Fitting a $2 billion blimp through a revolving door

A few days ago David Willman published a story at the LA Times on Raytheon’s Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, more simply known as JLENS.

According to Raytheon, “Airplanes, drones and cruise missiles pose a significant threat to people, population centers, key infrastructure and our military. That’s where JLENS, a blimp-borne radar system made by Raytheon, comes in.”

The problem?  Despite more than $2 billion in tax support from the Department of Defense, JLENS has never worked.

It gets better, or worse, perhaps.

The military is currently spending about $50 million per year to test the system in Washington DC, yet JLENS failed to detect a man flying a small airplane into Washington DC and landing on the White House lawn.  That’s precisely the kind of small-craft threat Raytheon claims is the specialty of JLENS.

Why did the military continue dumping money into this particular failed contract?

We can’t know for sure, but the revolving door of high-level officials becoming highly-paid corporate directors after resigning from government seems to be in play:

Raytheon mobilized its congressional lobbyists. Within the Pentagon, Marine Corps Gen. James E. “Hoss” Cartwright, then vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, came to JLENS’ defense, arguing that it held promise for enhancing the nation’s air defenses.

At Cartwright’s urging, money was found in 2011 for a trial run of the technology — officially, an “operational exercise” — in the skies above Washington, D.C.

Cartwright retired the same year — and joined Raytheon’s board of directors five months later. As of the end of 2014, Raytheon had paid him more than $828,000 in cash and stock for serving as a director, Securities and Exchange Commission records show.

The revolving door is anything but new.  In a 2008 paper, Professors Dror Etzion and Gerald Davis analyzed the connections between high-level staff in the Clinton and G.W. Bush administrations and corporate officer and director positions.

One strong pattern:  of the six members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2002, five of them had become directors of a large military corporation by the time of the paper’s publication.

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