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Lawmakers Rap Littoral Combat Ship, New Handgun, Intel System

U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday criticized a handful of weapon systems as examples of problematic acquisition programs, including the Navy's Littoral Combat Ship and the Army's handgun and battlefield intelligence system.

Rep. John Garamendi, a Democrat from California, singled out the Littoral Combat Ship, the sea service's roughly $34 billion effort to develop a total of 40 ships with multiple variants and mission modules to operate near shores.

"The fundamental argument made by the Navy and by the defense industry was, 'Well, we gotta continue to produce another 20 of these ships that serve really no good purpose and, by the way, will probably be sunk at the very first shot that'll be fired and don't have much utility, but we need to do it because we need to keep the defense base working,' " he said.

His comments came during a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee on acquisition reform. The panel's chairman, Rep. Mac Thornberry, a Republican from Texas, on Thursday introduced legislation designed to improve how the Pentagon buys weapons and services.

Other lawmakers have called for expanding the LCS program. The Navy, meanwhile, plans to double-down on the concept of modularity in part to expand its fleet of ships to 355.

During the hearing, Rep. Duncan Hunter, a Republican from California, took aim at the Army's $580 million Modular Handgun System to replace the Beretta M9 service pistol with the Sig Sauer P320. He also criticized the service's version of the roughly $10 billion Distributed Common Ground System, a battlefield intelligence system that troops have said is less intuitive than a commercial off-the-shelf product made by California-based Palantir Technologies Inc.

"For instance, the Army pistol, which you guys talk about ... what a joke," he said. "Ten years just to put out your requirements for a handgun is just stupid. The Distributed Common Ground System -- billions and billions of dollars [spent] when they could have used commercial sources to do a lot of that."

Hunter referred to the Army acquisition process as a "self-licking ice cream cone," and that officials "write things for themselves so they can do more things for themselves to do more things for themselves, ad nauseam."

Service leaders have defended the new handgun as offering increased lethality, faster target acquisition and better reliability. They've also pledged to improve the intel system.

Rep. Stephen Knight, a Republican from California, compared how much longer the Pentagon took to develop the fifth-generation F-22 Raptor stealth fighter than the "Century Series" fighters during the Cold War.

"The Century Series fighter system was built in the '50s -- all of them in about nine years. We put out the F-100 to the F-106 in about nine years," he said. "How we could do that, and then we move to the fifth generation and it took 50 months to the first flight just boggles me."

Testifying at the hearing were members of the so-called Section 809 Panel, a congressionally mandated body tasked with studying acquisition reform. The 18-member group has submitted initial findings on the topic and plans to release a final report in January 2019.

"The way the Department of Defense buys what it needs to equip its warfighters is from another era," the report states in its summary of problems facing the roughly $300 billion annual defense contracting business. Notably, more than half of that business -- or about 53 percent -- is for services, not hardware.

Witnesses included Deidre Lee, the panel's chairwoman and former director of defense procurement and acquisition policy; Joseph Dyer, a commissioner and former commander of Naval Air Systems Command; Dr. William LaPlante, a commissioner and former assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition; and Charlie Williams Jr., a commissioner and former director of the Defense Contract Management Agency.

Lee said, "We know that mission must come first. We have to value time. The system needs to be simplified. And another -- probably more discussion later -- we need to decriminalize the commerce."

Dyer pointed to his experience as former chief operating officer for Massachusetts-based iRobot Corp., which last year divested its defense business because of relatively low profit margins and high bureaucratic requirements that can mean turning over coveted intellectual property to the Pentagon.

"Profits are limited by weighted guidelines -- it's something of maximum of around 13 percent," he said. "The call on data rights and intellectual property -- the crown jewels of the company -- these things send you away."

LaPlante pointed out that "the commercial world practices have moved totally beyond the industrial model that we said the DoD uses," and cited software development as a case in point.

"The idea that Google develops software and then deploys it is wrong," he said. "They develop software every day. Facebook drops hundreds of releases every day. The idea that you would even spec out in detail the requirements of something five years from now is laughed at by fast- moving commercial software developers."

LaPlante added later, "Could you imagine pushing out continuously software globally to the F-35 mission systems? People shudder at that. On the other hand, for lots of reasons, including security, that may be where we need to go."

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