MDA changes…not in the slightest

I know that a little bureaucrat-speak is endemic to most of the Pentagon (and a good chunk of Washington), but the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) must be one of the most fluent organizations when it comes to talking circles around its responsibilities.

In MDA’s FY 2007 budget estimates overview, it proclaims that there is a charter for the new “Ballistic Missile Defense Executive Board” which is supposed to replace the Pentagon’s “Senior Executive Council.” Inside Missile Defense’s (March 1, 2006, subscription required. again, sorry) headline on this is “Pentagon Revamping Oversight of Missile Defense Body.”

Mmm….no. Not really.

The budget estimates state that the board will “recommend and oversee the implementation of strategic policies and plans, program priorities, and investment options to protect our nation and our allies from any form of ballistic missile attack.” Furthermore, the board is supposed to “incorporate evolving requirements into a comprehensive acquisition strategy.” Finally, the board is hoped to:

guide new ideas and technologies as they develop into initial capabilities, and subsequently into fully mature solutions ready for fielding and inclusion into the missile defense system.

Uh-oh: MDA just used the R word: requirements. This sounds an awful lot like an operational requirements document, something that MDA has long shunned as being far too restrictive for its purposes (although every other Pentagon program is supposed to cough one up). Not to say that having some sort of thought-out schedule and timeline for your developing program isn’t a good thing and a way to avoid thoughtlessly wasting money on poorly-run or thought-out programs. But MDA certainly seems to look at it that way.

Instead, MDA sticks to the same tired clichés it has been mouthing for oh, say, the past five years: a stubborn insistence to attempt to stick to a schedule, come hell or high water (with its belief that integrating various missile defense elements will “achieve better performance while maintaining our schedule”); and relying on knowledge-based decision-making – is there any other kind? – and capabilities-based acquisitional strategies.

The latter is MDA-speak for making everyone happy by funding every program that is even the slightest affiliated with missile defense. The idea is that capabilities-based acquisition:

allows us to exploit capability opportunities sooner, focusing on adding capabilities with demonstrated military utility.

I’m not sure which missile defense program they’re referring to here. Would this be the Ground-base Midcourse System that’s being deployed in Alaska and California, despite flaws in the interceptors that came out during testing and an utter absence of a flight test intercept using an operationally-configured interceptor? Putting it out now is certainly sooner than waiting until it’s actually proven itself during testing. But it still makes you wonder, what’s the demonstrated military utility there?

Or maybe they’re referring to the big brawl over boost-phase intercept. The two programs duking it out are the Airborne Laser (getting $597 million in FY 07) and the Kinetic Energy Intercept (which is to receive $405.5 million in FY 07). Despite ABL constantly teetering on the brink and KEI getting gutted in last year’s defense appropriations, MDA continues to attempt to fully fund these projects. Plus it insists that the two programs will each have important milestones in FY 08, although MDA hasn’t said what will happen if either or both of those programs fail to meet their milestones (ABL has to do a shoot-down of a ballistic missile, while KEI got the relatively easy job of just flying an interceptor).

The MDA budget estimate also says that “Pre-planned knowledge points allow us to manage risk by making sure we are getting what we wanted out of our development efforts.” So again, remind me: when are they going to share these “knowledge points” with Congress so that there can be at least a hint of accountability?

Finally, MDA says that this form of acquisition – which it has been following for years now – allows for the agency to:

use our budgetary resources in the most efficient and responsible manner.

Perhaps they’re referring to the Near-Field Infrared Experiment (NFIRE), which is getting money from two different pots in the FY 07 budget (Advanced Technology program element and the Space Tracking and Surveillance System program element), and is being shuffled through three different program elements in three years. Not at all suspicious, the amount of dust that’s being kicked up over that program.

What we’re seeing with this new executive board is a pro forma attempt to look like MDA has any restraints on its funding or where it goes with its programs. Unfortunately, it does not. This is a bad precedent to set in any respect and particularly so when you consider that this is the branch of the Pentagon that is supposed to officially start basing weapons in space far too soon. It doesn’t bode well for the open discussion and honest assessment that such a momentous step should undergo.

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