July 21st, 2011
05:19 PM ET

New Army report notes problems in acquiring new weapons

As congressional budget cutters sharpen their axes and size up the Pentagon, the Army released a report Thursday admitting major problems with the way it dreams up, orders and pays for major weapons systems.

The Army said it deserves credit for what it has achieved in a variety of programs, such as precision weapons, unmanned systems and mine-resistant vehicles. But its "white paper" on modernization said that too often in the past, technology, schedules and cost estimates have missed the targets.

"While we expend tremendous resources in moving technologies beyond current thresholds, in some cases we changed requirements resulting in higher costs and making new systems unaffordable," the report on Army acquisitions said. "We have been challenged by optimistic expectations in terms of technology, cost or performance and have been unable to exploit the rapidly changing operational or technological environments. In still other cases the operational environment changed faster than our requirements process could accommodate."

Thomas Hawley, deputy under secretary of the Army, would not put a price tag either on past problems or potential savings from new procedures and efficiencies. "We are not prepared to say that as of yet," Hawley said at a briefing at the Pentagon.

He said the secretary of the Army is committed to savings.

"Of course everybody wants to save money. Nobody wants to spend money when they don't need to. His true concern is to make the Army more efficient, more agile, a better functioning Army," Hawley said. "His focus is on making systems work better, providing equipment soldiers need more quickly, more rationally. This is a hugely complex enterprise."

Heidi Shyu, the acting assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, said the Army must be ready to respond to a changing world and accept delays and increased costs for national security. Overall the Army must design programs that in her words are "achievable and affordable and realizable."

"Our threats do not abide by our rules," Shyu said. "If the threats adapt there are times we have to change our requirements."

"We are trying to invent things here," Hawley said. "You try to do your best for soldiers and sometimes you bite off more than you can chew."

Similar concerns were echoed on Capitol Hill. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said more focus is needed on improving the acquisition process.

"The department and its industry partners have stumbled again and again and again in producing weapons systems at affordable costs that without question the services desperately need," McCain said at an Armed Services Committee hearing.

The Army's modernization plan says the goal is to reset the force after more than nine years of war.

"The nation's economic downturn coupled with the successful end of combat operations in Iraq require the Army to maintain fiscal discipline over decreased resources and competing demands," the Army report said. "We are reminded that American tax dollars are finite and we remain dedicated to ensuring we are careful stewards of our allocated resources."

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