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Policy Glimpse Inside Obama's Pentagon?

The global financial crisis is likely to drive Democrats to approve or continue major defense programs such as the F-22 and Future Combat System because they provide so many jobs. At the same time, the Pentagon must improve its management and development of acquisition systems and should start by focussing attention on the rapid acquisition efforts as as the one for counter-IED technologies and MRAPs to institutionalize what made those so responsive to warfighters needs.

Those are some of the ideas offered at a Tuesday lunch by Paul Kaminski, one of the grand old men of the military industrial complex. Kaminski, former undersecretary of defense for acquisition and technology, was on the short list for a senior position in the Obama Pentagon but withdrew himself for consideration late in the game. Kaminski is very likely to take some sort of wise man position in Obama's national security world, but he would not be drawn in a quick conversation at the end of lunch.

Faithful readers of DoDBuzz will remember Kaminski spoke with me in late September. At today's lunch he made many of the same points, and added insights about what is likely to drive the Democrats as they take power, as well as making a clear attempt to influence what his fellow party members do once they take power in the Pentagon.

Asked by one reporter how the Democrats were likely to handle the looming decisions on the F-22, Future Combat System, airborne tankers, BASIC et al, Kaminski said they were more likely to OK them because of the enormous numbers of jobs at stake, not just because the Congress would want to protect the jobs but because the Obama administration has made job creation and economic restoration the keynotes of his presidency. Lockheed Martin has been very skillfully and very publicly playing this note in its defense of the F-22, touting the 25,000 jobs provided by the program. The administration has until March to decide the plane's fate.

In upbeat comments about a program that Congress is keeping a very close eye on, Kaminski said he believed FCS is on the right track now that the Army is focused on pushing new technologies, sensors and platforms to the battlefront as quickly as possible. "I think it's working," he said of the Army's new focus.

Kaminski said he thought the Pentagon should emulate the Army's move to more greatly involve soldiers -- the folks who use the weapons -- in more of its programs. When he was acquisition czar, Kaminski said he didn't support creation of an isolated acquisition corps, though he wanted to maintain the high quality of acquisition experts in the government. But he said it is crucial that weapons be designed by people who use them, and urged that all services move people from the frontlines to program offices to ensure America's builds weapons the country really needs. On the requirements side, he urged similar realism.

For the longer term, Kaminski urged that the Obama Pentagon take the lessons from the counter-IED program and MRAP efforts -- among others -- and try to "institutionalize" them so the country can turn out equipment in cycles much closer to the average of six years when he was in the Pentagon, as opposed to the current 12-20 year cycle.

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