‘A Piece of...’ Outgoing SecDef Blasts Expensive Programs
DOD’s biggest challenge is overcoming the “mindset of the Cold War”
Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller, who came into the job on Dec. 9 just after the firing of former secretary Mark Esper, already “cannot wait to leave this job.” Miller, a tall, plain-spoken person who previously served as director of the Counterterrorism Center, is fond of colorful, extemporaneous language and freewheeling engagements with troops. He is not fond of the way the Defense Department buys things and he doesn’t mind saying so.
Asked about the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, Miller recounted a conversation he had with a pilot. “I said, ‘What are you flying?’ [He] said ‘F-35.’ I was like, ‘That’s a piece of....’”
Miller said the pilot went on to describe the F-35 as an “unbelievable aircraft,” as have other pilots who have flown it. Miller, however, sees the F-35 as an example of what’s wrong with the way the Pentagon buys things — and indeed of DOD’s biggest challenge.
“I think the biggest thing is, we have to come out of the mindset of the Cold War,” Miller told reporters aboard a Defense Department aircraft on Thursday. “I know we had that period, but big — big units, big high-dollar weapons systems, you know, just this huge enormous complex... I still think we have a hangover on a lot of that…high tech, very expensive weapons systems….And we need to go smaller, swarmy, mass over — quantity over quality, in some cases. That was my thinking. ”
It’s not uncommon to hear defense officials talk about the need to go smaller, or invest in more cutting-edge technology. It is rarer to hear them explicitly lament the Pentagon’s penchant for multi-billion-dollar high-tech weapons that take years of decades to field. Criticizing that sort of thing can get in the way of a post-public service appointment to a large defense company. “We need to invest in the sixth generation” of fighter jets, Miller said he told the pilot. “I’m like, we have created a monster, but you know that.”
Miller made his remarks after what he called an eye-opening visit with the leaders at U.S. Northern Command, or NORTHCOM. “I think the key thing we need to do is we need to start paying attention. That’s why it was so cool at NORTHCOM, like, since they don’t get a lot of money, guess where they put their emphasis? What’s between your ears. And the information environment, domain awareness, using commercial stuff, you know, public-private partnership. That’s the future, you know.”