Tuesday, June 24, 2014

June 24 2014: What have Hollywood and the U.S. Army got in common? Both take a truly alarming length of time to get an idea into production—think a decade or two (could be longer)--and ruin many an interesting concept in the process. Sometimes, the result deserves an Oscar!

“Do we need weapons to fight wars? Or do we need wars to create markets for weapons?

Arundhati Roy, Capitalism: A Ghost Story

Today’s infantry make extensive use of both air and ground transportation—everything from helicopters to armored fighting vehicles—but, in the final analysis, are foot soldiers who, more often than not, fight in  difficult, demanding, and exhausting terrain—with urban terrain arguably being the most treacherous. That means that, not infrequently,they have to carry everything they need—so weight is critical.

If, as the Air Force claim: “Speed is life,” then, as far as the foot soldier is concerned: “Lightness is life.” Weight exhausts and tired soldiers react slower, and die faster.

As far as the infantry are concerned, just about everything the Army develops takes far too long, and weighs far too much. As far as the taxpayer is concerned, it is almost certainly too expensive as well. The MICC (Military Industrial Congressional Complex is deeply corrupt.)

How long is “too long?” Well, the Army seems to think nothing of spending 20 years on developing something—and still scrapping it—sometimes after billions of dollars have been spent.

Why is the Army so bad at development?

  • The powers that be rarely know exactly what they want—even if they have a fair idea in general terms. The devil lies in settling on the details—and the Army consists of a series of competing fiefdoms, each with with an agenda of its own. Appreciate that, first and foremost, the Army is a bureaucracy—and that it spends more time fighting bureaucratically than against the Nation’s enemies. Internally, the branches compete (branches being airborne, armor etc.) and then comes the real war without end—the fight between the services.
  • They keep on changing the specifications of what is required. Oversight is maintained by a group and since Amy postings are relatively short, and development time long, there is always some new arrival who wants to make his or her mark.
  • No one person is responsible for anything. This isn’t quite true technically—because there is normally a specific officer in charge of a program—but, since the PEO (Project Executive Officer) is rotated so often, and, anyway, reports to higher, it is almost impossible to determine who is really responsible for what.
  • No one want to make a decision in case it be proved wrong.
  • There is no incentive to make any decision.
  • Defense contractors love open ended programs—especially if they are cost plus.
  • Since contractors have a tendency to provide post retirement jobs for those who treat them well, the officers in charge of a project tend to be overly lenient with contractors.
  • Conflicts of interest are rife throughout the process.
  • The development process itself is bureaucratic and extremely slow.
  • Almost no one seems to care about the needs of the soldier in the field. Indeed, the field soldier is rarely involved in the development process except at the end when evaluation is concerned.

The photographs illustrate as vastly lighter SAW—Squad Automatic Weapon—which would have proved invaluable in Afghanistan—and  significantly lighter case telescoped ammunition.

American ingenuity at its best—yet caught in development hell. The combat soldier deserves to be better served.

Why do I write about these issues? Because I’m interested and concerned, because many of my friends are combat veterans, and because I have a major military novel in the pipeline.

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