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Sunday, January 11, 2015

Procurement is boring

How long was it from the invention of the wheel to mass production of automobiles? 

If you compress that time line down to months or years, you begin to understand the problem of procuring anything when the conditions requiring its acquisition change faster than production of the thing can keep up.

That was my first reaction to reading an item this morning, being outraged by the claim it made, then looking further into it and feeling outraged that the article intended to outrage me in the first instance.

It all happened when I got a Google News link to this: The Comedy the Pentagon Wishes We’d Forget. (Now, the movie this is based on and the book that gave rise to it are from pre-Millineal times, but there it was in today's news items.)
In the early 1980s, Air Force colonel James Burton was part of a group of reformers who, frustrated by billions wasted on needless research and development, attempted to change how the military did business. The Pentagon Wars chronicles his reform movement and the corruption within the Defense Department’s procurement process.

The Bradley fighting vehicle was a weapon system with countless flaws. Part troop transport, part fighting vehicle and part scout—it didn’t do any of these jobs well. The Army resisted Burton’s requests for a live-fire exercise. Ultimately, Burton got his exercise and proved that the Bradley needed serious changes. Despite the upgrades, the APC still had problems. It survived the 1991 Gulf War, taking out more Iraqi tanks than the M-1 Abrams. Quite a feat for a troop carrier. It didn’t fare as well on its return trip to Iraq in 2003. The Bradley proved vulnerable to improvised explosives and rocket-propelled grenades. It’s not an ideal counterinsurgency vehicle.

The Pentagon’s procurement process still produces broken weapon systems.
Then I read another article, this one a couple of years old, which said the whole thing could have been cleared up if only Burton had had a Project Manager as part of his team.

The Pentagon Wars – A Product Management Disaster
The film depicts the development of the Bradley fighting vehicle. Col Burton was appointed by Congress as an outsider to oversee the testing of new weapons in development, including the Bradley. In order to get up to speed with the development history of the Bradley, Burton dives into the mountain of paperwork documenting it’s development. This is where we pick up the movie below for a 11-min scene that takes us through the “product development process” in flashbacks.
I presume this 11 minute scene is what the first article above referred to as "The design-by-committee is one of the funniest moments in the 1998 HBO film The Pentagon Wars. It’s also uncomfortably close to the truth."

I sensed a real scandal. Alas, I then came across this forum below. 

It begins with a question about the development of the Bradley. The responses were enlightening, and presumably more credible than the Hollywood version. 

It seems all the changes in the Bradley were not born of an 11 minute design-by-committee scene.

Topic: Truth to The Pentagon Wars and the Bradley IFV??
Gubler: Rule number one of understanding history: never, ever take your history lesson from Hollywood. The story as outlined in ‘Pentagon Wars’ is as misleading and full of sh*t as the rest of that movie.

Gubler (again, after an exchange of comments): The movie Pentagon Wars and to a lesser extent the book primarily rely on ignorance of the armour needs and specifics of the Bradley to create the appearance of scandal.

The Bradley was designed to be resistant to splinters from nearby bursts of 152mm high explosive shells and hits from 14.5mm armour piercing bullets fired by Soviet heavy machineguns. These of course are not the only Soviet weapons on the battlefield but they were the type of weapons the Bradley was mostly going to be exposed to in its normal mode of use on a linear battlefield.

This protection requirement was based on how armoured personnel carriers (APCs), later renamed infantry fighter vehicles (IFV), were to be used on the linear battlefield in places like West Germany trying to stop a Soviet invasion. That is the vehicles move the infantry forward through the area target suppression fires of the Soviets but don’t close with the enemy to destroy them. The infantry do the later on foot. It is this closing with the enemy on the battlefield that exposes an APC to the fires of anti-tank weapons like the RPG or BMP’s 73mm gun. Weapons that are not effective at long range. Also the APC didn’t have to worry about long range anti-tank weapons like guided missiles or enemy tank guns because it was never to remain stationary while exposed to enemy direct fires like a tank does. However the type of suppressive fires they would face are artillery barrages and long range machinegun fires.

When the earlier APCs were designed (M75, M59, M113) the typical Soviet weapons used for suppressive fires were 122mm artillery and 7.62mm machineguns. So they were designed to be resistant to these weapons. But in the 1950s and 60s the Soviets upgraded these weapons to 152mm artillery and 14.5mm machineguns. So the Bradley and its predecessor the XM723 were specified to be resistant to these more lethal weapons the Soviets would use for their area supression.

In non-linear battles APCs were found to be exposed to anti-tank fires. As was seen in counter insurgency wars or deep penetration offensive actions like the IDF applied in Lebanon in 1982. Since they were never designed to be resistant to these types of  weapons they suffered high losses. But this was for the US at least a secondary requirement as the primary and most important battlefield was the linear defensive war in West Germany. After the Bradley was introduced the Soviets upgraded the BMP with a 30mm gun that could fire bursts of armour piercing ammunition to long range in place of the 14.5mm gun. This required an upgrading of the Bradley’s armour in the A2 version to be resistant to the 30mm armour piercing round. While claimed as a response to the Burton trials it had nothing to do with it.

The issue about vehicle survivability that Burton seized upon when the vaporifics issue was shown to be so much hot air was crew survivability after a penetrating hit. This argument, completely factually correct, was that the APCs like the Bradley with their fuel and ammunition stored inside alongside the large number of human occupants were highly dangerous after being hit and penetrated. That the sympathetic explosions of the fuel and ammunition made it extremely unlikely any of the crew would escape the vehicle after being hit.

This was of course no surprise to anyone involved in the design and use of APCs including the Bradley. Because of course it wasn’t designed to be exposed to these kinds of fires in the first place so why make it survivable to such a hit? You don’t build a street car to survive a roll over at speeds over 250 kph (~150 mph) because they don’t drive that fast. But you do build a racing car to survive such a roll over. However the sight of a burnt out APC is as emotive as a crushed street car even if the likelihood in the primary means of operations was extremely low. Burton was able to get the Army to build a Bradley with all fuel and ammunition moved to separate armoured boxes within or outside the vehicle. This vehicle was never entered into production however and fans of the Pentagon Wars frequently mistake this vehicle for the A2 armour upgrade. Even though the later vehicle retained all of its fuel and ammunition inside the vehicle alongside the occupants.

Since the end of the Cold War and an increasing focus on counter insurgency and offensive operations the US Army and others have upgraded their protection requirements for APCs.  Now they are often as high as tanks and with high flank protection. But this does not invalidate the effectiveness of the original design of protection for the Bradley. A vehicle that at its time of introduction was along with the West German Marder the most protected APC in the world and if asked to do what it was designed for would have provided adequate protection for infantry mobility in West Germany against a Soviet invasion.

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