“When it comes to procurement, for the better part of five decades, the trend has gone toward lower numbers as technology gains have made each system more capable. In recent years, these platforms have grown ever more baroque, have become ever more costly, are taking longer to build, and are being fielded in ever-dwindling quantities. Given that resources are not unlimited, the dynamic of exchanging numbers for capability is perhaps reaching a point of diminishing returns.” (US Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates)
Weapon projects are inherently difficult. Many are custom systems that use a wide array of new technologies, and have production runs that are incredibly small by civilian standards. Even commercial aerospace efforts tend to stumble under these pressures; as demonstrated by Airbus’ A380 super-jumbo and Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, a pair of top-priority “bet the company” planes. Both will finish about 2 years late, and well over budget. Faced with a continuous stream of similar experiences, military and political observers have tried various flavors of military acquisition reform over the past several decades, in the USA and abroad. Britain recently began moving forward on its Smart Procurement reform plan and its Defence Industrial Strategy. On the other side of the globe, Australia’s Kinnaird Review [PDF] has led to major reforms – though results have not always followed suit. The 2008 Mortimer Review aims to take the next step down under.
At the same time, the dynamics described by SecDef Gates have created a crisis in American defense procurement that has grown big enough to jeopardize its military status. DID has covered the defense procurement spiral and tendency of the US Defense Department to begin more programs than its budget can afford, as well as growing bi-partisan legislative concern at rising weapons costs. There are strong indications that both the Air Force and Navy’s long-term procurement plans are seriously flawed, the Future Combat Systems linchpin of the Army’s long-term modernization plan is under growing budgetary attack and criticized as conceptually wrong, the Marines have run into serious performance and affordability issues with their keystone MV-22 and EFV programs, and the Coast Guard’s future Deepwater acquisition strategy has been forced into a complete reorganization. Amidst these challenges, “political engineering,” less-than-credible initial program estimates, and Congressional interfere create a continuous churn of reallocation and cancellation that raises the cost of surviving programs.
The past few years have seen efforts at organizational defense transformation in the USA – including attempts to give combatant commanders more say in the acquisition process. On the eve of a new Presidential administration, the US military is launching another acquisition reform effort, with new guidelines for weapon procurement. The Secretary of Defense, who will be staying on under a Democrat administration, added himself to the mix with an article in the Jan/Feb 2009 issue of Foreign Affairs magazine…
Environmental Leader relays a Gannett’s Army Time article, which states that the US Army plans to order 400 electric vehicles from sources like Columbia ParCar Corp., Native American Biofuels International, and other manufacturers in 2009. Quantities are expected to rise to 4,000 in FY 2010, and may total 10,000 by the time the program ends. Deputy assistant Army secretary for energy and partnerships Paul Bollinger believes each vehicle would use an average of about $400 in electricity per year, and save about 2,875 gallons of fuel.
In many ways, this order fits the potential niche for what Clayton Christensen calls a “disruptive technology.” Find a niche for a radically new product where its limitations (50 mile range, about 900-1,000 pound capacity) matter less than its benefits (cost savings, lower greenhouse gas emissions). The second step is the tricky part, as the new technology must then put itself on a growth curve that allows it to match or overtake the existing technology’s capabilities over time, or come close enough to take significant markets away from its predecessor. If you’ve ever seen an hydraulic excavator that doesn’t use cables, you’ve seen a winner in this sort of techno-strategic process.
From the Army’s point of view, the buy comes with costs as well as benefits. Conventional jeeps, Hummers et. al. can be redeployed for front-line use if that’s deemed to be necessary. These electric cars cannot. On the other hand, if one accepts the thesis that the non-linear battlefield is sharply limiting the usefulness of quasi-combat vehicles like the Hummer, G-Wagen, and Land Rover, then a sharp division becomes the expected result. New vehicles are fielded for the front lines that are more expensive, but designed to handle a full range of combat threats. Hence the JLTV program, Iveco’s popular MLV, and others. At the low end, more unmodified civilian vehicles, base-only vehicles etc. would help save money in “safe” domestic areas. In between, some civilian vehicles may be modified into specialist protection vehicles, and leverage their commonality into orders under specific circumstances.
The Air Force is awarding a firm-fixed-price contract to Raytheon in Tucson, AZ for $16.3 million. This action will provide AGM-88 High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missile Targeting Systems Contractor Logistics Support. Service will be provided for a basic year and 2 one-year options. At this time, $2.8 million has been obligated by the 693 ARSS/PK at Eglin Air Force Base, FL (FA8675-09-C-0003).
The AGM-88 HARM missile is designed to find enemy radar installations up to 150 km/ 90 miles away, and destroy them by homing in on their emissions. It was first introduced in 1983, and upgraded versions remain the mainstay of the SEAD(Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) role among American and allied airpower. Radar shutdowns and clever tactics can allow enemy air defenses to survive, as a Serbian SA-3 battery proved with the 1999 destruction of a USAF F-117 stealth fighter. The sword of deception always cuts both ways, however – a RAND study reveals that during the 1991 Operation Desert Storm, aircraft targeted by Iraqi radars could sometimes convince the radars to power off and stop targeting them by issuing a simple “Magnum” (HARM launch) call on the radio.