The USS Freedom is set to be deployed into its first major operation overseas. The only problem: Everyone, including the military itself, doesn’t think it even works.

The USS Freedom, a Littoral Combat Ship whose job is expected to be mostly maritime policing and anti-piracy missions, is being deployed despite the fact that it has not undergone crucial tests to ensure that it actually functions as designed. Even more troubling, from what experts do know of the ship, it doesn’t appear that it does function.

In an annual report released recently by J. Michael Gilmore, the Defense Department’s director of operational test and evaluation, he reveals that the Littoral Combat Ship may be a waste of money:

Gilmore’s bottom line is that the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) is still “not expected to be survivable” in combat. His office will punt on conducting a “Total Ship Survivability Test” for the first two LCSes to give the Navy time to complete a “pre-trial damage scenario analysis.”

The systems the LCSs will carry, from their weapons to their sensors, compound the problem. The helicopters scheduled to be aboard the ship can’t tow its mine-hunting sensors, so the Navy is going to rely on robots instead — only the robots won’t be ready for years. And the faster the ship goes, the less accurate its guns become.[source]

The ship plans to be sent out regardless of these flaws. Remarkably, the Navy plans to work out the kinks on the fly. Some of the tests, such as whether the ship can survive a hit from an enemy blast until next year or the year after (kind of important in a ship that is meant to engage in warfare).

Of course, at this moment the worst thing the Navy is expecting the USS Freedom to face is uncoordinated and ill-equipped pirates, but it hardly lends itself to the image that the United States has the strongest, best-equipped military in the world. Nor does it seem to justify the cost of the military’s budget.

The United States spends well over half the entire world’s military spending. In 2011, the entire world spent $1.19 trillion on defense spending. America alone spent $700 billion of that. As a comparison, China – the U.S.’s closest competition – spent $120 billion.

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Even during the lean times (say, during a time of financial recession), the defense budget is close to untouchable. In 2009, while the nation’s economy appeared to be at its nadir, the Obama administration – with input from the Pentagon – announced plans to cut funding for F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Jets, and the response from both sides of the aisle was outrage – even after the Pentagon testified that they didn’t even want the F-35′s.

An amendment stripping the engine funding from the defense authorization bill, which is also slated for final passage today, failed by a 193-231 vote.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates called the second engine “costly and unnecessary,” adding that “every dollar additional to the budget that we have to put into the F-35 is a dollar taken from something else that the troops may need.” Gates has repeatedly recommended that Obama veto the defense spending bill if it includes the engine funding. Obama himself has said, “think about it: hundreds of millions of dollars for an alternate second engine for the Joint Strike Fighter when one reliable engine will do just fine.”

Can you imagine another agency coming before Congress, expressly asking that a particular program be cut because its unnecessary, and having that request denied? It’s a completely absurd situation. To its credit, the Senate Armed Services Committee refused to fund the second engine, but proponents of the program are already pushing for it to remain alive in conference committee.

The military has become a home to hidden government spending. Politicians who want to appear anti-”big government” can simply add more requests for military spending and, like magic, the government has just paid for equipment, or engines, or workers, who just happen to be based in the state where that politician is from. That leaves him free to then go out and cut social programs to keep up the appearance of a slasher of budgets. As an added bonus, he or she gets to say it was to support the troops. How patriotic!

Building a military vehicle that cannot fight is bad, spending $670 million on that vehicle is unconscionable. 2013 was a year of deep cuts. The sequestration, the republican-led attack on SNAP food stamp benefits, cuts to veterans’ benefits, and killing unemployment benefits to millions of the out-of-work, all hit America’s neediest this year. Meanwhile, the Navy built a boat that everyone agrees doesn’t work.

 

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