The Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) program and the United States’ contribution to Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system deserve scrutiny in light of possible sequestration and other looming budget cuts, according to the head of an influential Washington think tank.

Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) President Andrew Krepinevich told reporters yesterday in a conference call that GCV should bare greater scrutiny because it will only provide a “marginal” improvement in capability, despite being estimated to cost in the range of tens of billions of dollars. The GCV is a nine-man Infantry Carrier that can protect against threats, move in urban and off-road terrain and accommodate emerging technologies such as lightweight armor composites and electronics (Defense Daily, Nov. 20).

“Why would you spend all that money to get a marginal improvement when no one is racing against you in this area is a bit beyond me,” Krepinevich said.

Krepinevich also said the Defense Department should take a long look at its contribution to Iron Dome because the system costs too much to operate compared to cheap incoming missiles it defends against. Krepinevich used the success of Iron Dome against incoming Hamas rockets as an example, saying while those successes are good, he warned costs can get quickly out of whack in long-term engagements.

“Hamas is firing rockets that cost, maybe, a few thousand dollars (each),” Krepinevich said, noting that Iron Dome defense system costs about $50 million to buy.

The House-Senate Conference Report on the Fiscal Year 2013 National Defense Authorization Bill authorized $211 million for Israel to procure additional Iron Dome short range rocket defense systems (Defense Daily, Dec. 20).

Krepinevich said Iron Dome works if you have a political need for it, as in a lawmaker or administration official who may be “absolutely concerned about reassuring your citizens that you’re actually doing something to defend them.” But he said over the long-term, spending far more is not a good strategy. Krepinevich urged instead looking at directed energy systems, specifically solid state directed energy systems, as a quality investment. Directed energy weapons include lasers and microwave technologies.

Krepinevich said those looking at DoD’s nuclear arsenal for budget efficiencies could be disappointed as the nuclear wing doesn’t comprise as much of the budget as people think. President Barack Obama’s administration has investigated going beyond cuts it agreed to in the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia, but Krepinevich said those potential additional cuts wouldn’t make much of a difference fiscally.

“Despite what a lot of people think, it doesn’t comprise a substantial part of the budget,” Krepinevich said. “Somewhere around five percent.”

Odds for sequestration taking place March 1 were upgraded to “80/20,” Krepinevich said. The decade-long sequestration cuts, a $1.2 trillion package with $500 billion of which would come from the Pentagon, have been hotly debated between DoD and lawmakers the last few days as time ticks down (Defense Daily, Feb. 13).

“I think the betting line is increasing that we will see sequester,” Krepinevich said. “Both sides seem to be hardening their positions. The Republicans feel this is the only way they can get what they want, which is cuts to federal spending, and the administration is offering, what it considers to be, a balanced plan of maybe some cuts and some revenue enhancements or closing loopholes. That, at this point in time, doesn’t seem to be satisfying the Republicans, of course.”