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.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.
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.
Wednesday, May 7, 2014
Slow to field, expensive, and feature-poor
Other than that, it's a great weapons system: