Paralysis by Analysis

Robert Kozlowski, writing at the US Naval Institute’s USNIBlog has a good post that shows a startling graphic.

Open the graphic in a new tab to see the whole thing.

I’m curious what happened to the acquisition process in 1975 that lead to such a sharp increase in the time needed to field a weapon system.

But the key thing is, time is money. Lots and lots of money. Now, you’ll say, XBrad, the items like the B-2 and the F-22 are pretty cutting edge technology. And so they are. But so were things like the B-58, and the F-111. Notice also, the F-117, a cutting edge technology, had minimal oversight, and yet it reached IOC well below the trendline.

I’d expect to see some increase in the trendline of development times. But I’d expect to see something more like that commercial aircraft timeline, or even a little steeper. But clearly, something in the process of acquisition has changed. And Kozlowski argues that it is the intense oversight. I’m agree. And I’ll note that the purpose of the oversight was to ensure money spent was well spent. Oddly, the oversight, both within DoD and from outside, be it the GAO or Congress or whomever, has stretched the timelines to untenable lengths. We’ve already seen programs such as the RAH-66 Comanche that ran so long in development that they were obsolete before they were even ordered into production.  And I’d argue that the drawn out development and oversight costs more than simply mismanaging programs in the first place would have.

Failure and Success in Defense Procurement. Also, Revolutionary Versus Evolutionary Development

The DoD has shown a remarkable inability to effectively manage major weapon system procurement programs over the last 20 years. Browsing the web today, I find two articles that highlight just how bad the process is.

The first is an article in DefenseTech displaying some of the most expensive failed programs of the last decade:

Future Combat Systems (FCS) $18.1B

Comanche helicopter $7.9B

nPOESS satellite $5.8B

VH-71 Presidential Helicopter $3.7B

Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) $3.3B

Transformational SATCOM (TSAT) $3.2B

Crusader $2.2B

Advanced SEAL Delivery System (ASDS) $0.6 B

Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter $0.5 B

Aerial Common Sensor $0.4 B

CG(X) next Generation Cruiser $0.2B

CSAR-X $0.2B

Most of these failed programs fall into two main categories. First, there are those programs that were simply too technologically aggressive to be produced in any economical fashion, in anywhere near the numbers of platforms required. Other programs such as the RAH-66 Comanche and the Crusader howitzer programs were simply overtaken by the pace of technology. That is, they were designed for a networked environment before the rest of the world even started to think of that level of connectivity, and the development programs were so long that by the time they were ready for production, the state of the art had actually long passed them by.

The Dew Line, by way of contrast, has a list of successful programs (in this case, limited to aircraft procurement).

1. UH-72A
2. EA-18G
3. CH-47F/G
4. MC-12W
5. H-1 Upgrades*
6. MQ-9 Predator

The first thing that leaps out when you look at the list of successful programs is that there isn’t a single “transformational” or “revolutionary” platform on the list. Each program has built either on an existing airframe, or is an evolutionary adaptation of an existing technology. Program managers were careful to not add every possible feature to the design, and locked in the basic design early on. They worked to ensure that the requirements were realistic, and that the state of the art could reasonably be expected to fulfill them in a timely and cost effective manner.

I’m greatly concerned that the DoD can’t seem to take the same approach to other major weapon system procurement programs. Problem programs such as LCS, FCS, the F-35 and EFV all seem to fail whenever “spiral development”shows up,  where basic research and development of underlying technology and the weapons design and procurement process are intertwined.

I’m not arguing that the military shouldn’t pursue new technologies or only buy revamped versions of existing designs. But it is apparent that unless critical design technologies are relatively mature, the DoD cannot be expected to incorporate them without massive cost overruns. And who thinks that’s a viable option in the face of austere defense budgets looming ahead?

*I’m not at all sure I’d personally include the H-1 Upgrades as a successful program (other than to admit that aircraft are being bought).