October 11, 2012
Credit: Credit: Reuters/Landov
A Mitt Romney administration would take an “incremental” approach to U.S. defense weaponry development while fighting cost growth and schedule delays with “strong civilian leadership” that heads off so-called “requirements creep” by program proponents in the military and industry.
According to two high-profile Romney defense advisers, who spoke to the Defense Writers Group here Oct. 11, the main difference between Romney and how the Obama administration has handled the Pentagon’s acquisition portfolio would be that Romney, co-founder of Bain Capital and a former Massachusetts governor, would “set the tone” of efficiency and effectiveness brought only by a successful businessman.
“What is really needed is strong civilian leadership,” Roger Zakheim told Aviation Week during the group’s breakfast interview.
He and father Dov Zakheim, once Pentagon CFO for President George W. Bush, talked about Romney’s desire to cut the delivery time of major defense acquisition programs to as short as four years from seven to 20, traditionally, depending on what is being built. Asked how to achieve this without running into similar problems that came from earlier attempts — resulting in less competition between contractors, increased concurrency of development and production, and eleventh-hour downsizing of technological goals just so something gets delivered — the Zakheims start with limiting engineering change proposals to programs already in development. They also say new weapons should be built incrementally from existing platforms and technologies, and builders should not try to advance too far.
“Don’t ‘skip a generation,’” Roger Zakheim said. Bush, in his 2000 presidential campaign, promised to pursue skipping a generation in development of defense weaponry.
The Zakheims further said Romney favored more competition in defense acquisition, and argued that the civilian acquisition corps in the Defense Department has become too big and too lacking in skills to keep up with modern technology and engineering development.
They did not elaborate on whether requirements of current programs would be frozen, or whether programs in existence or planned would be reorganized, deferred or scrapped. But they fleshed out earlier campaign promises over setting a floor of spending of 4% of GDP on defense, as well as funding construction of more capital ships likes aircraft carriers and submarines to increase the size of the Navy’s fleet — versus relying on building smaller, less expensive Littoral Combat Ships and Joint High-speed Vessels to meet the Navy’s so-called 313 shipbuilding plan — as well as “modernizing” the Air Force’s inventory of fighters and bombers.
But again, referring to the incremental approach, even the capabilities of capital ships could be limited in order to afford making more of them. “If you start making every ship a bespoke ship, then you can’t have too many ships,” Dov Zakheim said.
The Zakheims said Romney would seek to get the Pentagon’s baseline to 4% in his administration, although they did not say whether that meant in one presidential term or two, assuming reelection. They also said Romney supports reinserting F-35s cut by the Obama administration from the program’s five-year acquisition plan, versus restarting production of the F-22, which Romney last month said he would do. The Zakheims said his campaign has since corrected the statement to mean the F-35.