Thursday, June 14, 2012

Dan Ward’s Magnificent 7 Weapon Systems…

That weren’t (A continuation of the ‘Know Your Reformer’ series)

Part 1 of…?

 In his AOL Online piece "The Magnificent Seven Weapons" , Lt Col Dan Ward attempts to use a list of seven examples of weapons systems that, if the subtitle is to be believed, were ‘Awesome on a Shoestring’. Why?

The point of these seven stories isn't to deny acquisition problems exist or to engage in gratuitous "aren't we great?" back-slapping. The fact is, these stories prove new military weapon systems don't have to cost so much, take so long or be so complicated.

The implication being, ‘days of yore’ weapons and the exceptional modern weapon system didn’t “cost so much”, “take so long”, or were “so complicated” as compared to the ‘norm’ today. A further implication is that those weapons also adequately met the military need either out of the box or soon thereafter.

Many of the weapons programs cited in Ward’s article can be used as examples highlighting how those seeking to ‘reform’ defense acquisition employ oversimplification in describing the past as a way to draw false contrasts against the present – a common tactic in the so-called ‘Reformer’ playbook.

Question Arise

What if it can be shown that what ‘Reformers’ describe as ‘flaws’ in the current systems or ‘problems’ with the acquisition thereof or even today’s weapon performance relative to the specifications are really not very different from those systems either in the nostalgic past or the perceived odd and unfathomable exception in the present day?  Does this not lead to the further question that if what ‘Reformers’ claim is the problem with defense acquisition “isn’t” the problem, then what else IS THERE that is ‘the problem’ (or problems)?

Toppling Memes

I will be presenting substantial evidence contrary to the anecdotal narrative Ward presents in his Bazooka example, and I’m considering doing the same for the P-51 Mustang, F-16 [Fighting] Falcon, and Virginia Class Submarine ‘stories’. If I am really in the mood to beat a dead horse maybe I’ll also illuminate the missing parts of his ICBM ‘story’.  Each case offers insight into the kinds of glossing over past successes receive a posteriori compared to criticisms today’s programs receive a priori.  I notice one or two commenter(s) at the source have already mentioned obliquely some of what I might cover (and it seems in the thread Ward confirms a suspicion I had as to one of his ‘sources’ as well). But no matter, the space limitations in a moderated comment thread hardly provide the elbow room needed for a thorough refutation of the narratives offered at AOL Defense. For regular readers, the Bazooka post(s) will be much like my earlier post on the Spitfire, except this one IMHO doesn’t have nearly as happy an ending.

Tomorrow:  Bazooka:  ‘Magnificent Weapon’ or a ‘Crapshoot Fielded Too Soon’? 

Housekeeping Notes: I must state that I believe changes ARE needed in defense (or any government activity for that matter) acquisition. I just also happen to know, through long-running observation of the so-called ‘Reform Movement’ behaviors that said ‘movement’ more often than not has little or no inkling as to what those changes really should be. For a large majority of the most vocal within the ‘movement’, their ideology and philosophy seem to trump their logic when it comes to applying their intellect towards solving a problem (to the point that too often the only solution offered is to walk away proposing to wait for a magical solution in the future).
Misperception leads to misdirection, and misdirection prevents real problems from ever being solved. One wonders at how many attempts at ‘defense reform’,using the same assumptions, must fail before somebody at the top wises up. (I know there ARE people at the top who understand the problem. Trouble is, many of them are part of the problem).
I also wouldn’t classify Lt Col Ward exactly as one of the ‘Reformers’...yet. But his game-show host ‘stylings’, which possibly looked good when performed by an energetic Company Grade officer do not win many hearts and minds when performed by an aging hipster. As a more senior official with perceived authority and gravitas, it tends to take the perpetrator dangerously close to aiding and abetting the Reformers. Just like putting away the 'Speedo' when the waist goes over 30”, by the time you are a Lieutenant Colonel you’re supposed to be providing workable solutions instead of waving madly and pointing at problems. I suspect Dan Ward is more than acutely aware of this last point.    

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