The former US Navy Secretary insists that the main weakness in Navy preparedness is a painfully slow weapons procurement system
By DOUG TSURUOKA
NOVEMBER 30, 2017
Former US Navy Secretary John F. Lehman has warned in an exclusive interview with Asia Times that the US faces the danger of a “New Pearl Harbor from growing cooperation between China, Russia and Iran that is marked by increased military and technology sharing.
“China, Russia and Iran are doing joint naval exercises and they are sharing anti-aircraft and antisubmarine technology,” Lehman said. “They don’t have to be allies. They figure if they carry out their designs in co-ordinated fashion that this will stretch the US so thin that we can’t deal with it — and that is the worry right now.”
But as the US military confronts a three-way alignment that Lehman compares to the Tripartite Alliance between Germany, Italy and Japan before World War II, Lehman says the chief danger isn’t from anti-ship missiles or supercavitating torpedoes. Rather, the main threat to American preparedness, he says, springs from a painfully slow US process for procuring new weapons systems. He also blames recent collisions involving Navy ships in Asian waters on the combined pressures of generational change, and training and budget cuts, on a smaller, peacetime Navy.
“All these problems are fixable,” Lehman said. “We just need the leadership and will to do it.”
Lehman served as the Reagan administration’s Navy secretary between 1981-1987. He was the architect of the 600-ship Navy that harried the Soviet Union in the Cold War.
He believes the past is repeating itself in the current face-off between the US and a new set of foes. “If you go back and read how the Triple Alliance before World War I or the Axis alliance before World War II evolved, you’ve got exactly the same thing happening now. Russia, China and Iran are concert parties,” Lehman said.
Against this backdrop, Lehman sees an urgent need to quickly develop and deploy new US weapons systems. But he says a tortuous, decades-long acquisitions process involving the Pentagon, defense contractors, and Congress, makes many US planes, ships and supporting systems obsolete by the time they are operational.
The former top Navy official reckons it takes the US more than 22 years to get a major weapons system up and running. Russia and China, he says, can do it in about 6-7 years. He notes that new Congressional legislation is needed to streamline and simplify the procurements process.
“We’re strangling on bureaucracy and overhead,” Lehman said flatly. “In digital technology, the procurement system has become so paralytic that by the time we get new digital weapons and electronics deployed, it’s ten years old.”