The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said Wednesday he wants the U.S. Military's service chiefs to have more power to prevent the Pentagon from buying weapons it doesn't need.
Sen. John McCain, SASC's new chairman in the new Republican-run Senate, said one his top priorities for this session is to ensure that the service chiefs have more input into the acquisition and procurement process.
Wednesday's hearing's focus was to hear testimony on the next round of mandatory defense spending cuts under sequestration scheduled to occur in fiscal 2016.
The Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps have already suffered massive cuts to end-strength, modernization and readiness under sequestration that began in 2012. And just like in past hearings, the heads of each service predicted a grim outlook if more sequestration cuts come in 2016.
All the services agreed that they would not be able to continue to meet mandatory missions under the National Defense Strategy – win a major war, deter the threats of a second, major enemy and protect the homeland at the same time.
Lawmakers asked many questions, but no one offered a plan to prevent sequestration cuts from happening as it has in past years minus last year when the military received a reprieve from the across-the-board cuts.
Some Senators focused on finding ways to help the Pentagon run more efficiently.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., told the chiefs he wanted to know how to prevent the Defense Department's acquisition and procurement system from wasting money on equipment the services don't need.
"There has got to be a more effective and efficient method of procurement," he said. "When [President] Eisenhower said 'beware of the military industrial complex,' man he knew what he was talking about ... We force stuff on you all that we know you don't want."
Army Chief of Staff General Raymond Odierno agreed with Manchin.
"We are still having to procure systems we don't need," Odierno said, adding that the Army spends "hundreds of millions of dollars on tanks that we simply don't have the structure for anymore."
For three years, the Army in numerous Congressional hearings has pushed a plan that essentially would have suspended tank building and upgrades in the U.S. for the first time since World War II. The Army suggested that production lines could be kept open through foreign sales.
Each time, Congress has pushed back. In December, Congress won again in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 that funded $120 million for Abrams tank upgrades.
The Army and the Marine Corps currently have about 9,000 Abrams tanks in their inventories. The tank debate between the Army and Congress goes back to 2012 when Odierno testified that the Army doesn't need more tanks.
Odierno lost then too. Congress voted for another $183 million for tanks despite Odierno's argument that the Army was seeking to become a lighter force.
"When we are talking about tight budgets a couple of hundred million dollars is a lot of money," Odierno said.
"There are lots of people that have looked at procurement reform. And the one thing that has been frustrating to me is as the chief of staff of the Army is how little authority and responsibility that I have in the procurement process. I have a say in requirements, to some extent, but I have very little say."
Adm. Jonathan Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations, said that there needs to be clarity on the chain of command when it comes to procurement.
"There are too many people involved in the process," Greenert said. "If I say 'I need a thing' ... there are a whole lot of people telling us 'no, this is what you really need.'"
In many cases, the technology is not mature and even essential programs become delayed and end up costing more than they should, Greenert said. If it won't be ready on time, it becomes too expensive.
"Cost and schedule need to become a much bigger factor in this process than it is today," Greenert said.
Manchin told the chiefs he is "really interested in finding out how many ideas come from you all and what you need vs. from those on the outside and what they think you need."
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at email@example.com