Over-budget weapons systems need questioning

Editorial

The Government Accountability Office has issued yet another study documenting gross overspending and underproduction in Pentagon weapons systems.

The GAO has been doing these studies and making recommendations for the past six years, followed by promises from the Pentagon and defense contractors to improve.

But the problems have not gotten better. If anything, they have gotten worse.

The GAO found, for example, that, as the Washington Post news story put it, “95 major weapons systems have exceeded their original budgets by a total of $295 billion, bringing their total cost to $1.6 trillion, and are delivered almost two years late on average.”

This comes at a time when the Pentagon has doubled the amount committed to new weapons systems, from $790 billion in 2000 to $1.6 trillion last year. In 2000, 75 weapons systems came in at an average of 6 percent over original budget, but in 2007 the increase was 26 percent.

Development costs for Lockheed Martin’s Joint Strike Fighter and Boeing’s Future Combat Systems, for example, designed to connect vehicles (generally tanks) and unmanned aircraft, have risen 36 percent and 40 percent respectively — in part, the GAO says, because the government orders “new and unproven technologies” that might not even be feasible to produce.

This gross waste on weapons systems is distressing enough at a time when U.S. service people have had to cope with a lack of simple but potentially life-saving equipment like better-armored vehicles and body armor. Even more troubling is that most of these weapons systems are of little use for the kinds of conflicts the United States is likely to face in the near future. Many systems are relics of the Cold War, when the thinking was