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Letter to Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense, Re: Failure to Provide Troops with Life-Saving Surveillance System

Letter

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Senators Call on Pentagon to Investigate Failure to Provide Troops with Life-Saving Surveillance System

U.S. Senators Kit Bond (R-MO) and Joseph Biden (D-DE) sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, calling for the Department of Defense to investigate delays in getting a critical surveillance system to our troops in the field. Bond and Biden have been the Senate's most vocal advocates in ending bureaucratic delays in getting wartime equipment to our troops on the frontlines.

The Senators wrote: "There is a real disconnect between what we are hearing from leaders in the field about the need for persistent surveillance and the value of TCVS and the lack of action within the bureaucracy back home. We know that you have established a new Task Force to focus on intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance needs. We would appreciate hearing from you or the Task Force regarding how persistent surveillance capability can be provided to our war fighters quickly and effectively. If TCVS is not the right solution, either interim or long-term, please explain why and what efforts are underway to provide a better solution. In addition, we hope you will take a closer look at how the program has been handled so that lessons learned can help us get our warfighters the tools and protection they need without delay."

The full letter is attached and included below:

June 2, 2008
The Honorable Robert Gates
Dear Mr. Secretary:

Recently, you brought attention to a critical issue - ensuring that our troops in the field have the equipment they need. We share your concern that the Department of Defense (DoD) bureaucracy is slow to respond to warfighter needs and inordinately focuses on funding technologies to fight future wars instead of the wars our soldiers are fighting today.

You should be aware of a program that could be immediately valuable to our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan but has not received support from DoD. The Tactical Concealed Video System (TCVS) program is a persistent surveillance asset first brought to DoD's attention in mid-2005. It is manufactured by Sentrus Government Systems Division, Inc. TCVS is a compact, covert, persistent video and sensor surveillance system used to monitor insurgent-frequented "micro-terrain" that is not accessible to either tower-mounted or tactical unmanned aerial systems.

It appears to us that the program has floundered due to mismanagement and lack of support. We first became concerned when we had difficulty getting clear program updates from the Marine Corps and when we received no explanation for an almost yearlong delay in giving the contractor supplemental funds Congress provided to accelerate improvements to the system. Our concerns grew when we read the internal report and TCVS case study prepared by Mr. Franz Gayl on 14, February, 2008. The report - while not a complete Inspector General review - raised disturbing questions, adding to our list of unanswered questions about TCVS. These include the possibility of deliberate delays due to preferences for existing, slow moving programs and other forms of mismanagement that should be investigated.

DoD extended an IDIQ contract, valued at $313 million to Sentrus in July 2005, but seemed to move very slowly in acquiring the capability, despite requests for this type of system from commanders in Iraq. The lack of interest from procurement officials in the TCVS system also contradicts the comments of General Petraeus, in testimony to numerous Congressional committees, that one of his top priorities is to provide persistent surveillance assets. In addition, we understand that the senior leadership of II MEF has expressed great interest in acquiring more persistent surveillance systems and specifically asked for TCVS for the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, like requests for TCVS in 2005, 2006, and 2007, that urgent request appears to be stalled and no alternatives are being offered.

The TCVS program has been providing operational systems for the last 30 months, but very few have been sent to the front lines. Unless there is a good alternative, we cannot understand this at a time when Marines in theater are subjected to IED and other hostile attacks that could be prevented if sufficient ground surveillance systems were available. If there is another system that is thought to work better, we would like to know about it. Again, our requests for information over the past two years have been ignored or inadequately handled.

We understand that Marine Corps Systems Command has instructed Sentrus to curtail its activities and terminate the TCVS Program in Iraq on June 30, 2008. According to Marine Corps officials, the primary reason for halting this critical surveillance system is an alleged decrease in IED attacks. This does not make sense to us as we understood that those attacks actually spiked in April 2008 to one of the highest levels in recent months. While the number of attacks in a given month may fluctuate, the fact that anti-American forces have significant IED capabilities, means we must provide adequate defensive systems.

There is a real disconnect between what we are hearing from leaders in the field about the need for persistent surveillance and the value of TCVS and the lack of action within the bureaucracy back home. We know that you have established a new Task Force to focus on intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance needs. We would appreciate hearing from you or the Task Force regarding how persistent surveillance capability can be provided to our war fighters quickly and effectively. If TCVS is not the right solution, either interim or long-term, please explain why and what efforts are underway to provide a better solution. In addition, we hope you will take a closer look at how the program has been handled so that lessons learned can help us get our warfighters the tools and protection they need without delay.

Thank you for all of your work on behalf of those on the front lines. We look forward to working with you to meet the persistent surveillance need and hope you will be able to get back to us with your findings as soon as possible.

Sincerely,

Christopher S. Bond

Joseph R. Biden, Jr.


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