The Army did something brave this Summer without even visiting a war zone. It retracted a request-for-proposals on its future Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) because senior leaders decided the requirements were too demanding. The reason that was a brave thing to do is because anytime a solicitation is pulled back people like me begin speculating darkly in public places that the program in question must be doomed or the Army acquisition bureaucracy must be screwed up. Such criticisms, well founded or not, damage the credibility of Army leaders and encourage members of Congress to second-guess their plans.
In this case, though, the Army made the right decision. When senior leaders saw the likely price-tag and production schedule for GCV in contractor briefings, they were not pleased and decided too many requirements had been specified for the vehicle. It is, after all, only an armored troop carrier. So they decided to rethink the requirements in the hope of fielding the system sooner at lower cost. It was a smart, professional thing to do, and shows that somebody in the Army understands the federal government is in a budget crisis. Insidedefense.com reports today that the Army also has launched a business analysis to find out why its proposed Joint Light Tactical Vehicle replacement of the Humvee looks likely to cost over $800,000 each. At that price the service is likely to run out of money before the fleet is fully recapitalized, so a re-look is definitely indicated.
Many of the cost, schedule and technical problems with military technology programs are traceable to overly-ambitious requirements established at the beginning of the program. For instance, the Clinton Administration loaded up the nation’s next-generation missile warning satellite with three times the “key performance parameters” that the Defense Science Board deems prudent in a cutting-edge technology project, and as a result it has taken many more years than expected to develop. It’s going to be a modern marvel when it finally reaches orbit, but at some point you start to worry more about the age of the legacy systems than whether you’re going to get all the functionality of their successors. There are some other programs where restraint on the part of weapons buyers is indicated.
Take, for example, the Next Generation Jammer that the Navy is developing. The new jammer will be used to mask the location of aircraft penetrating enemy airspace, a mission vital to their survival. It will also be used to neutralize the communications devices that adversaries employ to coordinate military operations and detonate improvised explosives. But some proponents of electronic warfare think there needs to be an integrated, over-arching architecture to address all challenges on the electromagnetic spectrum — from dealing with hostile emitters to cyber security to psychological operations. That is notthe right approach for getting the much-needed jammer into the field before aging Cold War jamming pods lose their ability to keep up with the threat. The Navy correctly sees that the Next Generation Jammer program must be kept focused on the crucial mission of providing electronic protection to U.S. warplanes and ground forces, rather than getting diverted by a series of ancillary concerns. Any deviation from the program of record could spell doom for U.S. pilots and troops.
And then there is the Army’s version of the Joint Tactical Radio System, known as the Ground Mobile Radio. It’s a remarkably versatile system that can break down the barriers between incompatible communications devices by relying on reprogrammable software rather than hardware. A series of tests this summer demonstrated it can meet its performance goals while doing a number of other things it wasn’t even designed to do. But it has taken nearly a decade to get to this point, and meanwhile new ideas have appeared about how battlefield communications should be done. So some visionaries want to slow the program even though it offers capabilities far, far better than anything the Army currently has. That’s the kind of fuzzy, counter-productive thinking that the Pentagon really doesn’t need right now. What warfighters in the field and taxpayers in distress need are acquisition officials who can say, “This is good enough — let’s get it to the troops fast!”
Find Archived Articles: