National Security

Published — August 21, 2009 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Courage needed to reform defense procurement


Three Air Force majors with a moniker of “Team Rogue” are shaking up the never-ending debate over Pentagon weapons procurement by advocating what they call F.I.S.T., for fast, inexpensive, simple and tiny weapons programs. But implementing the F.I.S.T. concept, argues one of the majors, will require courage.

Three Air Force majors say the unmanned Predator drone is an example of success of their F.I.S.T., or fast, inexpensive, simple and tiny, weapons procurement programs. Courtesy of the Air Force.The majors — Dan Ward, Gabriel Mounce, and Christopher Quaid — have been promoting F.I.S.T. in a series of briefings and articles. And now Ward has published a story in the September/October issue of the journal Defense AT&L (for acquisition technology and logistics) entitled “The Courage Imperative,” in which he talks about overcoming the fear of speaking up and changing the defense acquisition system. “I fear lives will be lost,” he says, “because of our failures.”

Among those interested in procurement reform is Defense Secretary Robert Gates. In January, Gates detailed the daunting scope of the challenge when he told the Senate Armed Services Committee that “since the end of World War II, there have been nearly 130 studies on these problems — to little avail.” Among those problems: weapons delivered years later and in fewer numbers than originally planned; massive cost overruns; and weapons that are often irrelevant by the time they’re delivered.

Team Rogue points to the bazooka, the F-16, and the Predator drone as exemplars of how its approach has been used in the past. Lesser-known F.I.S.T.-oriented programs, Ward said, include a new Air Force light attack/armed reconnaissance program for 100 “cost effective” aircraft, which will be fielded in 2012, with a tightly focused mission that supports current operations.

But these are exceptions that prove the rule. The Government Accountability Office found last year that 95 major programs it examined are nearly $300 billion over their initial budget estimates and on average about two years behind schedule.

Despite the magnitude of the problem, the situation may be riper for change than at any time in recent memory.

Gates has repeatedly echoed some of Team Rogue’s points over the past few years, notably on the need to move away from “exquisite” and complex weapons that take years to develop and field to cheaper, 75 percent solution systems that are fielded in months. And the defense chief has also walked the walk-in, bypassing the traditional defense acquisition bureaucracy. Case in point: Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle task forces crafted to rapidly deliver more survivable vehicles to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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