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Feb 24, 2013

Defense Cuts: Scope Creep or Horse Cavalry Charges



Any consideration of DOD procurement has to start with the way the development projects are managed.  First, the way initial program requirements are set is to state every aspiration that exists for "the next generation" of whatever weapon system without too much consideration of what's available off the shelf.  Once that's done, constant changes are allowed throughout the development process.  They almost have to be allowed because of the wish list way the initial requirements are set.  So then the way the requirements dance around becomes a text book case of what is known in the project management trade as scope creep.  Scope creep is also known to be absolutely fatal to any development process.  Just one example, it seems that the ejection seat for the F-35 is a developmental item.  Why did we have to move away from the existing family of ejection seats?  Anyway, moving to a new seat didn't work out so now we are moving back to the existing family of ejection seats after spending all kinds of money on developing the new ones.  http://www.f-16.net/f-16_forum_viewtopic-t-16239.html  Can't we just decide we're going to field a system based on what's available now?  That way we wouldn't have to be flying planes that average 26 years old. http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/aging-array-of-american-aircraft-attracting-attention-0901/   For example, we are still flying B-52 aircraft.  The B-52 design originally entered service in 1955.  The B-52 bombers currently in service were built in the early 1960's.  If we didn't gold plate every bomber system design we try to build, we might have been able to replace them with something a little easier to maintain.  The current pattern seems to be we have outrageously advanced designs which we develop, but can’t afford to build.  So we either cancel them and get nothing, or build very limited numbers. Either way we have to use obsolescent weapons to make up the difference.
               On the other hand, extreme cuts in defense can kill a lot of people. Just one example, the last US horse cavalry charge was by the 26th Cavalry Regiment (Philippine Scouts) against Japanese tanks in 1942. They had few anti-tank weapons and ran out of anti-tank ammunition. They attacked tanks on horseback with grenades and pop bottles full of gasoline. Needless to say, most of them were killed. See http://hnn.us/node/139372 for more details.
               There has to be a middle ground between gold plated weapons too expensive to buy and not enough of the right kind of weapons.