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The U.S. military procurement system is bullshit.

DaedalusDaedalus Registered User regular
edited June 2009 in Debate and/or Discourse
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) who's boss!"
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?

Daedalus on

Posts

  • PicardathonPicardathon Registered User regular
    edited June 2009
    The military budget isn't about creating a military. The military budget is about spending money on the military, because that always goes over well with the voters who don't see through the bullshit, which is everyone.
    Of course, to have this change you'd have to make the average American understand the way the military works and how it spends its money, and this'd be hard to do when you consider that the vast majority of Americans (including myself) don't know two shits about the military. Why butt in on something when the people with all the experience (IE the crooks) are telling you it's perfectly okay?
    If Obama truly wants to deal with this he needs to grab some higher ups from inside the military/industrial complex who agree that the bullshit needs to stop and go on a hard sell with the American people. Altogether, the people don't want to cut defense spending because they think that that would make them less safe. Obama needs to prove the public that this is not the case. Only then can he do what he needs to do.

    Picardathon on
  • MidshipmanMidshipman Registered User regular
    edited June 2009
    This topic reminds me of John Boyd. He was an Air Force pilot who spent most of his career fighting against this kind of bullshit. He played a large role in the development process of the F-16, developed E-M theory (which moved dog-fighting from an art to a science), and also came up with something called the OODA loop. He was a really interesting guy.

    Also, I got a pretty interesting look at the military and it's dysfunction with contracts when I spent two months on a Navy ship in San Diego while it was finishing up a maintenance cycle. Basically the Navy has gutted its in house training of it its sailors in the art of actually maintaining their ships. Somewhere along the line, the Navy decided it would be cheaper to cut all training beyond simple operation of machinery and instead rely on contractors for maintenance/repairs. There are two big problems with this plan. First of all, contractors aren't going to be tagging along with ships if an actual shooting war breaks out and ships start needing to be emergency repaired out in the middle of the ocean. And secondly, the vast majority of the current contractor labor pool is ex-Navy and subsequently Navy trained. Once these guys start retiring, contractors are going to become both more expensive and less available.

    And that's of course overlooking all the minor problems like contractors getting paid regardless of the quality of their work. If they install a pump improperly and it breaks again within the week, they just get paid a second time to come back.

    Midshipman on
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  • Mad_Scientist_WorkingMad_Scientist_Working Registered User regular
    edited June 2009
    Midshipman wrote: »
    And that's of course overlooking all the minor problems like contractors getting paid regardless of the quality of their work. If they install a pump improperly and it breaks again within the week, they just get paid a second time to come back.
    That is a major problem after some contractors improper installation of pumps resulted in people dying in Iraq.

    Mad_Scientist_Working on
  • JasconiusJasconius sword criminal mad onlineRegistered User regular
    edited June 2009
    http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/thomas_barnett_draws_a_new_map_for_peace.html

    References some of the problems caused by the absence of the USSR in our military establishment.

    Jasconius on
  • ShadowfireShadowfire Vermont, in the middle of nowhereRegistered User regular
    edited June 2009
    So how do you fix it? I mean, I still consider R&D important. To cut through the bullshit, you'd need some level of transparency. That transparency can reveal... a bit too much about the project in question.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of cutting down the needless expense, but how do you get there?

    Shadowfire on
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  • InHumanInHuman Registered User regular
    edited June 2009
    ..and then you have the R&D department burning through cash, something about cellphones for the military?

    InHuman on
  • TomantaTomanta Registered User regular
    edited June 2009
    InHuman wrote: »
    ..and then you have the R&D department burning through cash, something about cellphones for the military?

    Well, without cell phones how would the military butt-dial their family during the middle of a firefight in Afghanistan?
    Also giving a sonar picture of said fight to Batman.

    Tomanta on
  • RussellRussell Registered User regular
    edited June 2009
    The military budget isn't about creating a military. The military budget is about spending money on the military, because that always goes over well with the voters who don't see through the bullshit, which is everyone.
    Of course, to have this change you'd have to make the average American understand the way the military works and how it spends its money, and this'd be hard to do when you consider that the vast majority of Americans (including myself) don't know two shits about the military. Why butt in on something when the people with all the experience (IE the crooks) are telling you it's perfectly okay?
    If Obama truly wants to deal with this he needs to grab some higher ups from inside the military/industrial complex who agree that the bullshit needs to stop and go on a hard sell with the American people. Altogether, the people don't want to cut defense spending because they think that that would make them less safe. Obama needs to prove the public that this is not the case. Only then can he do what he needs to do.

    I get the feeling military spending is going to be more untouchable than usual (if that's even possible) during the Obama administration because of 1) The wars and 2) He's a democrat.

    Russell on
    [SIGPIC][/SIGPIC]
  • ronyaronya Arrrrrf. the ivory tower's basementRegistered User regular
    edited June 2009
    Not really.

    (edit: an alternative, more pessimistic view would note that the Dems already have an uphill battle on what is comparatively minor - a $369 million item in a [strike]$680 billion[/strike] $680 000 million bill. It's... not encouraging)

    ronya on
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  • RussellRussell Registered User regular
    edited June 2009
    That's a start, but the F-22 thing is a cherry-picked issue that doesn't address the general problem of waste in military spending.

    Russell on
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  • TicaldfjamTicaldfjam Snoqualmie, WARegistered User regular
    edited June 2009
    Do some of the budget cuts for the military also include the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Future_Force_Warrior that the military has been easing in the last few years?

    Ticaldfjam on
  • Curly_BraceCurly_Brace Robot Girl Mimiga VillageRegistered User regular
    edited June 2009
    Hey Daedalus, thanks a bunch for the well-though-out, insider's opinion on this matter. I really appreciate these sort of views!

    I know some ex-military folks, and most of them agree with you here. The top brass in the Pentagon are still fighting the Cold War against people with home-made bombs who hide out in relative's houses.

    Curly_Brace on
  • DocDoc Registered User, ClubPA regular
    edited June 2009
    I formerly worked for what I believe to be the same company, in the R&D division. PM me if you want more info.

    I saw whole teams of highly competent people get smashed by horrible project management. It's like all the people that actually do the work are fine, but the four levels of management above them just suck ass to an unbelievable degree. My own organization manager was great, but I had to deal with some ridiculously shitty project managers.

    I eventually quit because it was so bad.

    Doc on
  • dispatch.odispatch.o Registered User regular
    edited June 2009
    Doc wrote: »
    I formerly worked for what I believe to be the same company, in the R&D division. PM me if you want more info.

    I saw whole teams of highly competent people get smashed by horrible project management. It's like all the people that actually do the work are fine, but the four levels of management above them just suck ass to an unbelievable degree. My own organization manager was great, but I had to deal with some ridiculously shitty project managers.

    I eventually quit because it was so bad.

    Did you weaponize pumpkins?


    edit: From what I understand upper military thinking is around 50 years behind the times, pretty much always.

    dispatch.o on
  • DocDoc Registered User, ClubPA regular
    edited June 2009
    I did not, no. I was on the civilian side, mostly.

    Doc on
  • FeralFeral MEMETICHARIZARD interior crocodile alligator ⇔ ǝɹʇɐǝɥʇ ǝᴉʌoɯ ʇǝloɹʌǝɥɔ ɐ ǝʌᴉɹp ᴉRegistered User regular
    edited June 2009
    I'm trying very hard not to let this thread depress me.

    So, instead, I'm letting it give me my new sig.

    Feral on
    every person who doesn't like an acquired taste always seems to think everyone who likes it is faking it. it should be an official fallacy.

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  • TaranisTaranis Registered User regular
    edited June 2009
    It's a good thing the FCS vehicle program got cancelled. They were tracked vehicles, which isn't wise in this day and age. The Stryker's fine for now, but it needs more armor.

    Taranis on
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  • DarkCrawlerDarkCrawler Registered User regular
    edited June 2009
    When did U.S.'s military procurement system got this shitty anyway? How did the Arsenal of Democracy go and screw itself up after WWII? Was it because they did not have Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan to fight anymore or something?

    DarkCrawler on
  • electricitylikesmeelectricitylikesme Registered User regular
    edited June 2009
    When did U.S.'s military procurement system got this shitty anyway? How did the Arsenal of Democracy go and screw itself up after WWII? Was it because they did not have Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan to fight anymore or something?
    WWII caused quite a deal of changes for everyone. Thanks to absurdly tricky problems I run into every now again, I know that most of the standard pipe threading and O-ring sizing systems were developed during and immediately after WWII so the Allies could exchange small parts easily.

    It occurs to me that that's probably as far as most standardization for the military needs to go when it comes to vehicles, with maybe an eye to "let's try and keep the bearings the same size and over tolerance them for smaller vehicles" or something if you want to keep repairability/interchangeability up.

    electricitylikesme on
  • DaedalusDaedalus Registered User regular
    edited June 2009
    When did U.S.'s military procurement system got this shitty anyway? How did the Arsenal of Democracy go and screw itself up after WWII? Was it because they did not have Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan to fight anymore or something?
    WWII caused quite a deal of changes for everyone. Thanks to absurdly tricky problems I run into every now again, I know that most of the standard pipe threading and O-ring sizing systems were developed during and immediately after WWII so the Allies could exchange small parts easily.

    It occurs to me that that's probably as far as most standardization for the military needs to go when it comes to vehicles, with maybe an eye to "let's try and keep the bearings the same size and over tolerance them for smaller vehicles" or something if you want to keep repairability/interchangeability up.

    The MBT-70 was a joint effort between the U.S. and West Germany to build a common main battle tank for the two nations. The American engineers and the German engineers couldn't agree on whether to use SAE or metric fasteners, so they decided to compromise and (I am not making this up) use both in different parts of the tank.

    Yeah, that one got shitcanned after wasting billions of dollars.

    Daedalus on
  • Dunadan019Dunadan019 Registered User regular
    edited June 2009
    If you have ever seen the movie pentagon wars, designing something for the military really is like that. That being said, I have more of a problem with the procurement system than the R&D.

    Dunadan019 on
  • VeritasVRVeritasVR Registered User regular
    edited June 2009
    I guess I should prepare myself. My goal is to earn a commission in the Air Force and work in the Aquisitions branch as an officer in engineering or project management within the next 12 months.

    :whistle: Youuuu can maaaake a differennnnnce! :whistle:

    VeritasVR on
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  • Dunadan019Dunadan019 Registered User regular
    edited June 2009
    VeritasVR wrote: »
    I guess I should prepare myself. My goal is to earn a commission in the Air Force and work in the Aquisitions branch as an officer in engineering or project management within the next 12 months.

    :whistle: Youuuu can maaaake a differennnnnce! :whistle:

    at least thats where you want to be.

    an inordinant amount of military aquisition personell don't actually want to be there from what I've seen.

    Dunadan019 on
  • Mad_Scientist_WorkingMad_Scientist_Working Registered User regular
    edited June 2009
    Dunadan019 wrote: »
    If you have ever seen the movie pentagon wars, designing something for the military really is like that. That being said, I have more of a problem with the procurement system than the R&D.
    Really? Its been rather uneventful for me.

    Mad_Scientist_Working on
  • Dunadan019Dunadan019 Registered User regular
    edited June 2009
    Dunadan019 wrote: »
    If you have ever seen the movie pentagon wars, designing something for the military really is like that. That being said, I have more of a problem with the procurement system than the R&D.
    Really? Its been rather uneventful for me.

    Molasses is also uneventful and moves faster than procurement does.

    Dunadan019 on
  • electricitylikesmeelectricitylikesme Registered User regular
    edited June 2009
    Dunadan019 wrote: »
    If you have ever seen the movie pentagon wars, designing something for the military really is like that. That being said, I have more of a problem with the procurement system than the R&D.
    Really? Its been rather uneventful for me.
    Are you designing the new powered combat suits? I imagine that to the uneventful, since it's clear they're awesome.

    electricitylikesme on
  • JustinSane07JustinSane07 Really, stupid? Brockton__BANNED USERS regular
    edited June 2009
    So, I got a question.

    Future Weapons. That show on Discovery/Military channel. How much of that show was/is (I don't even know if it's still on) R&D bullshit that will never see the light of day and how much of it is actually useful stuff that should be in production?

    I only ask because there was some really neat stuff on that show, but some of it seemed rather impractical and like it would cost way too much. Which is what this thread is mostly about.

    JustinSane07 on
  • Dunadan019Dunadan019 Registered User regular
    edited June 2009
    So, I got a question.

    Future Weapons. That show on Discovery/Military channel. How much of that show was/is (I don't even know if it's still on) R&D bullshit that will never see the light of day and how much of it is actually useful stuff that should be in production?

    I only ask because there was some really neat stuff on that show, but some of it seemed rather impractical and like it would cost way too much. Which is what this thread is mostly about.

    90% if not more.

    the other 10% has a chance to get fielded 10 years from now

    Dunadan019 on
  • MagicPrimeMagicPrime FiresideWizard Registered User regular
    edited June 2009
    Did the F-22 Raptor get canned?

    I know the Comanche attack Helicopter did. Back in '04 i think.

    MagicPrime on
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  • PhistiPhisti Registered User regular
    edited June 2009
    The F-22A Raptor entered service sometime around December '05 / January '06 despite it's astronomical development cost overruns.

    Phisti on
  • MagicPrimeMagicPrime FiresideWizard Registered User regular
    edited June 2009
    I think we built the F-22 to fight Aliens. Cause I really don't think we needed it to fight any other country on the face of the earth.

    MagicPrime on
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  • ForarForar #432 Toronto, Ontario, CanadaRegistered User regular
    edited June 2009
    MagicPrime wrote: »
    I think we built the F-22 to fight Aliens. Cause I really don't think we needed it to fight any other country on the face of the earth.

    I thought the Raptor's speed, stealth and ability to engage targets from an exaggerated half a continent away were essentially designed to win any air conflict without the enemy fielding a single fighter, due to crapping themselves at the thought of wasting aircraft against them, or something?*

    Also, thanks for this thread Daedalus, it was a damned interesting read so far.

    *Note: I'm aware this isn't the actual intent of the F-22.

    Forar on
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  • SageinaRageSageinaRage Registered User regular
    edited June 2009
    Dunadan019 wrote: »
    If you have ever seen the movie pentagon wars, designing something for the military really is like that. That being said, I have more of a problem with the procurement system than the R&D.

    Just want to second this. Pentagon Wars is a fantastic movie, and hilarious to boot.

    SageinaRage on
    sig.gif
  • VeritasVRVeritasVR Registered User regular
    edited June 2009
    Dunadan019 wrote: »
    So, I got a question.

    Future Weapons. That show on Discovery/Military channel. How much of that show was/is (I don't even know if it's still on) R&D bullshit that will never see the light of day and how much of it is actually useful stuff that should be in production?

    I only ask because there was some really neat stuff on that show, but some of it seemed rather impractical and like it would cost way too much. Which is what this thread is mostly about.

    90% if not more.

    the other 10% has a chance to get fielded 10 years from now

    To be fair, that's kind of how R&D works everywhere; universities and the private sector as well.

    VeritasVR on
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