Department Of Defense Bureaucracy Is Delaying A Better Radar System

Slim Marlar Retired Lt. Colonel, U.S. Air Force
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Anyone that has served in the military can tell you a few horror stories about the delays caused by the bureaucracy of the defense acquisition process. Despite several efforts to improve the red tape that unnecessarily complicates acquisition and weapons system procurement for our Armed Forces, replacing aging systems and equipment continues to be a challenge. For example, the Air Force has been attempting to replace their aging battlefield radar system for over seven years, and is no closer to having a new system than the day they asked for one. The Three-Dimensional Expeditionary Long-Range Radar program (3DELRR) has been unnecessarily disrupted by contracting delays as opposed to developmental delays.  Contracting delays have impacted the 3DELRR program to the point that the technology may already be obsolete.

The importance of reliable advanced sensor and radar capability cannot be underestimated.

During my career as an F-15 Strike Eagle pilot, I relied on intelligence information and battlespace awareness from multiple sources utilizing ground based radar capabilities. The number of aircrafts in a combat area of responsibility has increased dramatically with more remotely piloted aircraft, helicopters, and other platforms flying missions simultaneously. The Air Force’s current radar system can’t keep up with the increased activity in the battlespace and struggles to detect new stealthy aircrafts .  Current capabilities lack the long-range accuracy required to provide situational awareness and intelligence to both airborne platforms and ground troops.

The new 3DELRR system is a necessary capability for our nation’s military and will replace the current AN/TPS-75 radar that has been in use since the Vietnam War. According to the Air Force, the new radar will “provide long-range surveillance, control of aircraft, and theater ballistic missile detection. The 3DELRR will provide air controllers with a precise, real-time air picture of sufficient quality to conduct close control of individual aircraft under a wide range of environmental and operational conditions.” It is vitally important to update the tools our warfighters employ to sustain an advantage over emerging global threats.

While 3DELRR has been challenged in many ways since the Air Force released the first request for solicitation in 2009, with changes to program requirements, program mismanagement, award and protest challenges, and  a change in cost classification/contract type that ultimately is the most disturbing. As a pilot, moving to technology provided at the “lowest price technically acceptable” is completely insupportable and would allow contractors to submit lower bids utilizing potential inferior technology to simply meet the minimum contract requirements. The Air Force should return to soliciting the best available capability at the best value to ensure we get the absolute best technology available to keep the next generation of warfighters safe on the battlefield.

In the current budget and oversight climate, it is far better to ensure that acquisition and procurement of new systems will endure emerging threats and capabilities of the future instead of settling for short-sighted low cost solutions.  It is time for the Air Force to terminate the current 3DELRR contract and initiate a new request for proposals that will meet the warfighter’s requirements for today and into the future.  Accepting the cheapest system from the path of least resistance is not an acceptable procurement strategy. The men and women of our military need and deserve the best capability available to meet both current and emerging future threats. It’s time for the Air Force to start over and address updated requirements and best cost structure to procure the absolute best weapon system capability.

Slim Marlar is a retired Lt. Colonel with the Air Force serving for 20 years as an F-15 Strike Eagle pilot and Congressional liaison specializing in advanced weapons.