Lesson 1: Invest in systems with a real-world pedigree. There is no need to reinvent the wheel; in the case of the Patriot deployment Turkey is merely opting for protection from a missile defense system that has already been operational for more than 20 years. Two hundred fire units have already been fielded worldwide. Nor is the Patriot a system on its last legs; there are 40 Patriot fire units currently in production or undergoing modernization for five countries. The Patriot is not something new and untested; having had a real world past, present, and secure future. Weapons systems with this pedigree will survive any number of challenging budgets, for the simple fact that they are part of concrete strategic calculations. Conversely, it is new and untried systems that will and ought to raise eyebrows at congressional budget hearings. With multiple and looming threats around the globe, it is imperative the U.S. invests in systems it knows and trusts.
Lesson 2: Invest in systems our allies already turn to. The Patriot is the missile defense system of choice for 12 countries, including the U.S., five NATO allies, plus Japan, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. Crucially, the Patriot is interoperable, meaning these close-knit allies can work together, jointly using the Patriot to create (as in the case of the Dutch, Germans, and Americans in Turkey) a seamless missile defense response to whatever comes. Given the miniscule spending in many of our NATO allies, it is no small thing to have secured their buy-in to an interoperable missile defense system. Any weapons system jointly shared by America’s core allies will continue to provide value for money in these straightened times.
Lesson 3: Invest in systems that are cost effective. The Patriot system costs only $809 million to maintain per year. Better still, Patriot costs are shared among the 12 partners, funded by all those that use it, meaning that for once Uncle Sam is not left to haplessly sign a blank check, but rather is the largest (but not predominant) contributor to costs, as befits America’s position in the world.
As Congress deals with sequestration and the appropriations process in the coming months, it is more critical than ever that our defense dollars are spent wisely. That is what makes the story of the Patriot deployment to Turkey so important; it is a real-world example illustrating far broader principles for procurement in the new era. Systems with a proven pedigree, that allies already use, and that are cost effective are and must be the future. I hope Congress and the White House are paying attention.
Dr. John C. Hulsman is president and co-founder of John C. Hulsman Enterprises and a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations.