Opinion

Cutting missile program won't save money. It will cost US – in lives and treasure.

America’s enemies, having failed to counter US missile capabilities abroad, may now have an opportunity to see them defeated on American soil. Pentagon budget cuts threaten the new Joint Air to Ground Missile (JAGM) program, which can save funds and lives.

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Many of the most devastating attacks on America’s terrorist enemies have been with the use of long-range and remotely fired weapons systems in tandem with the special operations community. Think of the killing of Saddam Hussein’s sons Uday and Qusay Hussein and key Al Qaeda leaders like Anwar al-Awlaki and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Every branch of America's armed services has used missiles to score remarkable victories against those who would harm the United States.

Yet America’s enemies, having failed to counter these missile capabilities abroad, may now have an opportunity to see them defeated on American soil. As the Pentagon scrambles to meet increasingly austere political budget targets, missile systems are under severe attack, in particular the new Joint Air to Ground Missile (JAGM) program. While some short-term savings from the proposed cuts may assuage temporary budgetary needs, canceling the JAGM program will have major long-term costs, both in terms of dollars and lives needlessly lost.

America is on the verge of major breakthroughs in technology, military cooperation, and savings with the JAGM program. But under political pressure, the Army and Navy have been forced to consider abandoning JAGM. As Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley said recently, “It’s safe to say that every single line of the budget is under scrutiny.”

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This state-of-the-art air-launched missile would replace three older ones – the Hellfire, Maverick, and Air-Launched TOW – that are nearing the end of their service lives. As the name suggests, the Joint Air to Ground missile would eventually be used by all of the services, can be launched from both fixed and rotary wing aircraft, and can hit moving targets in all weather conditions – something the existing stockpile can’t do.

Killing the JAGM program would be a huge mistake. First, the Pentagon will save no money in the long run. Replacing three missiles with one simplifies logistics and reduces inventory and training costs. All the branches of the military could have one configuration that will do more tactically than the dozens of variants of missiles currently fielded. The JAGM also uses fewer parts than the legacy missile systems and can launch from both fixed wing and rotary aircraft.

The JAGMs are also far more effective than the existing missiles, since they can operate day or night, in the presence of countermeasures and bad weather, and can hit static or moving targets. As a result, studies show that where it would take 700 Hellfires to neutralize a set of targets, just 400 JAGMs would be needed. That saves more money in terms of the cost of the missiles, and it means fewer sorties, which translate into less risk (and cost) for our fighters.

Since the alternative to proceeding with the JAGM program is to upgrade aging missiles, the Pentagon would have to spend a comparable amount to repair and bring these dinosaurs up to speed. They would end up with a stockpile of missiles with 40-year-old limitations. You can overhaul a ‘70 Buick to give it the performance and safety features of a 2011 model, but not without a cost comparable to the price of a new one.

Abandoning JAGM also means flushing down the pipe more than $900 million in taxpayer money the Pentagon has already spent on development.

Killing the JAGM program also hurts military R&D efforts by breaking faith with our defense industry and American workers. The companies competing to supply this missile have made significant investment and have met every milestone the Pentagon required. What sort of message does it send if all this R&D time and money never leads to a production line?

Most important, jettisoning the JAGM program places our warriors at needless risk. As with many other breakthrough weapons technologies, the JAGM protects the men and women fighting our nation’s battles while advancing their ability to defeat America’s enemies – before they get a chance to kill another 3,000 Americans going to work on a September morning.

LTC Steve Russell, US Army, (Ret.), is the author of “We Got Him! A Memoir of the Hunt and Capture of Saddam Hussein.” He is the founder and chairman of Vets for Victory (www.vets4victory.com), and serves as chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee in the Oklahoma Senate.

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