Key point: Very specific targets on timelines, costs, and performance should be outlined in the contracts with penalties for unmet benchmarks.
Necessity is the mother of invention. Such a truism applies to many areas, including warfare. The battlespace is ever-shifting. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) evolution from novelty to ubiquitous tool over the past twenty years stemmed from the realization that it was not cost-effective to use manned fighter aircraft with limited loiter capability to engage multiple small targets over large swaths of Afghanistan or Iraq.
The same shift seems to be occurring within the Pentagon now with the release of the Trump Administration’s 2020 budget requesting an increase in funding for the F-15X fighter jet. Proponents of the F-35 fighter worry that any new F-15X procurement will create a future competition for resources with the previously requested F-35s. Unfortunately, this is bound to spark an unnecessary political battle, as the Air Force is currently committed to purchasing both aircraft.
As a former staffer at the Department of Defense who dealt with procurement issues, I understand the need for some diversity when equipping our armed forces for differing threats. There has always been a tug of war between providing what the Pentagon requests versus what Congress says it needs, mostly because of politics. Armaments production is notoriously peppered throughout many legislative districts so as to exert maximum pressure on fund authorizers and appropriators, many times at the expense of the advice of strategists and operators. That said, while it is difficult to call a $750B defense budget a “resource-constrained environment” with a straight face, such expense falls in line with the current national security strategy (NSS), regardless of how one might feel about its efficacy.