Bureaucracy Bogs Down Key Missile Defense System

By Mark Pfeifle

The world of military procurement is a vast, byzantine bureaucracy. In many ways, this is a necessity of doing business.

With hundreds of billions of dollars changing hands every year, the oversight, checks and balances are important in maintaining accountability.

But sometimes, the bureaucracy gets in the way, leaving warfighters in want of important weapons and hardware, while taxpayers are left scratching their heads over how their tax dollars are being spent.

Such is the case with the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, thankfully known by its more succinct acronym JLENS.

JLENS is a missile defense system that uses two integrated radar systems.

  • The first is a surveillance radar that identifies targets on land, on the sea and in the air.
  • The second is a fire control radar that integrates with existing missile systems to track and shoot down hostile cruise missiles, unmanned aerials and low-altitude aircraft.

The good news is that JLENS works.

The surveillance radar is practically a shelf-ready system and the fire control radar was successfully integrated with a Patriot missile shot that splashed a cruise missile during tests in Utah last month. Net net – this program is ready to roll.

The next phase in the JLENS refinement process is an extended test exercise in support of one of the COCOMS.

To date, DoD has invested roughly $1.6 billion in JLENS and taxpayers have gotten good value for that with a system that’s proved itself and is exceeding requirements.

The money for this test exercise, which is slightly north of $40 million, has been approved by Congress and SecDef has directed the exercise to proceed. But there’s a catch.

Congress has already approved CENTCOM as the COCOM under which the exercise will take place.

But the funding to conduct it is being held up in a bureaucracy that demands CENTCOM, with oversight in several theaters of operations, establish a pin-point exercise location on Google Maps.

Meanwhile, progress on JLENS remains mired in a bureaucratic morass.

Think ‘chicken and egg’ here.

The bureaucracy demands that a specific exercise location is established before releasing the $40 million approved by Congress. Meanwhile, the logistics for determining this location and preparing for the exercise can’t proceed without the funding.

If author Joseph Heller were still alive and writing, the situation would make a great update to his famed novel Catch-22.

The solution to ending this bureaucratic mess is relatively simple.

OSD and the Joint Chiefs can simply check off on CENTCOM as the exercise COCOM and approve the release of funding to allow the test exercise to continue.

There’s a good reason that the process for approving and conducting military testing and procurement is rigorous, but cutting through this Gordian Knot of bureaucracy involving JLENS is a no-brainer.

Let CENTCOM do what it does best.

Approve the release of the funding and let’s get this show on the road.

Mark Pfeifle was the former Deputy National Security Advisor for Communications and Global Outreach under President George W. Bush.


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One response to “Bureaucracy Bogs Down Key Missile Defense System”

  1. Kevin Johnson says:

    The irony is that we pour good money after bad on cost-overrun systems that don’t work while stymieing the programs that perform as promised.

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