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August 14, 2005


The contrast with the boatloads of money being thrown at contractors in Iraq couldn't be sharper.

Well, yeah there is some pure-d evil floating around this, but leaving Bush aside for a moment:

As someone in his fifties who lived in a militarized nation, one of the big problems I have had with Nixon, the Pentagon, and decisions made in the seventies was scalability. The volunteer army had many more implications than are usually considered, and was a factor in winning the cold war.

Why? Because the "volunteer army" was not merely a decision, it was a committment. During the fifties the draft created a huge pool of minimally trained civilians who could follow an order and fire a rifle. The volunteer army drained that pool.

It is no coincidence that the volunteer army was accompanied by abandonment of MAD and the new "counterstrike" strategy. What was said in the 70s (to the Russians, for instance) is that we ever encountered a situation where a draft might become necessary, where we needed a million or 5 million man army, we weren't going to do it. We made it impossible (i.e., how much do we pay draftees), no matter how much time was available. We would go nuclear first.

This concept of a small fighting force of course affects procurement strategies and capabilities.

I guess this is somewhat off topic, but may explain a little why I favor a large peacetime draft.

Great. The VA is going after vets getting PTSD benefits, while the Army is gearing up to fire Bunnatine Greenhouse, who's blown the whistle on the no-bid nature of and billion-dollar discrepancies with Halliburton/KBR contracts.

we cannot manage to provide adequate armor for our troops and their vehicles over two years after we entered this war

This all depends on what you consider "adequate". I think it's a shame, though, that with all the professional press attention focused on things like this, we cannot obtain adequate detailed analysis.

For instance, what I consider to be adequate analysis would include something exceeding cursory examination of the number of sets of SAPI inserts so far produced and provided to troops, which was 539,000 back in April.

Another bit of silliness in that article is this:

The ceramic plates in vests worn by most personnel cannot withstand certain munitions the insurgents use.

"Certain munitions"? Do tell. I'd say it's a safe bet that soldiers wouldn't be protected from RPGs and large-caliber, high-velocity rifle rounds, even with the SAPI inserts. However, the SAPI inserts do an excellent job of protecting against things like this (press play after clicking link). Details of what the weapon was and damage to the soldier here.

Reporters do have access to Lexis-Nexis, don't they? I mean, at least they've got Google?

Yikes. On rereading, that was probably the last-generation of SAPI. Good thing I'm not paid to do this.

"we cannot obtain adequate detailed analysis."

It wasn't clear from the article if the reserves were included in "troops." My understanding is that they have been outfitted differently.

With a desire for competitive bidding and the I presume massive decline in any overseas market, no company wants to have large idle production or R & D/Design capacity. I know some of the story of the Liberty ships, which was a civilian achievement. I also seem to remember it took about twenty years to change infantry rifles to the M-16, not for want of a market.

As a liberal hawk I've given a fair amount of thought to this and related problems. My preferred solution would be to take advantage of modern manufacturing methods to create a surge manufacturing capability for certain critical items. The current model of procurement leaves the intellectual property for many military technologies in the hands of contractors. This is stupid. The military should own the IP, and should set up a network of contractors capable of switching over to production of war-critical materials. Obviously the manufacturers would have to be compensated for maintaining the ability to switch over, but that's worth paying for. There is no reason that Ford shouldn't have a warehouse full of Humvee jigs and fixtures that could be switched onto their (eg) F350 production line if the need arose for a large number of Hummers. The same applies to body armour, ammo, etc.

There are a number of specialty shops that could churn out things like humvee armor on short notice if they had the necessary CAD/CAM files. We'd have to pay a premium for it, but war is expensive, and cutting costs at the expense of lives is bad policy, bad strategy, and bad morality.

In addition, the ability to adapt technologies rapidly to changing circumstances requires an entirely new model of military procurement. Again, corporate ownership of military IP is the wrong model. Companies should be paid to develop the technologies, but ownership should be in the hands of the military so that modifications and adaptations could be undertaken by any interested and able party, including civilian companies, nonprofits, private individuals, and the soldiers themselves. There should be a rapid evaluation program to weed out the bad ideas and select the good ones, and the program should be insulated from political interference to the maximum extent possible (that's the hard part in all this).

There are a number of specialty shops that could churn out things like humvee armor on short notice if they had the necessary CAD/CAM files.

If I recall correctly, the Army approached the company that owns the designs for uparmouring the Humvees to try and purchase them, and the company refused to sell them.

Is there such a thing as eminent domain applied to intellectual property?

Excellent points, Andrew and bob.

Although I rather doubt that this kind of armor lends itself to the private-sector mass-production model you've proposed, Andrew, the point about armoring Humvees might be a good one. SAPI armor is ceramic, and not your garden-variety flowerpot material.

It's not really clear what "enhanced SAPI" actually is; Google returns are few and unsatisfying (mostly, the NY Times articles and weblogs that reference it), so I'm guessing that it's both new and ill-defined. There's at least one reference out there that refers to it as a work that's still in R&D.

As for the IP issue...well, I'd better not say much about that. My impression is that the DoD is pushing industry into developing technology on their own dollars, so any IP developed on private industry dollars belongs to the company that developed it. I could be completely wrong about this, but I'm on a major program that was developed in this way.

and the company refused to sell them

I rather doubt this. I'm thinking it was more like and the company refused to sell them for the amount offered.

hilzoy, yes. Any form of property -- real, intellectual or otherwise -- can be seized thru eminent domain.

any relationship between the revolving door for DOD/mil contractors on the one hand, and DOD's failure to own the IP which would allow 3rd parties to provide surge capacity (in lieu of providing windfall profits to the IP owner) is, of course, purely speculative.

BTW, I apparently imagined that I commented on this earlier. But to repeat my imaginary comment:

I agree completely that this is a problem, and would like to mention that this is exactly the type of thing I am glad to see a good opposition party raise. I know I am constantly whining that we are rehashing the invasion decision instead of moving forward into what should be done. In a small way, this is exactly the kind of discussion we need to be having all the time.

Conservatives--we should not resist this kind of discussion. Embrace it. Make things better. Make things work. That is the American way.

For those interested in SAPI and current US Mil body armor, I recommend looking over the apropriate NSC Fact Sheets at the US Army Soldier Systems Center online. There are others listed at the PEO Soldier website.

WRT the link that Slarti provided about the body armor defeating the sniper attack, the sniper rifle in the picture is a Dragunov SVD. Current SAPI handles it just fine, so I'm not sure what sort of new firepower they are running into that requires the upgraded armor, unless it's Soviet made machine guns firing lots of the same sort of ammo used in the Dragunov. I know they are in the process of adding new coverage areas to some of the vests, but the articles make it sound like it's the actual SAPI that is being upgraded.

I assume that the kind of IP imminent domain program I suggest would be handled in a way that kept primary manufacturing responsibility in the hands of the company or individual who created the IP in the first place, with expansion of capability only taking place when the originator's production capability is saturated. In addition, the price paid to the originator of the IP would have to be generous in order to encourage continued innovation.

As to the fact that the materials are not garden-variety (at least in some cases) - that's not necessarily a killer problem. It does mean that some items can't be handled in the way I propose, but I suspect that the number of companies capable of adapting to production of unusual ceramics, for example, is not vanishingly small.

There is also the matter of domestic counterterrorism surge needs, such as Cipro for anthrax and potentially vaccines against other biological agents. It's certainly worthwhile to pay modest sums to drug manufacturers in order to ensure that they maintain some production lines capable of being switched over to production of anti-CBW agents.

Only one company today makes armored Humvees—O’Gara-Hess, a division of Armor Holdings Inc. The firm also owns the design patent for the armor. “This is because the Army chose not to purchase the design of the up-armored Humvee when it initially ordered them in 1994, since the Army did not foresee ordering a large quantity in a short period of time,” says O’Reilly.

“Once the Army determined last year that we needed to surge our procurement of up-armored Humvees, we requested that O’Gara-Hess quote us the price of the technical data package,” explains O’Reilly. “However, O’Gara-Hess replied to our request by stating they would not sell us the TDP. They never gave us a price.”

The Army consequently faced three choices. It could opt to continue to buy the armored Humvee from O’Gara-Hess. It could “reverse engineer” the design, which would take several months. Or it could embark on a new design, which would have taken even more time to develop, test and produce, says O’Reilly.

Ah. Well, that's certainly their right, isn't it?

Sure, it's not like there's a war on, or anything.

Are you disagreeing with me? It's hard to tell.

I'm not sure either, though I don't think that I suggested that it wasn't a companies right to control their IP rights. If I restated it that it is the right of American companies to refuse to help in preventing US casualties, I might, but I wouldn't take what you said as indicating that.

Ok, then.

I think there's too much unknown to determine whether these guys are simply being obstinate, greedy bastards, or if they're doing something like declining to engage in a lengthy, probably dead-end proposal effort to determine a price, the end product of which would be putting any business advantage they might have developed into the hands of the government. You just never know until you spend a little effort toward getting the whole story.

Odd followup to this whole story here:

Colonel Thomas Spoehr is annoyed with New York Times reporter Michael Moss, for what I think is a good reason.

Spoehr is the director of materiel for the Army staff. He had a good news story to tell Moss, which Moss converted into a bad news story.

Read the whole thing. Of course, via Instapundit.

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