Eleven former military officials are appealing to Congress keep the Missile Defense Agency director position reserved for three and four star officers.
Allowing lower ranking officers to hold the position could compromise the effectiveness of the MDA director, the military officials stated in a June 24 letter obtained by Federal News Radio and addressed to Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-R.I.).
The Senate version of the 2017 defense authorization bill includes a provision that the MDA director be treated as a three or four star officer, but does not actually have to carry the rank.
The letter signed by three former MDA officials, including former MDA directors Henry Obering and Ronald Kadish offers several reasons why the position should be exclusive.
The letter states the scale, scope and complexity of the position demands a minimum grade of lieutenant general or vice admiral due to its authority over a more than $30 billion portfolio and development of complex weapons systems.
The former officials also worried about the chain of command.
“The position involves establishing working relationships with very senior allied military and political leaders where the executive experience and savvy of at least a three star is required. The quality of these relationships can mean the difference in success or failure in integrating U.S. and allied capabilities which can have a direct effect on our ability to provide defense for our deployed forces, allies and friends,” the letter states.
In that same vein, the letter brings up that the MDA director must work with the most senior levels of the services and defense agencies to make sure the weapons programs under MDA control are properly integrated into the military.
The letter goes on to read that the MDA director must work with senior industry leaders and it is critical to ensure proper management and resourcing of programs to get the best cost, schedule and performance.
“Any downgrade of this position at this time would send the absolute wrong message to our adversaries that the U.S. is backing off of missile defense as a priority within our warfighting capability. … We strongly urge you not to change the requirement,” the letter stated.
The Senate provision involving the MDA is based off a larger piece of the bill that reduces the amount of four star billets.
The reductions would only create a meager savings due to staff reductions, but would mostly better the downward flow of information through the ranks and free four-stars for more important duties, Former U.S. Africa Command chief Carter Ham said July 7 at a House Armed Services Hearing.
Military experts testifying before the committee all agreed the MDA should have a three star officer or higher running the agency.
“There’s no question in my mind that you should have a three star,” said Dov Zakheim, a former DoD comptroller. “The reason is very simple, there are tons of two stars. I know of one person who once held my position that would only see four stars. I thought that was pretty outrageous myself. … [officials] are just not going to deal with a three star the way they deal with a two star nor would, I argue and suspect, The Hill.”
The witnesses testifying before the hearing agreed there needed to be a cut in the number of billets, but it needed to be done as part of a review by DoD.