Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Slow to field, expensive, and feature-poor

Other than that, it's a great weapons system:
The Army’s Comanche helicopter (22 years + $7 billion = zero helicopters) and the Joint Tactical Radio System (15 years and $6 billion before it was cancelled) are just two recent examples. But as the Government Accountability Office helpfully notes, these huge projects overall tend to “cost more, take longer to field, and often encounter performance problems” — not unlike the Empire’s moon-sized battle station. This means there are economic as well as operational reasons not to build them, which perhaps explains why I get a very bad feeling whenever I’m around one.

Real-life performance data shows that the most important and high-impact technologies are not the gold-plated, over-engineered wonder weapons that turn majors into colonels, colonels into generals, and young Jedi apprentices into Sith Lords. Instead, data suggest the real winners are humble, simple, low-cost products made by small, rapid innovation teams — the type of projects that don’t attract much attention from the press or from the brass because all they do is get the mission done without any fuss.

Defense analyst Pierre Sprey has written extensively about these “cheap winners” and “expensive losers,” a pattern which also showed up in my career. As I look back on 20 years in uniform, my most important contributions to national defense came when I worked on small droidish projects where I had no time, no money, and only a few teammates. My biggest frustrations and failures happened when I was in a cast of thousands, spending buckets of money and working towards a distant deadline.
This is a picture perfect example of the Iron Law of Bureaucracy in action in the military.  Crappy weapons systems consume huge piles of funding and may never see action, but someone got his Star.


Old NFO said...

That it is... and don't forget the Congresscritters that keep throwing $$ at it, cause it funds folks in their districts... Byrd, and Inouye were champs at the CONGADD stuff...

OldAFSarge said...

As a computer buddy of mine would add, "And they're hard to use!"

newrebeluniv said...

Sprey used the wrong picture of the 175mm cannon. So he must be totally wrong about everything.

The picture he used was the 105mm Mobile Support Gun (MSG), which is designed to accompany infantry in the attack and strike at hardened positions like bunkers. It is compared to a howitzer, which would have a totally different mission.

newrebeluniv said...

Speaking in defense of the Bureaucracy, let me say that I am involved in this process and I can tell you that a lot of it is simply good people doing the best they can with no ulterior "get rich" fantasies.

We designed the M1 to defeat Russian T-72s. The M-48A5 might have got the job done, or it might not. We will never know. We do know that the M1 in Desert Storm cut through T-72s like they were WW1 French tanks. But every design feature was something some "warfighting professional" at Fort Knox was absolutely certain we had to have or we would lose WW3. Same thing for JTRS. A bunch of unimaginative pin heads at Fort Monmouth were certain what the "next generation " radio needed and while they were writing up government specs, cell phone companies left them in the dust.

Old NFO said...

Newreb- Don't get me started on JTRS, you're exactly right... sigh