- - Wednesday, May 25, 2022

After graduating from West Point, I became a platoon leader of Abrams tanks facing the Soviet Union. I hear the call of trumpets to this day and am blessed with memories of dear friends and classmates who gave their lives to defend our nation on distant battlefields.

Every death of our brave men and women is a great tragedy, but such sacrifice and loss should never be the result of inadequate arms. I consider it my sacred duty to speak out when our nation’s strength is compromised by politicization or mismanagement.

I recently wrote that the emphasis on indoctrination and the infusion of a deeply flawed perspective, known as “wokeness,” into our nation’s armed services, have served to deprioritize the fielding of new weapons urgently needed by our warriors. President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned of the accretion of power that may arise from improper oversight, for the diversion of management attention, which should be focused on critical programs, has the potential to increase unaccountability within the military-industrial complex. 

In the six decades since Mr. Eisenhower’s farewell address, political gamesmanship, coupled with a bloated Pentagon bureaucracy and coteries of officials and officers more concerned with their future employment than with their current obligations, has reduced America’s combat strength. This is unacceptable.

The Biden administration’s defense budget will hollow out America’s forces through the adoption of a “divest-to-invest” policy. What at first appears to be a small increase in military spending is actually a sizable reduction in expenditures when the effects of President Biden’s inflationary spiral are considered.

It is imperative to weigh how the Pentagon’s money is spent. As the war in Ukraine proves, our military must possess persistent capabilities that are not cut to permit the ephemeral funding of future weapons systems. This essential logic seems lost within the corridors of the White House and the E-Ring of the Pentagon, which houses the senior leadership of the Department of Defense.

In fairness, throughout multiple administrations, the Pentagon’s record in fielding new weapons is lacking and requires a total revision in how we develop and acquire systems. All services are plagued with procurement disasters, often wrought by political forces that care little for actually building and deploying decisive weapons.

The critical mistake that is made repeatedly is to remove weapon development from the grasp of the warriors who will ultimately employ newly fielded systems. It is an axiom of business and organizational management that functionality must be focused on the end-user. This is too often forgotten in the rush to obtain contracts.

The development of war-winning weapons must rest in the services, not the swollen Pentagon bureaucracy that is centered within the Office of the Secretary of Defense. The only comprehensive answer is to work with Congress to remove entire levels of bureaucracy that disjoin weapon development, testing and procurement decisions from our nation’s warfighters.

The calamitous results of not doing so are patent. In the past, my service bowed to pressures and canceled its new howitzer, the Crusader, before production began. It was replaced by the Non-Line-of-Sight Cannon, which was part of the Army’s Future Combat Systems; it, too, was canceled without any units fielded. 

The total development cost for the unrealized Future Combat Systems was at least $18 billion, though some estimates place this number much higher.

The Navy was to build 32 Zumwalt-class destroyers. It built three. The price for these few vessels approaches a great percentage of what was to be the procurement cost for all thirty-two ships. 

Worse, the Zumwalt class was to fulfill the role of shore bombardment, a capability the Navy desperately needs. The Advanced Gun System, which cost a fortune to develop, is, however, being ripped out of the Zumwalt class without ever being used. Why? Its shells approach $1 million each. A full, one-time, loadout for three ships would cost $4.5 billion. The mind reels at how the Navy could have deployed a shipborne artillery system without creating a backup, low-cost round. This is not management but the abdication of leadership and foresight.

The littoral combat ship, which comprises two types, is likewise a fiasco — with vessels retired after just a few years of service. Indeed, the entire fleet of 10 Freedom-class vessels will be decommissioned. Unbelievably, we are mothballing Freedom-class ships commissioned in 2019 or in 2020. Two ships of the Independence class are also to be removed from our fleet. To salvage this program demands that we consider transferring these littoral combat ships to Taiwan, which is in desperate need of new vessels and may make them battleworthy. 

America must dominate the seas, not bow to a hegemonic communist state, but our “woke” Navy is set to lose more ships than America has lost in many of our wars. This is unacceptable in a period in which the People’s Republic of China will have half-again as many ships as our Navy, though China has never been a naval power. 

The Air Force, in the Biden administration’s new budget, is set to retire 33 advanced F-22 fighters. At the same time, the service is buying F-15EXs, based on a plane that first flew 50 years ago. The F-22 was, in fact, designed to replace the F-15, but logic and the prudent utilization of existing resources are now in short supply within President Biden’s Pentagon.

The Marines are being gutted due to misguided objectives that have deprioritized the maintenance of prodigious lethality and proven force components. The service has lost all its tanks. Crucial programs have been canceled, including the amphibious Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, developed at a cost of over $3 billion, but terminated by the Obama administration before production began. 

A truly adequate replacement has yet to be deployed, but, on Earth Day, Mr. Biden declared his commitment to spend billions to make “every vehicle” in our military, “climate-friendly.” Perhaps the president is unaware that war is not friendly to the environment or to anything else.

As a nation, we must charge our military to fight and win wars in order to preserve peace. Anything less squanders American lives. Congress must stand against Mr. Biden’s caustic priorities.

• Michael R. Pompeo was the 70th secretary of state.

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