Hagel Takes Aim at Risky and Expensive Pentagon Programs

In his first major policy speech, the Defense secretary also blasted the bloated bureaucracy.

In his first major policy speech, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel hinted that he planned to back major Pentagon procurement programs, but did not identify any specific projects, in order to make best use of a tight Defense budget.

Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta developed a long range budget that will cut $487 billion from the Pentagon over the next decade, and Hagel said automatic budget cuts could shrink funding by another $500 billion.

Hagel, speaking at the National Defense University, said, “Despite pruning many major procurement programs over the past four years, the military’s modernization strategy still depends on systems that are vastly more expensive and technologically risky than what was promised or budgeted for.” 

One of those is the F-35 fighter program -- the largest procurement in history with a price tag of $397 billion. It will not deliver combat ready aircraft until 2019, 23 years after officials started the program.

Hagel also took aim at the bloated Defense bureaucracy, which he called “the world’s largest back office,” and indicated he wants to cut back the combatant commands -- Strategic Command, Space Command, Transportation Command and the geographically focused commands, such as Pacific Command, which continue to grow as the four services shrink.

Cyber Command may end relatively unscathed by budget cuts, based on Hagel’s remarks. “Cyber attacks have grown into a defining security challenge” he said, posing a threat to both the military and the nation’s critical infrastructure.”

Defense agencies -- which Hagel did not name -- also face scrutiny under a strategic review conducted by Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and Army General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It is due May 31.  

Hagel, a former Senator, conceded that any significant Defense reform faces political challenges, both in Congress and within the bureaucracy itself.