August 1, 2007 by jimstogdill
Getting used to it
In this article from National Defense Magazine, Roger Smith of the Army’s Program Executive Office tells gaming companies to “get used to” the DoD’s cumbersome bureaucracy. At issue is the cost for small companies to participate in a market that has tremendous bureaucratic hurdles weighed against the military’s more complex requirements.
Smith’s argument is that the government is going to use technologies that it buys now for decades so the process to buy them is much longer. The government simply won’t “throw away” the systems it already has to use the newer technology.
I think this line of reasoning is flawed for two reasons. First, because it assumes that a set of technologies changing as rapidly as gaming technologies should continue in service for decades, and second because it doesn’t acknowledge the fact that the bureaucratic burden doesn’t just cost those vendors, but costs the Department in lost opportunity. If you make yourself difficult to sell to, you get more expensive less capable stuff slower.
Smith makes the point that the military spends money the way it does because it uses it to build things like tanks; which may remain in service for 20, 40, or even 50 years. That may be true for mature platform technologies, but it wasn’t true for platforms like tanks and airplanes earlier in their development lifecycles. When those platforms were going through rapid periods of innovation some of them didn’t even stay in service for five years.
For example, the Air Force today spends more than a decade to procure a jet aircraft, but during the single decade of the 1960’s, the 100 series airframe designators for fighter aircraft turned over like the numbers on a gas pump. If the DoD had purchased rapidly evolving fighter aircraft in the 1960’s the way it purchases mature platforms now we would have never stayed out ahead on the capability curve. Ditto for tanks in the period between the wars when the then field-grade Eisenhower and Patton were preparing for their big moments by working on the rapid evolution of armor tactics and platforms.
To address the other point; what capabilities from what vendors are the services just not getting access to because the process is simply too taxing? Companies that might try to contribute but can’t figure out how, or it takes too long for them to afford to pursue? What innovative players are simply opting out because the market isn’t deemed worth pursuing when the “tax” of playing is factored in?
Where the DoD has legitimately different requirements, it needs to do acquisition in a manner that addresses those requirements. However, it is to its advantage to take a facilitative / incubation-oriented approach to address those requirements with the minimum burden necessary on those fast, capable, and innovative firms whose technology it wants to access. Instead of waiting for every firm to “get it” and turn into “defense contractors”, let’s figure out how to better facilitate the involvement of everyone else.