December 6, 2006 by jimstogdill
Three and a half years
After three and a half years I’m still new to the world of defense contracting but there is something about it that is bugging me, really bugging me…
We entered the Second World War in December 1941 and finished it in August 1945, or after just a little bit more than three and a half years. Our war to topple Sadam Hussein began in March 2003 and it is now December 2006, or just a little bit more than three and a half years. It is amazing to me that we’ve been in Iraq for as long as we were directly involved in WWII. Pearl Harbor, Coral Sea, Midway, North Africa, Stalingrad, The Bulge, Iowa Jima, Hiroshima… all of it happened in the time we’ve spent in Iraq.
In the three and a half years since we crossed the berm, what material difference have we made for our Soldiers, Airman, Sailors and Marines serving in the desert? What have we brought them that makes a difference? How have we applied our national strength and greatness in innovation and technology to help them defeat a networked enemy? We’ve up armored some humvees? We’ve produced a few IED jammers? We’ve watched while their parents send them cans of silly string and body armor and Garmin sell them GPS devices while Motorola sells them radios?
Do we here at home and in this industry work as though we are mobilized? Do we work at it half as hard as we did during the dot com boom of the late 90’s? Do we feel like if we were to work that hard our innovations and the fruits of our labors would make it to the warfighter in time to matter? Are we mobilized in any sense of the word?
During the same three and a half year period of our involvement in the Second World War we mobilized the primary strength of our nation, industrial might, and with it during three and a half years we built 324,750 military aircraft while we advanced from ineffectual P-40’s to the P-51D and to testing of early jet fighters. During three and a half years we fielded multiple generations of submarines, invented the acoustic homing torpedo, advanced sonar, and the hedgehog to defeat the enemy’s submarine advances. During three and a half years, with our allies, we pointed the best minds available at the German Enigma code and cracked it and turned the tide in the Atlantic by doing it.
During three and a half years we deployed thousands of Norden bomb sites, multiple generations of main battle tanks, uncountable numbers and variations of amphibious vehicles for delivering Marines to beaches, new generations of artillery, guided bombs, and on and on, and though we didn’t always field the best weapons, we fielded advancements in rapid succession and fielded them in staggering numbers.
In December 1941 we hadn’t yet built a carbon pile under the University of Chicago squash court, yet unbelievably, three and a half years later 130,000 Americans were employed in the Manhattan project in roles ranging from research to enrichment to fabrication to testing and the amazingly sophisticated weapons were ready for use.
Since 1945 our national strengths have shifted from manufacturing and industrial brawn to services, innovation, information technology, etc. How are we applying them? Are we? Are we getting the things we do develop fielded in time to make a difference? Do our best and brightest graduate from Stanford (or wherever) and contribute to this effort? Do they even know it is happening?
Why isn’t Baghdad, Samarra and Fallujah blanketed with WiMAX or cell towers? Why don’t all of our troops carry secure cheap hand held devices for sharing positions and information? Why isn’t there a geo-tagged and annotated photograph of every house on every street that has been patrolled in Baghdad? Why isn’t there a searchable record of every patrol, it’s GPS coordinates, and its results? Why don’t we have the equivalent of NavTeq data for every major city in Iraq? When we patrol those areas that don’t have it why aren’t we collecting that data as we patrol?
Why aren’t all of our troops having collaborative conversations about tactics and adversaries across the theater using blogs and wikis? Why isn’t every Soldier and Marine preparing to deploy involving themselves in those conversations from the States for months before they deploy? Why don’t they remain in the conversation after they come home? Why are we spending years creating taxonomies to organize those conversations instead of simply relying on “troopsonomy?”
Why aren’t our troops using systems like this to not just discover who hates us, but more importantly who is happy we are there so that we can do more for them? Why are those systems we do deploy so god-awfully hard to use? Why don’t we have as many security cameras in Iraq as there are in London? Why are there no systems that reach out to the Iraqi people directly so that they can participate in their own protection and development? What other ideas would be changing the tide of our fight with the insurgents?
The answer to all of these questions in my experience is the friction that stems from an unwieldy acquisition system and the “culture of can’t” that follows from it. We don’t field stuff we experiment with it. We don’t let users talk to developers, we write requirements. We don’t eat our own dog food, no one eats it.
This rant got started in my head during a recent meeting where I was told approximately the following: “We think the technology you are developing is valuable to the warfighter, but it is going to be too difficult to get it through the acquisition process. Have you considered taking it to DHS?”
If this war is important enough for the lives lost, the money spent, and the impact on our national image; it is important enough to mobilize for and win; even if it means breaking down a bureaucracy or two. Here’s to early fielding, perpetual beta, participation and the energy that doing it would unleash among those that build this stuff.