Budget Seeks Missile Fixes, Future Technology

Plan would fund fixes to Ground-based Midcourse Defense System and new projects such as a next-gen jet engine, rotary-wing aircraft and successor to the Army's canceled Ground Combat Vehicle.

The U.S. Defense Department’s top weapons buyer said the proposed defense budget for fiscal 2015 will seek funding for missile-defense improvements and advanced technology programs.

Frank Kendall, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, said the spending plan — to be released March 4 as part of the federal budget submission to Congress — will include money for fixing the so-called Ground-based Midcourse Defense System made by Chicago-based Boeing Co.

“We are going to be taking an initiative in the budget to address some of those problems,” he said during a conference on the defense budget Tuesday at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. The event was hosted by Credit Suisse and McAleese & Associates, a Sterling, Va.-based consulting group.

“We’ve got to fix those,” he added. “We’ve got to get some more reliable systems.”

The Pentagon maintains rocket-like interceptors in silos at Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., to shoot down incoming threats such as nuclear missiles. An interceptor launched from Vandenberg during a July 5 test missed its target over the Pacific Ocean, becoming the latest to do so. Afterward, some lawmakers criticized the Pentagon’s plans to spend more than $1 billion to expand the fleet of interceptors to 44 from 30.

At the time, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, cited among his concerns the system’s record of hitting targets in only 8 of 15 attempts; the high cost of testing, which runs about $215 million per exercise; and the fact that many of the interceptors aren’t operational.

On Tuesday, Kendall the interceptors have failed in part because they were designed and fielded too quickly, without the proper system engineering. “We’re seeing just a lot of bad engineering, frankly, and it’s because there was a rush, there was a hurry to get something out,” he said. “Just patching the things we already have is probably not going to be adequate.”

Kendall also said the budget will include continued funding for cutting-edge research and development projects. He noted that most of the force today uses weapons and equipment that were built in the 1980s — and that the World War II-era military relied in part on systems that were designed before the war.

He said U.S. military technological superiority “isn’t guaranteed,” echoing comments he made in recent testimony on Capitol Hill. “We’ve got to stop the presumption that we’re superior and we have a wide margin of superiority,” he said. “It’s not true anymore.”

Speaking about Chinese modernization recently with someone on the Hill, Kendall said the individual remarked that China can’t build a nice car. Kendall said, “We’ll, they’re building really good missiles and really good electronic warfare stuff and working on some pretty good airplanes, and they’re building some space-control capabilities that seem to be quite effective, and they’re competing with us economically.”

Programs targeted for R&D funding include a next-generation jet engine, new rotary-wing aircraft and a successor to the Army’s canceled Ground Combat Vehicle, Kendall said. The planned $1 billion investment in the new jet engine would lead to a formal engineering, manufacturing and development program within a few years, he said.

The Pentagon plans to unveil a $496 base budget, which excludes war funding, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced on Monday as part of a preview of the spending plan. The five-year budget would be $115 billion more than levels required under automatic budget cuts known as sequestration, but $113 billion less than what it expected last year for the same period.

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Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of Military.com. He can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.