Military R and D Procurement Considered

Our great nation’s number one job is to protect the American People, everything else, is merely an elective. To stay the strongest and most powerful nation on Earth allows us to negotiate from a position of strength and thus, carry our ideals; liberty, freedom, and democracy into the future for all mankind – planet wide and some day beyond. To do that we must stay on the bleeding edge of technology, there is no other way – at least not in the present period, and if there is to be on in the future, it will take R&D to get there, and that’s going to cost money.

On December 20, 2011 there was an interesting research report put out titled; “Restructuring defense R&D’ by Subrata Ghoshroy and it was published in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. The report noted three main highlighted points; namely that:

“The US spends nearly $76 Billion annually on defense R&D – exceeding the total defense spending of any other country except China. Much military R&D goes not to research but to development and demonstration projects for expensive gadgets based on unsound technology.

Reform of defense R&D could save tens of billions of dollars while increasing support for the basic research that has powered the American economy, from radar to the Internet.”

It would seem to me that the first point of that research paper is not relevant to having the greatest military in the solar system, and we must look ahead to the future. The transfer technologies are also paramount to what President Obama calls WTF or Winning the Future. My grandfather worked on pure Naval Research, early radar, ultrasound, microwave, acoustic transducers, and his team even built the first ring-gyro (6-feet tall) which they put into a submarine.

Interestingly enough, I was having a similar side-bar topic with a retired Naval Contracting Officer not long ago about how a military contractor was thrown out of the running on an upcoming prototype aircraft for close air support. The contractor obviously protested, and the protest was rejected having no basis, and the contracting office stood its legal ground, most likely ending the entire issue in that case. Then we discussed the intense difficulty in awarding R&D and prototype contracts.

Indeed, I then understood his point, and saw that in fact, he was right, I can totally see the challenge – and the difficulty to remain fair and impartial. But in the case you mention, that was the smart way to play it. And I agree, sometimes it would make sense to award prototype development to two-different companies, of course, if there are only a couple of scientists, engineers, or superstars of humanity who can pull it off or even know what they are talking about, and if those folks work for different companies, then there is also a problem.

It’s as if the two-teams need to get together, such as what occurred with the Satellite DARPA contract with Boeing and Lockheed, they put them both in the same presentation room to hear each-others plan for the proposal, since each had mostly what was needed, but each had their own scientists – and the military needed both sets of ideas in one prototype.

Also, I found the JSF fly off case study interesting, as whomever won the contract, the other prototype team would jump ship and bring their minds into the manufacturing phase of the contract winner, as the prototype phase was over, and their jobs would most likely be over anyway or re-assigned thus, TEAM USA loses that expertise – if all those minds don’t remain working on the project moving forward.

And speaking of all this, I think that DARPA’s head got into a little hot water with her being a family member of someone who had an electronic “sniffer” contract for WMD of various types. The challenge I see is that in the upper levels of high-end tech, everyone is sort of a large family, and knows everyone else, and each has a specific line of expertise on the science tree, “leaf masters” and inter-conflicts can arise, and keeping it honest becomes tough, and thus, a matter of personal integrity, which is damn hard to come by when the government starts throwing money around – who knew?

There are challenges, but the trick is to keep it legit, as a taxpayer that concerns me, and then there is the media blowing things out of proportion, creating conflict which may not exist, and condemning folks in the mass media of public opinion whether or not “irregularities?” – did or did not occur, and then throw in the blowhard lobbyist-bribed politicians, and it’s a damned three-ring circus – so the contracting office MUST stick to its guns and take the heat – which is pretty darn unfair to those folks working for all of us out here in the real-world and seeing that our tax dollars are not stolen and our military get a fair shake.

Our competition, China let’s say can build things a lot cheaper, and thus, out produce us for quantity, that’s a problem, but luckily they have so much corruption that it will be hard for them to develop anything that can be operationally sound when the shit hits the fan, we see this with their Three Gorges Dam, Bullet Trains, and in their military too, not just with baby formula, livestock food, and lead based painted toys.

Keeping us honest, keeps us safe – more efficient, and that means fewer accidents, tighter quality control, and operationally sound, I guess. Comparing our nation’s R&D defense expenditures to anyone else is ridiculous, we are a Super Power in a league of our own, and to remain there, we must pony up. The important thing is to do it rationally and as inexpensively as conceivable, and yes, we are going to have to take risks, and crash and burn a few, often extremely expensive prototypes – so be it I say, so be it.

We are the United States of America, the greatest nation ever created in the history of mankind, and we have duty to ourselves, and the rest of the world to keep it that way. So let’s refine the process, streamline it, and when we fail; fail fast, get it over with, learn from it, and carry on that knowledge to the next. That’s what it takes to win the future, and may I ask my reader; how do you think I know that? Sincerely, Lance