Just across the Potomac River from Washington, DC lies the heart of America’s military-industrial complex. In the last decade Northern Virginia has become home to the nation’s powerful defense contractors, from Boeing to Booz Allen Hamilton.These titans of the defense industry produce weapons and equipment, and provide services, that our politicians then purchase for our troops. Though they certainly make a profit, these contractors promise their chief motivation is patriotism — ensuring that our men and women in uniform have the tools they need to be safe and effective on the battlefield.
My name is Jeffrey Carson, and I’m the Libertarian Party’s candidate for Congress in Virginia’s 8th District. I’m a former U.S. Army Captain with four years of service, coming from a long military tradition that includes my brother, both my parents and most of my extended family. I know what our troops need to complete their mission while staying safe. Unfortunately, I also know how Washington politicians on both sides of the aisle betray our soldiers through sweetheart deals with defense contractors, putting our warfighters at needless risk of death or serious injury.
The United States spends more money on defense than the next ten military powers combined. But the weapons and equipment put in the hands of American soldiers are often substandard, unnecessary, or just plain dangerous. Lawmakers from both the left and the right push these shoddy and overpriced defense contracts through Congress, and contractors return the favor through campaign donations in the next election cycle.
These perilous procurements cut across every branch of the armed services, affecting everything from mundane materials to high-tech boondoggles. Consider the debacle of the “universal camouflage pattern,” the Pentagon’s program that saw seven different camouflage uniforms introduced across the services in less than a decade. The $5 billion price tag should have purchase increased survivability for American troops by keeping them concealed in different types of terrain.
But many of the patterns just didn’t work — especially in some of the most dangerous combat environments. “It definitely makes a difference in Afghanistan,” one Army soldier explained. “Afghanistan is primarily brown, and there’s no brown in the universal pattern.” From 2005 until at least 2009, soldiers stuck out like sore thumbs while wearing the uniform in combat zones.
The Pentagon blamed the fiasco on poor coordination between the services, but angry soldiers held their own opinions. “People in the military associate certain projects with nepotism, a Good Old Boy network,” Army Sergeant Matt Pelak told the Daily Beast in 2012. “Maybe someone’s brother owns the company that designs the uniforms, or he’s on the Defense Appropriations Committee.”
The military is now returning to similar patterns they retired in 2002, at a projected cost of another $4 billion. The $9 billion spent since that time made our soldiers less safe and their missions more difficult, but enriched contractors and politicians alike.
Major “next-generation” defense programs can be many times more wasteful — and more dangerous for our troops when they go wrong. The Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship is billed as a 21st-century stealth vessel, designed for coastal combat and expected to replace nearly a third of the current U.S. surface fleet. But leaving aside the program’s exorbitant cost ($40 billion, more than double the initial estimates and rising), numerous studies question the ship’s ability to even survive in combat operations.
The Pentagon’s independent Director of Operational Test & Evaluation recently concluded that the Littoral Combat Ship “is not expected to be survivable in a hostile combat environment.” Yet “combat” is in the very name of the program, and the ship is expected to be a crucial coastal minesweeper that would move ahead of larger ships during potential conflicts in the South China Sea and Persian Gulf.
It’s a completely unacceptable amount of risk for the program’s price tag, so much so that even Arizona Republican Senator John McCain warned that “in terms of actual cost and cost to our national security, we simply cannot afford to continue committing our limited resources to an unproven program that may eventually account for more than a third of the surface-combatant fleet.”
But despite its dubious effectiveness and high price tag, development and production of the Littoral Combat Ship continues. Much of that can be attributed to the influence of Lockheed Martin, the ship’s manufacturer, which spent nearly $20 million in contributions and lobbying in the 2012 election cycle alone.
There are more examples of wasteful and dangerous defense programs than can fill a book, much less an op-ed. But you won’t hear these kinds of stories from my opponents in the Democratic or Republican parties. More than in any other region, my adversaries in Virginia’s 8th District are beholden to campaign contributions from the defense contractors at their doorsteps.
I’m an independent voice, and if elected to Congress I’ll work from within to ensure that taxpayer money is wisely spent and that our troops’ safety comes before contractor profits and politicians’ reelection campaigns.