I’ll start this with a big tip of the hat to DARPA and its director, Dr. Tony Tether, who has one of the world’s best jobs. Not only do they push the bleeding edge and come up with clever ways to engage the research community in their endeavors, but they run well-managed events with a flair for showmanship that belies their status as a government and military agency. As an example of the latter, they had arranged for the Urban Challenge webcast and on-site video to be co-hosted by Jamie Hyneman and Grant Imahara of Myth Busters, the techie crowd’s favorite TV show.
They also have the guts to invite in the world press and the general public while trying something new to the world: Turning multiple autonomous vehicles loose on city streets at the same time, interspersed with human drivers. As Tether said at the start of the program, “If anyone tells you he knows what’s going to happen, he’s lying.”
Since that test could likely take every bit of a short November day, the teams, staff and press assembled for their briefings at a chilly and dark 0600 hours. The day featured robot traffic jams, the world’s first ‘bot vs. ‘bot collision, and the Terramax robot truck’s attempt to take out the old air base PX.
Since then, the headlines tell the story. “Cost Growth Leads to Stop-Work on Team Lockheed LCS-3 Construction.” “Littoral combat ship could slip behind schedule as price tag nears $500 million.” And more. The Navy was negotiating with the General Dynamics/ Austal team to turn the LCS 4 contract into a fixed-price contract where the contractor would assume all risk for price inflation above a set figure. That’s not a problem in principle, as long as (1) the price target is seen as achievable, based on the specifications; and (2) the Navy has a finished design that it will not interfere with once the contract is signed. If either stipulation fails, the fixed-price contract become either dangerous to the contractor, or meaningless as compensated changes drive costs higher.
The current news is not good news for the contractor – or for the Navy…
The aims are twofold. The first is to put everyone on the same page, so embarrassing failures like the one that shot down the Rafale sale can’t happen again. The second aim is to be able to quickly assemble competitive arms packages. Of course, if unwanted equipment bundling was the main problem that recently shot down Eurocopter’s multi-billion Euro Saudi sale, the solution is to listen to the customer, rather than assembling bundled deals at a faster rate.
On Dec 13/07, more detailed information appeared on the French Ministère de la Défense web site. MoD release | Defence Aerospace translation. The gist is that France aims to simplify and reduce export application procedures, develop a national strategic plan to support defense exports, modernize support delivery, and improve the procedures for selling surplus equipment.