The military’s five biggest budget fails since 9/11

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Marty Skovlund Jr. Avatar
U.S. Army acu uniform goat
Staff Sgt. Cameron De Hart of the 205th Infantry Division, First Army Division East, pets a goat at a training site at Camp Atterbury, Ind. (Sgt. John Crosby/U.S. Army).

Defense spending and Congress’s never-ending fight over the budget for it. The military-industrial complex’s perpetual greed. An ever-increasing national debt. Is there any such thing as just responsibly spending enough to make sure our military is properly resourced and our service members are taken care of?

That’s probably a pipe dream. Anyone who has served knows the military is one of the worst offenders when it comes to wasting American tax dollars. Soldiers never have enough of what they need, and too much of what they don’t.

Of course, the F-35 joint strike fighter is one of the first items that come to mind when we think about bloated, over-budget expenditures. But it’s not the only big-money item that has contributed to our nation’s $20 trillion debt. Unfortunately, some of these programs were not just wasted money, but have also put service members’ lives at risk. If the big defense contractors are strippers, then these five items are the goods they showed to get the generals and civilian military leadership to make it rain.

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T-11 Parachute

With a $400 million price tag, the fielding of the T-11 parachute in 2014 was not a cheap endeavor. A budget to replace the T-10 parachute system, which dutifully served paratroopers for 60 years, was requested due to the increased weight of today’s combat-equipped paratrooper. Certainly, a replacement was needed, but the well-intentioned T-11 wasn’t the right answer. The parachute itself is nine pounds heavier than its predecessor.

Although it has a lower rate of injury thus far, the T-11 has resulted in more mid-air entanglements. The significantly lower drop rate has resulted in greater lateral drift, which has increased the likelihood of tree and water landings. The amount of time the ‘chute takes to deploy after the jumper has exited from the aircraft has increased from four to six seconds, which allows less time for a reserve parachute activation in the case of main canopy failure.

The T-11, despite a short history, already has blood on its hands. In 2014, high winds inadvertently activated the reserve chute of a Navy SEAL, which led to his death — just one of the nine that have been reported since the parachute’s initial issue in 2009. These are just some of the significant shortcomings that have been identified in the field by 18th Airborne Corps commanders that would require a complete redesign of the brand-new, fully fielded T-11 parachute system.


U.S. Army afghanistan infantry ACU
U.S. Army Soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment search the mountains of Andar province, Afghanistan, for Taliban members and weapons caches June 6. (Sgt. 1st Class Marcus Quarterman/U.S. Army).

The Army is the biggest offender here with its annoying habit of changing uniforms and camouflage patterns like a fashion model changes outfits. Sure, soldiers needed an updated uniform for the war on terror and the old-school BDUs just weren’t hacking it anymore. In 2004, the Army decided it was a good idea to spend $5 billion on the gravel-colored Universal Camouflage Pattern. Unfortunately, the only thing universal about the new uniform was how big of a failure it was.

The Army is now in the process of spending another $4 billion on a replacement uniform that actually makes sense. The Army isn’t the only branch to waste money on a uniform boondoggle though. The Air Force and Navy, for as much as they claim to be the more intelligent branches, changed their uniform to arguably even worse patterns soon after the Army made the switch in 2004. It seems that the only branch to get a uniform right in the mid-aughts was the Marine Corps.

WIN-T Increment 2

The military’s $9.1 billion investment into a mobile intranet — called WIN-T Increment 2 — is an attempt to untether service members on the modern battlefield. It’s been approved for full production and is currently issued to 11 of the Army’s 32 combat brigades, but unfortunately it has some massive cyber vulnerability issues. The security shortcomings, which could leave classified information unprotected or reveal troop locations, have delayed production and caused budget overruns.

In addition to a lack of cyber security, the program has significant issues integrating with combat vehicle platforms, such as the Stryker. The problems range from antennas that prevent 360-degree movement of the machine gun to draining the vehicle’s battery to the point it needs to be replaced. Anyone who has been deployed knows that jumping a Stryker’s battery in the middle of a combat mission would be about as fun as taking a swig out of your buddies spitter.

Anthrax vaccination

Lt. Douglas Santillo administers an anthrax vaccination in the hangar bay of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68). (U.S. Navy).

The multi-billion dollar vaccination for Anthrax that the DoD has required many of its personnel to receive may be one of the largest scams in recent history. Despite numerous congressional inquiries, the program being shut down on multiple occasions, and scientific peer reviews questioning its ability to protect in an actual anthrax attack, the vaccine — called BioThrax — received another round of funding worth $1.25 billion in 2013.

The company had a former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman among its founders in 1998 and has spent more than $20 million on lobbying efforts — often being accused of strong-arming any emerging competition. Despite the DoD dropping them dolla-dolla bills on the vaccine, and serious side effects suffered by some military personnel who have taken it, there have never been any notable anthrax attacks on any entity of the Department of Defense.

Civilian contractors

Contract Obligations in Iraq and Afghanistan Theaters in FY2017 Dollars.

Painting in broad strokes here, the military has become overly reliant on civilian contractors. It would be nearly impossible to calculate how much has been spent by the DoD on civilian contractors in the past 16 years, but you could comfortably say it has been hundreds of billions of dollars. From hiring KBR to run a chow hall while sending military cooks out on combat missions to hiring folks that fix computers while the service members who are trained to do that job are out police calling for the first sergeant, the military has its priorities all turned around.

Not all contractors are unnecessary; some perform functions that the military does not have personnel trained to do like landscaping services (sorry, infantryman, that’s actually not supposed to be your primary duty) and fixing the A/C in the barracks when it goes out. Sometimes the military is short on manpower for specific duties and needs contractors to cover the gap. You could even argue contractors are a cheaper option in the short term because you don’t have to train them, and you don’t pay them benefits or disability after the military breaks them. Unfortunately, in many cases, lucrative contracts kill retention by luring service members away from the military, which in essence means the military did pay to train them. Also, at 16 years of non-stop war… “short term” became inapplicable a long time ago.

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