Defense Programs Embarrassing Failures: Problem not Mentioned in the US President’s State of the Union Address
Arkady SAVITSKY | 04.02.2018 | SECURITY / DEFENSE

Defense Programs Embarrassing Failures: Problem not Mentioned in the US President’s State of the Union Address

In his first State of the Union Address, President Trump emphasized the achievements while openly ignoring some burning issues, such as the huge national debt, exceeding $20 trillion. One of the problems he ignored was the  inefficiency of defense research and development programs,  known for boondoggles, resulting in enormous sums of money going down the drain. More evidence keeps on surfacing to corroborate this fact. The lobbyists-dominated process leads to one failure after another and nothing is done to address the problem. The issue is largely hushed up in the United States.

Remember the praises sung to glorify the railgun – the “best weapon in the world”? It appears to be dead in the water. And what to do about the much-vaunted Hyper Velocity Projectile (HVP) the railgun was supposed to fire? With big money involved, something must be invented. Vincent Sabio, the HVP program manager at the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Officehas come up with an idea to arm Army artillery systems with the projectile, providing an additional layer of defense to the existing missile defense (MD) systems. He believes the HVP is much cheaper than surface-to-air missiles and can be easily installed on mobile platforms. It needs no trucks, trailers or silos to make it less vulnerable. The HVP-based MD system will be fire-tested in a year.

Even if the projectile is not as accurate as expected and the probability to kill (PK) is not up to par, air space could be saturated with great numbers of HVPs costing only about $85,000 a round to reliably counter incoming air targets, including sea-skimming and land-hugging threats. But is this price final? The initially estimated cost was $25,000 a round. It keeps on rising.

Nothing has been reported about the ability of HVP to achieve great accuracy under the conditions of electronic countermeasures. If the enemy is Russia, it acquires special importance. The operational range  is only 43 nmi (80 km) from 155-mm tube artillery and 70 nmi (130 km) from ship-based advanced gun systems (AGS) - nothing to brag about. A new Russia’s artillery system offers comparable capabilities and strikes with much more destructive projectiles delivered with great accuracy. The Russian new howitzer capable of 70km range is already in service. The US is just starting the production of its new sophisticated howitzer destined to outgun whatever Russia and China have. So, it may be a superweapon but that’s where the US military is trailing behind Russia’s armed forces it plans to outgun.

Saturate the airspace with great numbers of HVPs? It will require great numbers of launchers to make the whole process really cumbersome. Each launcher has a cost as well as the radars the targets cannot be detected and the projectiles cannot be guided without. And what about energy requirements? It was a problem when a railgun was to be installed on board of USS Zumwalt, the lead ship of a new class of destroyers. Inevitably, it will be a problem for ground-based HVP launchers deployed around assets they are supposed to protect.

The US is going to review its missile defense plans. The Pentagon’s Ballistic Missile Defense Review is expected this month. The Army is to come out with a new MD strategy this summer. After so many years of great effort, the existing plans need to be revised!

In January 31, the US conducted an unsuccessful key missile defense test (the Aegis Ashore SM-3 Block IIA version). This is the second failure in a row. The previously failed test took place in July of last year. It will most certainly negatively affect the Japan’s plans to deploy the US-made Aegis Ashore system somewhere in 2023.

Speaking at an event organized by the Center for International and Strategic Studies (CSIS) on Jan.25, Rear Admiral (ret.) Archer Macy, who is a former director of the Joint Integrated Air and Missile Defense Organization, said the US has not made much progress on missile defense during the last 25 years. The Missile Defense Project report published by CSIS in January states that the missile defense America has spent so much on cannot accomplish the required missions. The report addresses a lot of issues unaddressed before and offers a lot of things to do that have not been done or even seriously discussed. Indeed, there is not much to be proud of. No great shakes! If the Aegis Ashore is not up to par and entire MD program is going to be revised, then what HVP-based systems are going to be an additional layer to?

The US spends over $70 billion yearly on research and development. As a result, it gets extremely costly systems which too often prove to be a far cry from what had been promised and expected. Great sums are spent on building very expensive weapons that frequently fail to perform as planned. In Iraq and Afghanistan, the main threat to US soldiers came from improvised explosive devices detonated by simple cellphones. The high-price projects to develop superweapons had little to do with reality on the ground. Obviously, this is a burning problem but it’s not in spotlight.

Many people are interested in getting profits without offering products based on cost-efficiency. It brings us back to January 1961, when US President Dwight D Eisenhower warned the nation in his farewell address to the threat coming from the military-industrial complex composed of military contractors and lobbyists, making profits from lavish spending on armed conflicts and war preparations. The fact that the acute issue of defense programs’ failures has not been raised neither by the president nor lawmakers proves that something is very rotten in the United States of America. With all the ballyhoo raised over imaginary threats allegedly coming from Russia, very little attention is paid on the real problem posed by those who make huge profits squandering American taxpayers’ money.

Tags: Pentagon