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Tag: "military procurement"

LCS Ennui

[ 14 ] May 2, 2008 |

Last week’s NYT article on the difficulties with the Littoral Combat Ship is quite fantastic. The LCS project publicly began in November 2001, but the ship is a natural outgrowth of shifts in USN doctrine in the 1990s. Contrary to the general belief that the Navy continues to prepare to defeat the Imperial Japanese Navy/Red Fleet/People’s Liberation Army Navy on the high seas, 1990s doctrine focused on the ability of the Navy to affect developments on shore. Primarily in the documents …From the Sea and Forward… From the Sea, the Navy began to think seriously about how to project power on land. This was entirely reasonable given the disintegration of the Red Fleet, the weakness of the PLAN, and the overwhelming dominance of the Allied navies over any potential enemies. Whatever criticisms can be made of the Zumwalt destroyer, it can hardly be said that the ship is a relic of Cold War Mahanianism; the ship’s mission is to directly support US and Allied land forces engaged in a Gulf War I style battle. Older platforms, from aircraft carriers to submarines, were similarly refocused away from high-intensity sea combat to land attack capability.

As the article notes, the critical moment for the LCS was the attack on the USS Cole. The Cole attack freaked out the Navy, because it indicated that expensive, high capability platforms could be damaged or destroyed through inexpensive means. Frankly, I think that the Navy rather overstated the threat of these kinds of attacks; the Cole incident could not have been repeated in a wartime setting, and modern naval vessels can deliver ordnance at ranges that make the prospect of swarming small attack boats considerable less dangerous. Nevertheless, the LCS wasn’t, in my view, a bad idea; lots of small, relatively inexpensive ships can carry out more missions that a few large, expensive vessels. The LCS, with its operational flexibility (different mission modules are supposed to be switched in and out for different tasks) seems to me to be an ideal contributor to the vision of a 1000 Ship Navy in which the USN and other navies provide global maritime security, but also would have an important part to play in a high intensity littoral war.

But all of this depends on the LCS being really cheap, and it isn’t so cheap. A lot of ideas that weren’t terrible went into the development of the LCS, but there have been some negative interactions. As the article details, the Navy decided to use a variety of civilian technologies in design and construction. Unfortunately, as the process of construction has gone on, the Navy came to the unsurprising conclusion that these technologies would not meet naval specifications. Courses had to be changed in mid-construction, leading to substantial delays and cost overruns. Another problem was the drive for privatization in acquisition, which led to minimal oversight of the Lockheed and General Dynamics construction processes. The privatization movement, based on the idea that government supervision was inefficient and undesirable, in effect made government oversight impossible by gutting the capacity of the services to manage large projects. This is not to put the blame on GD or Lockheed, as they were simply responding to the structure of the situation. In fairness, the changing government requirements make the entire construction process very difficult.

And so what we have is a ship that is expensive and late. As I mentioned above, I think the project is still worthy; others disagree. It’s hard to imagine where the Navy will find a vessel that’s as inexpensive as the LCS (especially given that the operating cost of the LCS is supposed to be low because of its relatively small crew; we’ll see if that works out), and without the LCS the size of the Navy will decline substantially.

Defense Acquisition Through the Ages

[ 0 ] April 13, 2008 |

Via Danger Room, the most awesome thing ever. From past…

D’raw and Kwa-id directed their considerable strength towards lifting the strange object. “Is like … old club,” D’raw panted, “But … much heavier. Makes … bigger dent … in mammoth … head.”

“Me see,” Krog replied, encouragingly.

“Only problem,” Kwa-id conceded, in between breaths, “is mammoths tall. Club heavy. Club best … on small mammoth … or … sleeping mammoth.”

“Sleeping mammoth?” Krog asked. “How we get close and mammoth not wake up? If mammoth wake up, how we get away and not get squished?” D’raw and Kwai-id dropped the club with a thud.

“In all this time, you only make one club?” asked Krog.

The two nodded, and Krog spat in disgust. “Krog not impressed. You go away. Make better club. Maybe even make two different ones, then Krog do comparison and …”

…to future…

“Well,” said Ensign Tkll’ngs’m, reading from a list of talking points, “the aforementioned threats will now be defeated by the highly lethal and survivable Peregrine Starfighter with its balance of increased speed and range, enhanced offensive and defensive spacionics, and reduced observability. The design of the Peregrine also emphasizes reliability and maintainability. To ensure reduced observability, we are emulating the Wavedroid’s cloaking technology, the main drawback of course being that, like the Wavedroids, we will have to decloak in order to fire weapons. Or activate the sensors. Or turn on the engines. Otherwise, it works very well.”

Read the rest.

World Defense Spending

[ 0 ] April 13, 2008 |

This is stuff that we all kind of know, but it’s still interesting to take a look now and again…

1 United States $ 583,283,000,000
2 France $ 74,690,470,000
3 United Kingdom $ 68,911,000,000
4 China $ 59,000,000,000
5 Germany $ 44,712,300,000
6 Japan $ 41,750,000,000
7 Russia $ 40,000,000,000
8 Italy $ 32,600,000,000
9 Saudi Arabia $ 31,050,000,000
10 South Korea $ 27,400,000,000
11 India $ 26,500,000,000
12 Brazil $ 25,396,731,055
13 Australia $ 20,727,710,000
14 Canada $ 17,150,002,540
15 Spain $ 15,792,207,000
16 Turkey $ 15,166,000,000
17 Netherlands $ 12,000,000,000
18 Poland $ 10,838,000,000
19 Republic of China $ 10,500,000,000
20 Israel $ 9,444,000,000

In fairness, the Chinese total is almost certainly too low. Iran is at 24, North Korea at 27, and Venezuela at 33.

A Victory for Transparency

[ 0 ] April 5, 2008 |

Well, maybe not. Regarding the search for the responsible party in the “bad ammo to Afghanistan” scandal, Laura Peterson writes:

The public may never really know, if a recent Government Accountability Office report is any indication. The GAO found that 42 percent of the workforce at the Army’s Contracting Center for Excellence, a division of the Army Contracting Agency, were contractors themselves. In addition to the obvious conflict of interest problems this raises, GAO said that contractors “were not always identified as such to the public and in some cases were named on documents as the government’s point of contact.”

Most of the CCE contractors were employed by CACI International, an Arlington-based firm that helped prepare contracting documents such as modifications and statements of work [and provided interrogators to Abu Ghraib]. CACI International also holds a 20-year, $36 billion contract for logistics support with the Army Sustainment Command (ASC) at Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois, which awarded the munitions contract to AEY Inc., the youthful arms dealer’s company. ASC was created in 2006 to handle contracts for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan after a series of scandals exposed the lack of oversight that plagued the Army’s Kuwait procurement office. Though ASC hasn’t yet responded to requests for the public/private breakdown of its contracting staff, it’s clear ASC looks to the private sector quite a bit for projects such as the Deployable Civilian Contracting Cadre it launched last year to monitor reconstruction projects in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So even when the AEY contract is made public (a search of the Federal Procurement Data System displays every AEY contract except that one), it’s impossible to be sure that the contracting officer listed is in fact responsible for hiring and monitoring a company that reportedly drove soldiers in Afghanistan crazy with late, low-quality weaponry—and probably broke DoD procurement law in the process.

When thinking about who’s at fault in a situation like this, it’s important to note (with a nod to our Naderite remnant) that it’s not just Republicans. Certainly scams like this develop during any war, and the oversight that the Bush administration has provided for this kind of procurement is pretty minimal. Nevertheless, much of the procurement system we now have in place was developed in the 1990s as part of the larger “reinventing government” project; the intention was to ensure efficiency by turning responsibilities over to “market tested” private firms. What we got were things like the Lead System Integrator, in which a big private firm manages procurement across an entire program, like Future Combat Systems or Coast Guard’s Deepwater or the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship. The services and the Pentagon, at the same time, shed their acquisition and oversight capabilities.

Unsurprisingly, we’ve seen cost overruns and delays that are impressive even for defense acquisition project. Combine that with a poorly thought out war that would have strained any system, and the results, sadly, have been predictable.

Nuclear War Hilarity

[ 0 ] March 19, 2008 |

Yesterday in class I showed the following:

Which is the first of a three part propaganda film asserting that the United States was vulnerable to Soviet nuclear attack. Contained therein are a series of assertion by prominent military officers and civilian policymakers that are hilariously inaccurate; the most important of these assertions was that the Soviet Union had the capacity to destroy the US ICBM force on the ground. No evidence was offered for this assertion, but it helped conservatives argue for a number of things, including:

1. The MX missile, which was supposed to be invulnerable to Soviet first strike, but of which zero evidence to this fact was offered
2. The B-1 bomber, which under the scenario indicated would… well, be destroyed just like the B-52s in the video.
3. A host of other programs to increase the “survivability” of the land force, and of the SLBM force.
4. The discarding of any and all arms limitation agreements with the Soviet Union.

The important thing to note is this: IT. WAS. ALL. BUILT. ON. LIES. No one, whether in uniform or no, who was part of the project to make the documentary or who appeared on the video is stupid enough to believe any of the things that it argues. There’s a reason no evidence was offered for the “90% vulnerability”; there was no such evidence. There’s a reason no serious effort to think about the devastating counter-attack the US could launch even in the event of the worst imaginable attack; that response was clearly enough to deter the notional Soviet attack. There’s a reason that none of the assumptions discussed in the scenario are given any scrutiny; such scrutiny would have rendered abjectly transparent the absurdity of the entire project. To give just one example, the documentary assumes that a) Soviet submarines would be able to approach the east and west coasts of the United States either without detection or without alarming the United States, b) that Soviet SLBMs would have sufficient accuracy to destroy ICBM silos, and c) that US submarines would be unable to reply in kind. All three of these are flat out lies; Soviet boomers rarely left the Arctic and carried missiles less accurate than their American counterparts.

Rather, this documentary represented the collusion of Pentagon civilians, conservative defense intellectuals, and uniformed military officers to shamelessly lie to the American public. In itself this isn’t terribly surprising; this was the era of Team B, after all, and the Team B people were involved in this project. It worked because of the utter ignorance on defense issues of the bulk of the American public. As if there was still any doubt, this experience should have erased the impression that the folks associated with this scam (folks who later found themselves in Republican administrations) felt constrained in any way by the need to tell the truth. In short, there was nothing new or unusual about the body of deception associated with the Iraq War.

Old News Worth Revisiting

[ 20 ] March 10, 2008 |

This is nothing new, but it’s worth revisiting now and again. For the monthly cost of the war in Iraq, conservatively estimated for our purposes at $8 billion, the Pentagon could buy:

10 F-22A Raptors ($150 million each)
23 F-35 Lightning IIs ($100 million each)
4 Littoral Combat Ships ($650 million each)
1 Zumwalt Destroyer ($1.5 billion each)

… and still have $100 million left to help us feel good about the Air Force.

Every. Single. Month.

Stratcom Offers a Deal

[ 11 ] March 6, 2008 |

Via Armchair Generalist, STRATCOM Chief General Kevin Chilton is asking Congress to make a deal:

But as U.S. officials look to the future, Chilton said, “What we need is a modernized nuclear weapon to go with our modernized delivery platforms that we’ve worked on and are working on, and a responsive infrastructure, one that can produce weapons.

“If we do that right … you have an opportunity to lower what is referred to commonly as the hedge inventory, the backup inventory,” said Chilton, who is due to retire this summer.

The offer here is that, in return for backing the Reliable Replacement Warhead program (which is intended to produce a new generation of nuclear weapons), nuclear force levels will be substantially cut. The nugget of logic behind the deal is the argument that older weapons are less reliable, and that as such would need them in greater numbers than newer weapons.

And this, of course, is garbage. We do not now and have never needed every single nuclear weapon we launch to function properly; we have so many more than we need to do whatever job we could ever conceivably want to do. No plausible study suggests that our existing nuclear weapons are decaying at anything like the rate they would need to in order to threaten the robustness of the deterrent. More importantly, no enemy is ever going to make this analysis:

CRAZY FOREIGN DICTATOR: How many nuclear weapons will the Americans launch at us if we destroy New York?

LACKEY TO CRAZY FOREIGN DICTATOR: Dozens, sir. But perhaps half of those won’t work, which means that we will only suffer half of… well, dozens of nuclear explosions.

CRAZY FOREIGN DICTATOR: Ha ha ha. The American fools. If only they had funded RRW back when they had the chance. The Democratic Party truly is our best friend. Launch our attack!

It comes down to this; STRATCOM wants new toys, and the major nuclear labs want new jobs. It’s unclear to me why we should pay for either of those things.

Cross-posted to TAPPED.

Big Tanker News…

[ 14 ] February 29, 2008 |

This is rather a surprise….

Northrop Grumman and European partner EADS, parent company of Airbus, beat out presumptive favorite Boeing for the U.S. Air Force’s $40 billion, 179-plane tanker deal, according to industry sources.

The Northrop team’s A330 variant, referred to by Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Duncan J. McNabb as the KC-45A, reportedly beat Boeing’s militarized 767 in four of the five criteria used to measure the bids and matched in the fifth, according to one source close to the decision.

Hope everyone dumped their Boeing stock this morning.

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