Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Building destructive weapons

There are trends in building weapons as there are with most things

One intriguing trend: the race for bigger, better weapons is fiercest in peacetime but tends to fall once war actually breaks out.

At that point, quantity takes precedence over quality.

So the fact that the cold war never turned hot may help explain why Western ministries of defence got into the habit of developing weapons slowly and expensively.

You cannot optimise cost, performance and development-time at the same time, says Mr Krepinevich.

In the cold war everything was sacrificed to performance.

Cost was secondary, and time was least important of all, given that there was no shooting war.

The F-22 began development before the end of the cold war; so did the Typhoon.
Few would disagree with another of Mr Augustine’s laws, that “the last 10% of performance generates one-third of the cost and two-thirds of the problems.”

Moreover, the quest for the best is often allied to a “conspiracy of optimism”, whereby bureaucrats and contractors underestimate the likely cost of weapons, wittingly or unwittingly.

Once approved, military projects are hard to kill.
Such are the ingredients for a spiral of cost and delay

Technological stumbles = hold up development = delay = raises costs = governments postpone work further to avoid busting yearly budgets = incurring greater long-term costs = reduction in the quantities produced.

With time, technology becomes outdated, so weapons must be redesigned, giving the top brass a chance to tinker endlessly with requirements.

In the end, governments cut the size of the purchase, so driving up unit costs further.

There were supposed to be 132 stealthy B-2 bombers but only 20 were built.

They cost $2 billion each.
Repeated reforms have failed to break this dire cycle.

According to the last full report by America’s Government Accountability Office (GAO), the cost of 96 of America’s biggest weapons programmes in 2008 had risen on average by 25%, incurring an average delay of 22 months.

And so it goes on in most countries around the world

Add in the corruption and you have an amazingly profitable cycle for all involved

Except that is for the servicemen who needed that new weapon or defensive capability

Never mind the soldiers are expendable

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