The infantry soldier sits at the center of gravity of current wars. While institutional infatuation with larger projects often makes defense departments slow to adapt to this reality, improvements to the individual soldier’s equipment and firepower overmatch are generally where countries will find the most bang for their buck if they wish to make a difference on the ground.
While countries like the USA have been using 40mm grenade launchers as standard equipment for some time, and are even introducing new options like the terminator-style Milkor M-32, Britain has lagged behind. As the MoD article noted, “views coming back from the front line were that [.50 cal machine guns] needed some high explosive back-up to provide full force protection and security to airfields and forward operating bases.” To fix this problem, in November 2006 Britain bought 40 Heckler & Koch 40mm grenade machine guns for use in Afghanistan by the Royal Marines. The weapon is exactly what its name implies, firing up to 340 grenades per minute to burst around enemies up to 1.5 km away. Although the ammunition can be used against light armour, its main role is infantry suppression and overmatch against enemies with AK-type weapons, RPGs, etc. These are true crew-served weapons with a weight of at least 30kg/ 70 pounds, however, so many will be mounted on “Wimik” (weapons mount installation kit) Land Rovers.
Projects to give GPS-guided smart bombs dual-guidance capability are popular these days. Israel has developed its GPS/EO Spice bomb, the USA has Laser JDAMs, and Britain has cobbled together a Paveway II+ as an interim step while working on its own Paveway IV. The combination provides the improved accuracy and ability to hit moving targets offered by laser-guidance, with GPS available as a backup that allows the pilot to drop bombs even through weather conditions that would defeat lasers. While the Spice is entirely autonomous thanks to its use of cameras + image recognition technology as a final guidance corrective, the laser/GPS combination relies on either a targeting pod or another targeting laser source to light up its quarry for final adjustments. If weather conditions allow laser use closer to the ground, it may even be possible to receive all the benefits of dual laser/GPS guidance despite poor conditions at altitude.
In conventional silicon transistors, a certain finite voltage swing on the order of 150-200 mV (for high performance devices) is needed to switch a device between the on and off states. Reducing that number would enable drastic improvements in power consumption, because modern chips have many millions of transistors – but the fundamental physics of thermionic emission over an energy barrier is in the way.
International Business Machines (IBM) Corporation of NY recently received a contract option for $6.4 million under a DARPA program known as “Steep-subthreshold-slope Transistors for Electronics with Extremely-low Power (STEEP). The goal is to develop novel transistor technologies based on non-thermionic switching, allowing manufacturers to build high-performance logic circuits with very low power consumption. At this time $4.5 million has been obligated by Det 1 AFRL/PKDA at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH (FA8650-08-C-7806).
IBM’s new devices under this DARPA-funded research program will utilize a fundamentally different mechanism of operation based upon quantum mechanical tunneling, which allows them be switched on and off over a much smaller voltage range. Such devices have previously been demonstrated, but only at extremely low performance levels. The goal of this program is to build a device that meets the performance criteria for much higher-performance computing.
Which is nice – but why does this really matter in the field? Consider 3 factors making themselves felt on the front lines, plus one above them, and another behind:
In February 2006, “New Stryker Variants Gear Up for Testing” described the M1128 Stryker Mobile Gun System, and the M1135 Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Reconnaissance Vehicle. The vehicles passed testing and have been fielded to Army units, but Military.com reports that the M1128 MGS is experiencing serious problems in the field. Comments like these are not what a manufacturer like General Dynamics, or a military, wants to hear:
“I wish [the enemy] would just blow mine up so I could be done with it,” said [4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment] Spec. Kyle Handrahan, 22, of Anaheim, Calif.”
On Feb 7/08, the USA’s Congressional “Government Accountability Office” auditors released report #GAO-08-298, “DOD’s Practices and Processes for Multiyear Procurement Should Be Improved.” Multi-year procurements are used for a number of key projects, including the F-22A Raptor fighter, H-60 helicopters, and more. Official reports have cited it as a helpful factor in a number of past programs, which has kept costs down by facilitating bulk buys, plant investments, timely hiring and training, greater employment stability and hence better learning curves, et. al.
“Although the law has clear requirements for stable, low risk programs with realistic cost and savings estimates, lack of guidance and a rigorous process is not achieving this. It is difficult to precisely determine the impact of multiyear contracting on procurement costs. GAO studies of three recent MYPs identified unit cost growth ranging from 10 to 30 percent compared to original estimates, due to changes in labor and material costs, requirements and funding, and other factors. In some cases, actual MYP costs were higher than estimates for annual contracts. Although annual contracts also have unit cost growth, it is arguably more problematic for MYP’s because of the up-front investments and the government’s exposure to risk over multiple years. MYP savings were on average higher before changes in law called for “substantial savings” rather than a specific quantitative standard. Other factors–lower quantities of modern systems procured, stricter cancellation liability allowances, and contraction in the defense industrial base–may have also impacted savings by lessening opportunities for more efficient purchases, a key attribute of MYPs. DOD does not track multiyear results against original expectations and makes little effort to validate if actual savings were achieved. GAO’s case studies indicate that evaluating actual MYP results provides valuable information on the veracity of original estimates in the justification packages, the impacts on costs and risks from internal and external events, and lessons learned that can be used to improve future multiyear candidates and savings opportunities.”
It has been said that Power Point slides have become the primary communication tool in the US military, and in other militaries, too. It’s certainly endemic in the corporate world, and quite a few folks are less than thrilled with the results. Information presentation guru Edward Tufte’s “PowerPoint is Evil” article in WIRED’s September 2003 issue presented a powerful argument, and Proceedings’ December 2004 issue featured a plea from a retired US Navy captain for a military-wide stand-down.
It may be that, to quote the semi-joking adage, “No bastard ever won a war by making viewgraph slides for his country. He won it by making the other poor bastard make slides for his country.” The truth is, slide presentations are here to stay. Alternatives should indeed be encouraged – but when slides must be used, it is possible to use them well.
As a service to our readers in the military and the corporate world, here are a few links designed to help make you better presenters…
Releases or articles that clearly explain a contract or product milestone make a big difference to media pickup, and organizational branding. DID supports the Plain English Campaign, which counts the UK Ministry of Defence as an official member who has benefited from applying their principles. QinetiQ North America’s subsidiary Westar Aerospace & Defense Group Inc. hasn’t earned the same Crystal Mark, but their recent release provides another example of Plain English at work. The firm recently received a one-year, $13.3 million task order to provide “technical services, and systems engineering and management expertise to the Apache Attack Helicopter Project Manager’s Office (PMO).” Westar’s release explains in plain English:
“Westar, which has been fulfilling Army Aviation task orders for more than 18 years, will… support the PMO to ensure that all software (i.e. weapons, navigation, radar, flight control displays, countermeasures and on-board mission planning systems) have the most relevant and safest software available for use throughout the Army Active, Reserve and National Guard components. “Before any changes are made to the Apache, whether it’s a modification to the entire fleet or to a single aircraft, our job is to support engineering recommendations that ensure the strictest of system specification requirements are met. That’s our area of expertise,” said Kurt Heine, Vice President, EXPRESS Programs, Westar Aerospace & Defense Group.”
Crystal clear communication of competence. Congratulations.
The Defense Threat Reduction Agency at Fort Belvoir, VA leads US Department of Defense efforts to stop the global spread, transfer, and usage of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons of mass destruction.
Recently, they issued a $6.1 million contract to Dyncorp’s CSC Systems & Solutions, Inc. subsidiary in Alexandria, VA, to support the “International Counter Proliferation Program.” Work will be performed at Fort Belvoir, VA, and is expected to be complete by Aug 27/08. One bid was solicited on Jan 2/08, and 1 bid was received (DTRA01-02-D-0064).
“The first FFG-7, including its combat systems, cost a total of about $650 million (in 2008 dollars) to build, or about $235 million per thousand tons. Applying that per-ton estimate to the LCS program suggests that the lead ships would cost about $575 million apiece, including the cost of one mission module (to make them comparable to the FFG-7)… Navy has not publicly released an estimate for the LCS program that incorporates the most recent cost growth… CBO estimates that with that growth included, the first two LCSs would cost about $630 million each, excluding mission modules but including outfitting, postdelivery, and various nonrecurring costs… Excluding mission modules, the 55 LCSs in the Navy’s plan would cost an average of $450 million each, CBO estimates.”
“Cost Growth Leads to Stop-Work on Team Lockheed LCS-3 Construction (updated)” and “US Navy Sinks LCS-4 Construction” chronicled the crash of the original program’s acquisition plan, and cancellation of both Flight 0 ships. Both contractor teams refused to commit to a new contract model that would let the Navy continue to force as many design changes as they liked, while holding contractor fees fixed and leaving the contractor financially responsible for cost overruns. Now Defense News reports that Navy FY 2009 budget documents released on Feb 4/08 give cost figures for the first 2 LCS ships: Team Lockheed’s LCS 1 Freedom, and the Austal/GD team’s trimaran LCS 2 Independence. Care to guess?
On February 1/08, the Pentagon’s DefenseLINK announced “a large firm-fixed price contract [for 10] CH-47F new build production helicopters.” This new variant of the CH-47 Chinook incorporates a slew of improvements, and was declared combat-ready in August 2007. Work will be performed in Philadelphia, PA and is expected to be complete by Dec 31/12. One bid was solicited on Dec 31/03, and 1 bid was received by the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command in Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-04-C-0012).
Given that the Pentagon is required by law to state dollar amounts for awards over $5 million, however, the breaking of those rules for this contract was deeply puzzling. Fortunately, the US Army has now informed DID that this is a $280.5 million contract; DefenseLINK should post the amount soon. A Feb 27/08 Boeing release gives the same dollar figure, but notes 11 helicopters. DID has also updated our CH-47F FOCUS article.