23 September 2009

War is Boring is Interesting

OK, this is kinda touchy, on a couple levels, but here I go...

I was quoted in a post yesterday by David Axe, over at the War Is Boring blog. The post starts out talking about Sec. Gates and his vision for military technology (AF in particular), then goes on to talk about some of the stuff I've been writing about for a while. It's a cool piece, and I hope it helps generate some thoughtful discussions about ways & means for doing this acquisition thing better. But there are some bits in the post that probably merit a disclaimer / clarification.

I did sit with David for a little interview. He's a cool guy and it was a lot of fun to talk with him. I think his post captured the bulk of what we talked about. However... there are a few lines that come across more pointed and critical (and less nuanced) than they probably should have. That is, they came across more pointed and critical than what I think I said. Not a huge deal - but I don't want readers to think I've gone further off the deep end than I really did.

Don't get me wrong. I like rocking the boat. I'm not shy about offering criticism of the DoD's acquisition community. I've been known to use phrases like "slow-dancing with the 800 lb status quo gorilla" or "the DoD has too much money, which is limiting our ability to be innovative" or "we don’t blame the bureaucracy. We blame the bureaucrats, and you can tell them we said that." And that's in official DoD publications.

Still, when I'm boatrocking, I do have some guidelines. Like, keep it honest, keep it funny, keep it accurate, acknowledge nuances and stick to what I know. So, I avoid phrases like "we don't have the right systems," because I'm not in that business. I'm not involved in determining the portfolio of operational needs, and I can't say for sure whether we've got the right mix. My area of expertise is figuring out ways to develop systems that provide meaningful capabilities, not measuring whether we've got everything we need. If I get anywhere close to the topic of operational needs, I'd go with something more nuanced, like "It seems to me we need more of this and less of that..." Better yet, I'd quote an expert like the SECDEF, and say we need more ISR assets and fewer air superiority jets.

And while I do think the FIST principles can apply to just about everything, I'm sure I'm wrong about that. In fact, I'm very very very sure I'm wrong - just because I can't think of any situations where FIST wouldn't be helpful doesn't mean such a situation doesn't exist. So, I can't and don't say everything should be done the FIST way. Sure, I think that, but I go out of my way not to say it. If I gave the impression in the interview that I meant ALL systems should be FIST systems, that's my bad, but not my intention.

OK, having said all that, I do think it's an interesting and thoughtful blog post. I really like the way he finished the piece. Here's an excerpt (with the caveat that the word "all" in the 3rd sentence should be replaced with "most" or "more):

Ward has a prescription for building a better, cheaper Air Force, faster. It boils down to constraints. All programs should be “fast, inexpensive, simple and tiny,” he said. Budgets, schedules and initial quantities should be deliberately limited, so as to deliver a given capability in years for millions of dollars, instead of decades for billions.

Pointing to aircraft like the F-16, the Predator drone and the World War II P-51, all of which were developed quickly and cheaply, Ward insisted that his so-called “FIST” approach isn’t really new. It just requires today’s Air Force establishment to stop believing in the “inevitability of overruns and delays.”

“We can do better, faster, cheaper,” Ward said.

So, surf on over to WarIsBoring. Check out Dave's stuff and jump into the conversation. Rock on!

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