Official: Weapons costly, too few

By Tom Philpott: CNJ columnist

The military must end its quest for “exquisite” weapon systems that are too costly, take years to design and build, and don’t reach troops fast enough, or in quantities large enough, to address ever-changing threats.

The critic here isn’t a Washington think tank or a beltway consultant but Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the U.S. military’s second highest ranking officer.

Cartwright recalled the wry observation made by some critics of current weapon-buying practices that, by 2015, America’s armed forces will have one airplane and one ship operating in the Pacific, one airplane and one ship in the Atlantic and a single space vehicle orbiting the Earth.

“What they’re really saying, in my mind, is we have gone overboard with exquisite” ships and aircraft, Cartwright said, and “that we have got to get back to scale (and) platforms that are adaptable and flexible.”

Cartwright made his comments at a military professional symposium held Nov. 17 in Arlington, Va., by Military Officers Association of America.

The vice chairman, who is a fighter pilot himself, compared the capabilities of a Predator unmanned aerial vehicle to those of a piloted fighter aircraft, illustrating a better way to fight an illusive, dispersed enemy.

The UAV, he said, “costs about a third of what the fighter costs. It uses about a third of the fuel the fighter uses. Instead of being airborne for two hours, it’s airborne for 20 hours. It requires no tankers (to refuel). It can be flown from any part of the Earth and you don’t have to be in that part of the Earth.”