HASC’s Adam Smith Defends Pentagon Push to Retire Legacy Ships, Aircraft

January 12, 2023 5:26 PM
U.S. Rep. Adam Smith is briefed on the capabilities of the F-35A Lightning II during his visit at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., Oct. 10, 2019. The congressman learned about several aspects of the 56th Fighter Wing F-35 pilot training and how the wing works to enhance lethality and readiness. US Air Force Photo

The ranking member of the House Armed Service Committee said retiring legacy guided-missile cruisers, Littoral Combat Ships and older C-130s is the best way to free up money for information technology and systems needed for future security.

Speaking Wednesday at a Brookings Institution forum, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said, “[HASC chair] Rep Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and I are of one mind on this … that’s the biggest continuous fight we have” on Capitol Hill over preserving legacy systems at the expense of innovation.

He added, “we’ve really got to update the military to the modern fight and the modern fight starts with information technology.” He included missiles and missile defense and unmanned aircraft and ships in the list of future military needs.

“This doesn’t mean we don’t need aircraft carriers and F-35s” but maybe fewer of them, Smith said.

Smith said the rate of development in the Defense Department is too still.

“The Pentagon is set up to run like a 1950 car company,” not like a 21st-century business. He cited the Defense Innovative Unit as an example of what can happen to a good idea when it leaves the research and development stage to enter the department’s acquisition process, in which it takes two years to buy a platform or system.

In that time, “you lose the innovative technology” because it is now outdated.

Likewise, Smith questioned whether the Pentagon encourages innovative thinking over completing each of the steps necessary to make something into a program of record in the budget. The example he used was quickly buying shotguns to down Iranian drones used by Russian forces in Ukraine versus developing a weapon that will take time and money to accomplish the same end.

Several times, Smith stressed that cost-effectiveness should be the guiding principle in budget decisions, especially now when the new Republican majority in the House may be looking at cutting or capping defense, as well as domestic spending. He praised the Air Force’s B-21 program for “being much more efficient” in keeping to its schedule and budget over the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter’s history of delivery delays and cost overruns. One reason was competition in contracting.

“In the world, there is a finite amount of resources.” That should mean “make the best of what we have now,” but also look at what partners like Japan, Australia and others can offer to improve security. Smith noted there is more interest in Washington and other capitals in cooperating following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s bullying of Taiwan.

Later, when answering a question, Smith said “we’ve got to share stuff. …It’s a global economy.”

On Ukraine, Smith said, Putin’s “maximalist goals have not changed” in bringing it totally under Moscow’s control. “The first step is to stop them,” and the United States, allies and partners must support the Ukrainians through the spring. He added that talks are continuing between Kyiv and Washington on how to proceed.

But for now, “Putin made his choice” to continue fighting.

This week, the Kremlin named a new senior commander for Ukraine as Russian forces are largely stalled or in defensive positions. Moscow’s previous top general for Ukraine held the post for only three months.

The message to China over Taiwan should be: “Don’t do this; it will not end well,” Smith said. He cited a wargame report conducted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies about possible outcomes if Beijing tried to invade. He added, “I think we’re in a lot better shape than we were” in deterring Chinese ambitions toward the island.

Looking at China’s actions now, “they basically want greater freedom to do what they want to do,” like illegal fishing and asserting territorial claims. The Chinese leadership plays up “the century of humiliation” where Western powers wrested concessions from the imperial and weak republic governments in trade and autonomy to act as they saw fit inside its borders.

But the Chinese are “not nihilists; they’re not suicidal. Smith said, “the world has to be big enough for both of us.” He added that he voted for the new select House committee on China to be chaired by Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) and hopes it doesn’t descend into “China-bashing.”

“The globe needs to become less dependent on China,” Smith added. He said the U.S. should look for other places for circuit boards, microchips and other manufactured parts and goods.


John Grady

John Grady

John Grady, a former managing editor of Navy Times, retired as director of communications for the Association of the United States Army. His reporting on national defense and national security has appeared on Breaking Defense, GovExec.com, NextGov.com, DefenseOne.com, Government Executive and USNI News.

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