Recently, John McCain was in the news for criticizing the Army’s Modular Handgun System program as “wasteful” in the latest of a series of reports that he has released. If past instances of his interference with regards to purchasing new gear for the military is any indication, the troops may need to wait a while for a new sidearm.
During his time in the Senate, McCain’s pushed to kill a number of programs, often in the name of curbing government waste. In the 1990s, he tried to stop construction of the third Seawolf-class submarine, USS Jimmy Carter (SSN 23). That loss was good news for the Navy, which has turned that sub into a special missions platform.
The problem, is that cutting so-called Pentagon waste can leave the troops having to soldier on with older gear. In 2002, the Air Force had reached a deal with Boeing to lease 100 tanker variants based on the 767 airframe. McCain butted in, and eventually the deal got called off. All this time, the bulk of the American tanker force consisted of KC-135 tankers – the youngest of which entered service in 1965. The Air Force soon found itself in a long, lengthy drama over the KC-X program, which included media fights, an award to Airbus for the KC-45, a protest that overturned the award to Airbus, and the military soldiering on with the aging KC-135. Just last month, the KC-46A Pegasus – based on the 767 – has begun testing for the Air Force, thirteen years after McCain helped halt the 2002 leasing deal for what was virtually the same aircraft.
McCain was not done. Five years after his butting in killed the lease deal for KC-767 tankers, he butted in again, this time over the CSAR-X program when the Air Force picked the HH-47 over choppers based on the S-92 and the EH101. The HH-47 would have been based on the MH-47G that was already in service – itself a variant on the CH-47 Chinook. In, the same cycle of media fights and protests took place. In 2009, CSAR-X got cancelled altogether. Earlier this year, the Air Force did pick a new CSAR chopper – a warmed-over version of the HH-60 already in service. So, not only did the Air Force get a delay in receiving new choppers, they got a less capable chopper than the one McCain helped kill.
In 2009, McCain helped the Obama Administration prematurely halt F-22 production. That has lead to the F-35 having more of a burden placed on it – and helped give it a bum rap. But McCain has continued targeting Pentagon “waste,” releasing reports on the Ford-class aircraft carrier, the Remote Minehunting System, and a next-generation GPS system since September 1.
Shenanigans around the 2002 leasing deal did lead to a prison sentence for a DOD procurement official and a Boeing executive. But that didn’t change the fact that the Air Force needed a new tanker quickly – and the procurement soap opera McCain’s meddling started imposed a delay of years before the Air Force settled on a plane not so different than the one the Air Force wanted to lease in the first place! The HH-47s demise after all its drama left the troops with a much less capable chopper than what the Air Force wanted to buy almost nine years ago.
Nobody wants to see money wasted, but spending money on capabilities is important. A more capable platform reduces the risks our troops face in combat. In the 1980s, Reagan built up the 600-ship Navy to defeat the Soviet Union. Getting all that capability was expensive. But the money spent paid dividends when the Navy was needed to carry out Freedom of Navigation exercises in response to Qaddafi’s “Line of Death,” to escort neutral tankers in the Persian Gulf, to respond to Iranian mines damaging a frigate, or to carry out Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. The Navy proved to be more than capable of handling those missions with relative ease. Excess capability can always be dialed down to meet a smaller threat, but not having a capability when it is needed will impose a price in blood. In short, the dollars Reagan spent years earlier saved both time and lives. McCain would do well to contemplate that the next time he is tempted to butt in.