Guns A-Go-Go

Scott in the comments in the DAP post said the DAP was a big bird.

It’s not. The biggest gunship I’ve heard of is the gunship conversion of 4 CH-47A’s to Armed/Armored escorts for troop lift helos.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WttpWwcSjy4]

Of course, the CH-47 still serves in our Army, and in the armies and air forces of several allies. Most are general purpose cargo/troop haulers.  But the Special Operations Aviation Regiment also operates a version optimized for inserting and extracting special operation troops behind enemy lines.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mr3Ybi2eHlQ]

Procurement is broken.

Whenever the budget is tight, certain people like to complain about wasteful spending by the Department of Defense. And to be sure, the DoD is not the most efficient entity in the world (tho it is about the most efficient in the federal government). Always popular targets are procurement programs that run over budget. And as a rule of thumb, they ALL run over budget.

Here’s a perfect example of just how bad DoD procurement is. The Navy spent 10 years and a billion dollars trying to buy a minisub to deliver Navy SEALs from submarines. They failed miserably. But a private company, in one year, at a cost of about $10 million dollars, built a minisub that, while not perfect, is good enough for 90% of the job.

Why is procurement so broken? I can think of two reasons. The first is the services fault, the second is Congresses fault.

First, when a program is started, not just the end-user community has input as to what will be bought. And everyone that has input into the program insists on adding its own bells and whistles to whatever it is being bought. What starts out as something relatively simple often becomes a bloated monstrosity. A couple years ago, when the Navy started to process to replace the VH-3s used as Marine One, the list of requirements exploded. The President just needs a helicopter to get from the White House to Andrews AFB or maybe Camp David. But by the time the requirements were nailed down (and this was after the contract was awarded!) the chopper needed to have secure voice, data and video teleconference capability. And it had to have a galley. A galley! Dude, I know we’re talking about the President, but even he can go half an hour without a meal. Give him sammich and a thermos! What should have been about a $20 million dollar helicopter was rapidly approaching a $1 billion dollar helicopter. Without a single manager responsible for setting requirements, and ruthlessly working to eliminate gold-plating, costs will balloon incredibly fast.

Secondly, the rules of procurement aren’t set by the DoD. They are set by Congress. In an effort to keep the process fair, competitive and free of fraud, the DoD is burdened with possibly the most complex set of contracting regulations in the history of the world. Many companies simply refuse to bid on DoD business because it is such a pain.  Add in that for any expensive program, the pressure to hold a competitive bidding process. And since Congressmen represent districts that have interests in the bidding process, very often, the competition parameters are set not to reflect what the services need, but to lean the competition to a favored constituency.

A third problem is that for very complex programs, like ships, the Army’s Future Combat System, and especially any aircraft program, developing the programs is far more lucrative for the contractors than building it. You have a perverse incentive for the contractor to never be ready to produce anything.

I think the simplest way to cut this Gordian knot would be to eliminate any and all oversight, fire all the auditors, and take the best guess of what a program should cost, add 100% for graft and fraud and just cut a check that includes development and procurement. In the long run, it would probably be cheaper.

Hat tip to the headlines at Ace of Spades

Just wondering…

I’m currently reading Harold Coyle’s Cat and Mouse. In it, the company commander dozes for a few minutes while being lifted by a Blackhawk. I’m curious mainly in that, in maybe a couple dozen lifts by chopper, not once did the aviators put us down in the LZ we expected. I’ve been dropped as much as 5km away from what we expected.  Just figuring out where the heck we were was a major hassle, much less figuring out how to carry out our mission. As a result, pretty much every lift I was on, I spent a heck of a lot of the flight trying to keep track of where we were. Never really had time to sleep.

Have any of you ever been dropped off in the right place? The wrong place?

The Air Force? Always got us to the right airport.

Abolish the Air Force?

Robert Farley lays out a pretty good case for abolishing the Air Force and splitting its assets and missions between the Army and the Navy.

Does the United States Air Force (USAF) fit into the post–September 11 world, a world in which the military mission of U.S. forces focuses more on counterterrorism and counterinsurgency? Not very well. Even the new counterinsurgency manual authored in part by Gen. David H. Petraeus, specifically notes that the excessive use of airpower in counterinsurgency conflict can lead to disaster.

What say you?

H/T: Information Dissemination

ROE

On other forums, we’ve discussed the restrictive Rules of Engagement that our troops in Afghanistan are operating under. Over at The Corner, Charles Krauthammer discusses them briefly.

Look, it’s clear, as Steve indicated, that when you are under these constraints and these restraints and these rules, you’re increasing the danger to our troops. There is no doubt about it.

The question for me is: Is that decision made by the political types who want to appease world public opinion, who want to make it easy to get applause when you are addressing a crowd abroad, to preen about how good soldiers we are?

I don’t think that is the case here.

If it were, I would be really strongly against it and I think it would be scandalous — risking the lives of our soldiers in order to garner the applause of people whose applause we don’t need.

But it seems pretty obvious that in this case the decision is a military one by the commanders on the ground. We heard McChrystal here — [and] General Petraeus — they made a military calculation that in order to achieve the mission, you have to increase the risk by acting in this restrained way.

It’s the equivalent of looking at two hills and deciding that you’re going to send a company up to take the harder hill, thinking that that strategic position will give you a better chance of winning the war. The harder hill here is restraint, because it’s a guerrilla war and has to do with hearts and minds.

So even though I’m sort of instinctively very suspicious and worried about these very constraining rules of engagement, I would defer to the military here because they are making a calculation that this is the best way to win the war.

The Corner – National Review Online.

It’s cold-hearted to say it, but a commander’s job isn’t to make sure every one of his troops comes home. It’s to accomplish his mission. He’s got a moral obligation to ensure that those troops that DO get killed have not died in vain. We’ve been killing Talibani for 8 years. But if we’re blowing up a bunch of neutral civilians alongside them, we are not going to achieve our goals.

Having said that, restrictive ROE is not an excuse to avoid doing your job. Stormbringer has an entry on an incredibly frustrating bit of news. Go and learn.

Andy McCarthy in the NYT

In June 1998, the office secretly indicted Osama bin Laden. Three months later, Al Qaeda blew up the two embassies.

“I mean, we could go into the grand jury and indict him three times a week,” Mr. McCarthy said. “But to do anything about it, you needed the Marines. You didn’t need us.”

re: McCarthy in the Morning.

Of course, I might quibble about the Marines vs. the Army, but you get the point.