Full disclosure: I am currently employed in a non-PR, peon-like capacity by one of the big military contractors; I'm not going to mention which one and my opinions are my own and (obviously) aren't even close to the official opinion of my employer. (Hey, a man has to eat. And buy a large TV.)
Something happened yesterday and today that, between a DC metro crash and a revolution brewing in Iran, didn't make major or even minor news in a lot of places. FCS, the Army's big unified modernization strategy, got canceled.
This is the part where you expect a bunch of ablooblooblooing about how Obama is disarming the US and our enemies are going to be emboldened and clearly the man kicks puppies for fun when he's not selling state secrets to China in exchange for a new Blackberry, or whatever.
That's not what I'm here to say. Here's what actually
happened, between the lines of that memo: the worst-performing chunk of FCS (the new family of manned vehicles) got cut, and the rest of it got renamed, so it wouldn't look like same the pie-in-the-sky bullshit that's been gobbling up almost all of the Army's R&D money for the past seven years. (It's really not in my best interest to whine about this publicly, because I work for a subcontractor that's working on the shit that got renamed, but whatever.)
First, let's talk about the part that actually got cut: the new set of manned vehicles. The original idea was to have all our major vehicles (our tanks, our artillery, our IFVs, our command and control vehicles, our recovery vehicles (read: cranes), etc) share a common chassis, and, while we're at it, make them lighter and smaller (without sacrificing capability) so they fit on our smaller cargo planes (e.g. the C130), which our current tanks and such can't do. This fit into the larger goal of being able to deploy an army brigade in 72 hours rather than the current timespan, which is like a month. (There were also goals of having the things be electric powered and fire lasers and all sorts of other unrealistic sci-fi bullshit but those ideas got dropped quickly, as I'm sure you'd expect.) Many of the other requirements in the project stemmed from the sort of Cold War, German front bullshit that we still can't seem to break ourselves of, but moving on.
Anyway, aside from the fact that clearly stuff with widely different missions, requirements, etc. might not really benefit from being built on the same chassis, and that this might not actually save money, decrease maintenance time, or have any other real benefit, the other requirements kept slipping, too. At first they needed to be able to fit in a C-130 combat ready, then that changed to fitting in a C-130 after being partly disassembled, then that changed to "fuck it". By the time the thing got put out of its misery, we were ready to build a tank with a larger target profile, a smaller gun, less armor, and a higher price tag than our current one.
This, of course, only happened after
Boeing pissed away roughly two gazillion dollars of your tax dollars on something they clearly weren't competent to make.
This is one example among many of our military procurement being completely fucked. There's a whole bunch of reasons behind this, and no one person to really blame. This sort of shit happens all the time. They've been trying to replace the M-16 rifle, for instance, for like fifteen or twenty years now, and it always follows the same pattern:
1) Some military branch high-up gets a "brilliant" idea, for instance, "We need a newer, shinier, better version of (thing we already have that was designed to fight the Soviets if the Cold War, for whatever reason, didn't turn into an instant nuclear exchange).
It will have (unrealistic science fiction technology that the guy, who has no science or engineering background, saw in a movie)
, which'll really show those (nation that has a large nuclear arsenal with whom we will never fight an actual war)
2) Military commander dude goes to Congress's Armed Services committee, says, "hey, we need (enourmous sum of money)
for our new project, (acronym)
3) Defense contractors go to Congress and says "hey, you should give those guys money, and by the way, make sure we get some of it."
4) Voters demand a bunch of military spending so they feel safe at night from Russia, China, and other countries who aren't going to attack us, and from terrorists, against whom our wepons systems aren't designed to effectively fight.
5) Congress gives a whole bunch of money to the military, tells the military to go nuts, and tells the voters that they'll be keeping a close eye on things. The military then gives the money to defense contractors in a carefully orchestrated bidding process designed to keep roughly the same amount of money going to each of the major defense contractors so nobody gets too far ahead and nobody complains too much. (Sometimes this fails, see "KC-135 replacement" for an example.)
6) The general civilian voting public gets told about (acronym)
here, if and only if it is flashy enough for them to give a damn. Then they don't hear about it again (except for military geeks, which tend to overlap with video game nerds in my experience) until it's either almost finished or it becomes a fiasco.
7) The contractor who won the bid spends the money fairly inefficiently, because they've got a bunch of overhead. Often they will involve a subcontractor, a sub-subcontractor, yea, unto the seventh generation; this increases overhead further. Invariably, the requirements that the military presented, combined with the budget they provide, is hilariously unrealistic from the outset. Often, someone in some chain during the design phase will treat one of the "nice-to-haves" as a requirement, and/or a requirement as a "nice-to-have", figuring that the military is going to see the error of their ways and change the requirements to this anyway. Usually, the military will indeed change the requirements partway through, but it will be in some way that makes the contractor throw out man-years of research and development. Sometimes the project will be so vast that it can't possibly be planned out fully in advance, and sometimes the military (or a higher-level contractor) will demand status updates so frequently that generating those reports consumes more than half of the devlopment effort. (Sometimes both will happen at once!). Maybe the contractor is pressured to do things out of order so that it looks more finished to the civilian voting public (see also LCS). In any case, the money gets spent fairly inefficiently, but some progress is made regardless.
8) Sometimes, the contractor will run out of money for that contract before the end of the fiscal year, where the contract is expected to be renewed. Because there's a month or so without funding, the development team all gets moved to other projects. When funding picks back up again at the next fiscal year, a whole new development team comes in from other projects and takes two or three months to get fully up to speed.
9) Years pass, the Senate Armed Services Commitee membership gets shuffled a bit, executive leadership changes (either from a Presidential election, or from a military/DoD high-up leaving, or whatever). The project gets 15%-75% "finished", albeit with drastically rewritten requirements from the original specification.
10) The project gets shitcanned, for any one of a number of reasons. Maybe a legislator wants to trim some money from the military budget for some other purpose. Maybe a new top brass military guy just reached Step 1, above, and needs some money in the budget for (different acronym)
, "which'll blow the pants off of (previous acronym)
, anyway!" Maybe a company that lost the bid starts bitching for some bullshit reason, and Congress decides it'll be "fairer" if they toss all progress so far and start over (sometimes for the third or fourth time). Maybe somebody realized that the project was sucking up money and producing a product that wasn't really any better than what we currently were using. Maybe somebody realized "hey, this doesn't really do anything for the sort of wars that we actually have been fighting since the USSR collapsed; why'd we spend money on this in the first place?" Rarely, there's a high-profile news article exposing some fiasco, but this is usually not enough to stop a high-profile project even if it, say, kills a whole squad of Marines in testing (see also V-22 Osprey).
11) Contractors pocket the big profits they've made off of the years the project was in development with nothing to show for it and prepare to bid on whatever new project is filling the new gap in the budget. If there isn't a new project, they'll whine to lobbyists or, if that fails, directly to the voters about how Congress is "disarming America" until there is one.
12) You pay a ton of taxes, and the U.S. has a military budget as high as the rest of the world combined, without the kind of return on investment that you'd expect for that much money.
I mean, let's face it, even during the Cold War, the regular military procurement was all bullshit. If war went hot with the Soviets, we would've both nuked the shit out of each other, and at that point, nobody gives a shit who has more tanks parked on the East/West German border. Meanwhile, we bought up a bunch of equipment that was exactly the wrong stuff to bring to Vietnam.
But now there isn't even an excuse for some of this shit. The military won't know what they want, they'll ask for (proverbially) a new Mustang for the price of a used Fiesta, the contractors will go way over budget (sometimes their fault, sometimes the customer's fault) and have the contract set up so the government covers the shortfall, and Congress will let the project funnel a hojillion tax dollars over to a defense contractor only to cancel the project midway and have nothing to show for it. There's virtually no checks and balances, our military budget is so far beyond the point of diminishing returns that it's hard to believe, and the system is filled with bullshit
And shit, I'm only talking about R&D, which is what I'm contracting in; I haven't even mentioned them getting contractors to do stuff in the field, like serve meals. Don't even get me started on hiring contractors to do the actual combat; I thought the whole point of, y'know, a nation-state
was to have a monopoly on the use of force.
I mean, hey, why recruit and train a soldier to fight when you can hire some mercenary to do it for only ten times as much, right?