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Dorian de Wind Headshot

Those Pentagon "Boondoggles"

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F35
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This past Sunday's New York Times op-ed section featured an "Op-Chart" that purported to list "The Pentagon's biggest boondoggles."

According to the Times, the list of "boondoggles" is "just a sampling of what systems could be ended without endangering America," and, furthermore, that "indeed, abandoning some of them might actually enhance national security."

Some of the "boondoggles" whose abandonment, according to the Times, would actually enhance our national security include our Ballistic Missile Defense system and the F-35 Lightning II, fifth generation, fighter aircraft program.

Granted, some of the programs in the "boondoggles" list have suffered significant cost and schedule over-runs and many are pushing the envelope when it comes to technology, innovation and sophistication.

For example, the goal of the Ballistic Missile Defense System/National Missile Defense System has been likened to "hitting a bullet with a bullet," and, yes, we have been working on it for nearly 50 years at a cost to-date of $135 billion. And, yes, the original cost estimate of the F-35 program was $178 billion and now stands at $325 billion.

But "boondoggles"?

I found two definitions for the term:

1. work or activity that is wasteful or pointless but gives the appearance of having value.

2. a public project of questionable merit that typically involves political patronage and graft.

I don't know if I would call the programs listed by the Times as wasteful or pointless, or involving graft. "Political patronage"? Perhaps, in a few cases.

As to some of the "problems" listed:

On the National Missile Defense system -- after calling the ultimate goal of the program "laudable" -- the Times finds the fact that "[t]he Russians oppose the project because it threatens their deterrent capability" a "problem."

On the F-35 program, the "problem" according to the Times is that "only one American fighter plane has been shot down by an enemy aircraft in nearly 40 years." If this is a problem, it is probably because of the other "problem" mentioned by the Times: the problem that "our fighter aircraft are already a full generation ahead of nearly everybody else's."

Now, in my zeal to defend some of our military "boondoggles" I am not denying that there is -- or has always been -- waste, inefficiency, "gold-plating" and "overkill" in our military systems research, development and acquisition programs.

I am not arguing that, in our present dire economic and fiscal environment, we should not "scour" for defense programs that can be reduced or even eliminated.

But to call some of our most important defense programs "boondoggles" and to say that their elimination -- even if such funding would go towards other "non-boondoggle" military programs -- will actually enhance our national security is, in my opinion, an overstatement.

If cost and schedule had been the primary or the only factors in the development of our Fleet Ballistic Missile/Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles System(s), we might not have today one of the most important "legs" of our triad of strategic nuclear forces.

Finally, while unconventional and "asymmetrical" warfare may be the "way of the future," we must never forget that there still is -- and in the opinion of many experts, there will always be -- the possibility, the threat, of an old-fashioned, "conventional" large-scale war with another major power or even an intentional or accidental war between the superpowers.

Should the improbable happen, wouldn't it be reassuring to have weapon systems that are at least "a full generation ahead of nearly everybody else's"?