American public doesn’t seem to mind.

According to a survey conducted by the Center for Public Integrity, the Program for Public Consultation, and the Stimson Center, Americans prefer deeper cuts to the defense budget (with the average percentage cut being 18%) as opposed to social programs or raising taxes.  Likewise, Foreign Policy Association’s annual National Opinion Ballot Report found that 49% of participants supported a reduction in the defense budget or an increase in taxes.  Even more surprising: 67% of Republicans and 90% of Democrats supported these deep cuts–in stark contrast to military and political leaders’ assertions that these would be “devastating” and “very high risk” cuts.

So while the fearmongering language begins to sweep CNN (who will hopefully take the time to read through whatever agreements are pushed out of Congress) as the American public sits back and sings along to Michael Stipe, we just want to bring to your attention some of the costliest mistakes we’re up against.  Think of it as the government’s equivalent of that time you threw your paycheck at the world’s most expensive cricket ball you can’t even use.

1) Pixelated Camo: A $5 Billion Dollar Flop

Digital camo. Puppy not included. Photo Credit: Sgt. James P. Hunter, U.S. Army Photo

Camouflage certainly can’t make you invisible, but the theory behind pixelated camouflage seemed solid.  The idea initially arose at West Point from the mind of an experimental psychologist, Lt. Col. Timothy O’ Neill.  The idea?  Since neuroscientists had divided the whole of the human visual system into two “circuits,” a good method of camouflage would have to take into account both of these pathways–the “where” and the “what” pathways that monitor the location and nature of objects, respectively.  O’Neil’s initial tests with this new method of camouflage utilized squares–the edges, he said, of the pattern had to be clearly defined in order for it to work effectively.  On the other hand, the MARPAT camouflage (used by the Marines) patent claimed these squares were simply printed like so to make the whole production process easier.

As The Daily pointed out:

“Essentially, the Army designed a universal uniform that universally failed in every environment,” said an Army specialist who served two tours in Iraq, wearing UCP in Baghdad and the deserts outside Basra.  “The only time I have ever seen it work well was in a gravel pit.”

UCP, the Universal Camouflage Pattern, is reportedly based on the Urban Track Pattern, one of the lowest rated patterns ever used.  Publicly, the U.S. Army denies its origin, but candid discussions of the pattern has brought these facts to light.  Prior to its issue, the UCP’s performance in tests was weak, being beat out by the MultiCam (the traditional splotchy pattern).  After snagging the original pixelated design from the Marines, the Army made the grotesque mistake of replacing the brown coloration in the uniform with their preferred gray.  As one soldier rightfully notes, the desert terrain of Afghanistan contains a great deal of brown.  Yet there’s none to be found in their uniforms.

The Pentagon, however, decided it would be much more efficient to give DARPA a billion-plus dollar grant to figure out a way to make our enemies only able to see in shades of green and gray. Source: Wikipedia

There do seem to be some potentially promising replacements at least.  Wired points to Guy Cramer, who has produced patterns for the U.S. military already through his company HyperStealth.

2) F-22s and Raptor Coughs

Lockheed Martin wants you to sound like your great-aunt who smoked two packs of Virginia Slims a day. Source: Federation of American Scientists

This is the era of the F-22 Raptor – the world’s premier 5th Generation fighter. –Lockheed Martin

What’s the best thing to do with an aircraft?  Have it make you sick!

After a 60 Minutes program on the Raptor featuring two Air Force personnel, it’s become more and more clear that the F-22s have a host of problems that need to be swiftly dealt with.  For one, it’s a bit difficult to fly a plane while passing out and/or becoming confused.

And, in fact, it possesses the ability to poison and/or suffocate pilots nearly 27 times per 100,000 flight hours.  The Air Force’s added charcol filter, which was intended to be a solution to the problem, has only made things worse.

And they’re not the first ones to register that there have been issues with this particular aircraft.  In fact, there have been 23 hypoxia incidents since it’s release in 2005–the most recent of which was announced yesterday.

The Raptor cough isn’t the worst of it though.  On 2010, Captain Jeffrey Haney died after his F-22 crashed in Alaska. And despite the assertion that the O2 system–known as the On-Board Oxygen Generating System (or OBOGS)–failed mid-flight, the Air force has been placing the blame on Haney, who didn’t activate the EOS (emergency oxygen system), not the plane.  Yet as Wired points out, it seems unlikely that given the host of complaints about air deprevation and the failure of the OBOGS in Haney’s plane, that there’s no connection whatsoever between Haney’s crash and a lack of oxygen. Unless, of course, Haney is considered personally responsible for his inability to breathe, which seems to be the claim here.

Regardless, it’s understandable that the Air Force is upset about the failed F-22, seeing as they cost somewhere between $137 and $678 million per plane depending on your method of calculation.

The only positive thing here, it seems, is that the F-22 doesn’t cost nearly as much as the F-35, which was also flawed.

3) Joint Tactical Radio System—“Jitters”

Nearly fifteen years ago, the U.S. Army launched an ambitious quest to develop the “universal” radio.  The hope: JTRS radios would utilize an open “operating system” for all military radios, allowing for ease of use. Theoretically, they were meant to replace all others in the Army’s arsenal, thereby simplifying communications and preventing troops from getting bogged down by shuffling through piles of old equipment to find the ideal system for the present situation.  Here’s a diagram to give you a rough idea:

Unfortunately an image with puppies could not be found. Source: Global Security

Seems like a great idea, right?  Making it easier to communicate on the battlefield is a laudable goal.

“Jitters” blew through at least $6 billion dollars with little to show for itself in addition to the $11 billion spent on additional radios to fill the gaps facing combat troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Once all the products were purchased from Boeing, the total cost of the project would have been roughly $40 billion dollars—a hefty cost, but one meant to fill an important gap.

After a series of complications and setbacks, the main issues with the radios became apparent during testing in 2010.  They were cited as follows: their tendency to break down, bulkiness, and short range.  In addition to these issues surrounding functionality, Jitters was far too costly, slow, and reliant upon a theoretically sound–but virtually impossible in real life–idea that the entire communication system of the U.S. Army could reach such a level of simplicity.  As a result, the main part of the project, Ground Mobile Radio (GMR), was cancelled after fifteen years of failing to produce adequate results.

“Moooooooom, why is it when I fail to do my homework, I get an F, not billions of dollars.”

So did Jitters set itself up for failure?  One LTG notes:

    I don’t think it is. I think what’s failing is the strategy that we had. And I’m passionate about this, so this is a good question to ask me. This is again about complexity. The JTRS program as it was developed was basically, to me, an unachievable goal because it was looked on as being a radio replacement program. If we had unlimited resources it would be wonderful if I could design something better and go to a battalion and have them download their radios of record today and give them JTRS radios in exchange. But that is an inefficient way to use our resources. However, that radio replacement philosophy is what I believe has caused this program’s problems. What we really want from JTRS in the near term is to enhance networking, not replace legacy radios. You want to introduce it with a focus on the live band networking waveform not just replacing the Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System for the sake of replacing it. What we have done in the last couple of months, in concert with the Office of the Secretary of Defense, is to slow the program to devise a holistic migration strategy for what we want from JTRS over time. It’s an affordability issue too, even if we could do it. We cannot afford to throw away good stuff. We’ve got too many other programs that we need to prioritize.

Perhaps he’s right.  We really can’t afford to throw away the good stuff.

Up Next: Why anyone thought a flying tank with no armor was a great idea.

 
  • Tom

    Can’t we find a war where we can fight in a gravel pit?

    Nice puppy.

    • Hannah Gais

      Thanks! So next war ask our enemy if we can just fight in gravel pits?

  • Jean Freeman

    I didn’t know there was as much public support for cuts to the defense budget. This is slightly encouraging. Thanks for this post — fun to read.