2009/01/27

Spin on military procurement

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Lies and misleading information about procurement projects should be a criminal offense if done by officials. Such actions are misleading the taxpayers - the sovereign - about projects with significant fiscal relevance.

It's like lying about private investment opportunities - it's fraud.

I've got a very recent reason for this blog post; my patience with such practices was strained beyond its limits when I read an outright lie about FCS armor. My taxes are not involved in FCS, but the general problem is international - it's even universal. The underlying economic problem is the principal - agent problem.

This is the article that made me furious:

These included early versions of the FCS armor that were bolted on to an aluminum inner hull, a fact that Col. Gregory Martin, chief of the Army’s J-8 director’s initiative group, told us was “revolutionary” because it would allow armor to be swapped on vehicles as the armor is improved instead of the current state of the art which only allows so-called applique armor to be put on top of the existing stuff.

That's misleading at best (if looked at very well-meaningly).
I call it a plain and direct lie.

The very same layout was already used in the Vickers/FMC VFM 5 tank and shown to the public in 1985. Other examples of AFVs which have a basic armor with structural tasks and non-structural appliqué armor for most of the protection include XM8 AGS, Merkava IV, Boxer/GTK and Stryker.
The technique was innovative (maybe "revolutionary") a quarter-century ago. It would be a shame if it was still "revolutionary" in the USA today, despite the huge budgets involved.

I call that an attempt to lie at journalists to get better press for the FCS project - and in turn to secure the taxpayer's money for the FCS project.
(It's also a typical anecdote for the belief of many Americans that they're more innovative than they really are.)

The blog post at Defensetech hints unintentionally at another problem; specialised journalists are not entirely independent of the companies/agencies in their field of expertise. The chance that a very critical journalist who exposes all know flaws relentlessly gets an invite to a tour like that is dim.
I guess it's not a typical German problem that automotive journalists don't expose defects of domestic car designs (unless obvious) before general, investigative journalists do so.

This is a problem in the context of military procurement because we have a huge lobby and sometimes also a good public relations effort FOR projects, but rarely any organized resistance to projects outside of low-credibility peace activists.
Public accounting offices like the GAO and Bundesrechnungshof an few well-informed NGOs are no satisfactory solution in my opinion: We need more counterweight to the pro-project camp.

It might be possible to fix the unfair asymmetry of pro/contra military project propaganda by the implementation of many small improvements. Both a reduction of the pro propaganda (no lies, no misleading info, less motivation to spill out such propaganda) would help just like better-informed, more interested and more organized taxpayers would help.

Sven Ortmann

9 comments:

  1. "It's also a typical anecdote for the belief of many Americans that they're more innovative than they really are."


    Us US Americans are as innovative as we need to be, to keep a step ahead of anyone else. I don't know who is in second place, but they aren't even close, and falling further behind all the time.

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  2. Sure - that's why the whole world wants to buy your industrial products.

    Oh, wait. It's the other way around.

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  3. Yes, including C-17s. Like this guy said: http://defense-and-freedom.blogspot.com/2009/01/airbus-a400m-another-project-in-trouble.html

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  4. Learn to read - and keep in mind that you're not allowed to invent a new meaning for what others have already written with a meaning.

    By the way; total C-17 export sales: 14 (or 16 if you count U.S.-influenced NATO as a true export customer).
    14 export sales with a monopoly situation.
    That was a really poor example - especially since it wasn't an innovative aircraft at all.


    By the way; further anonymous comments will be deleted. There's a text over the comment box for a reason.

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  5. Maybe it's a monopoly because of European engineering and design screwups? Like you said.

    Tell us, how is the European satnav system coming along? I think it was called Galileo or something, a European designed system to reduce or eliminate American engineering hegemony in an admittedly minor area. A minor technology used by every airplane and ship in the world, a technology found on millions of car dashboards and in hiker's pockets around the world.

    On behalf of the American taxpayer, you're welcome.

    Delete whatever you wish, this is your reality.

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  6. Anecdotes change the general picture albeit they might entertain. Look at the U.S.'s trade statistics.

    The initial remark in the post had a different meaning, though.
    It was about innovations. And it was no statement relative to other countries, but a statement that described a claims/reality mismatch within the USA.

    It's a common occurrence that U.S. companies or military claim to introduce the "world's first" something even though they're merely introducing a concept/technology that was in use elsewhere since up to thirty years.
    It's probably a mix of patriotism, ignorance and PR work.

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  7. Nobel Prizes in Science 1951 to 2000:

    United States: Chemistry:40 (46%) Physics:64 (59%) Medicine:67 (59%) Total:171 (55%)

    Germany: Chemistry:10 (11%) Physics:11 (10%) Medicine:9 (8%) Total:30 (10%)

    Add in the accomplishments of the EU French, the EU English, the EU Swedes and the EU Danes, and the total still isn't even close.

    While it's true the Nobels are awarded for work possibly done many years earlier, they are not awarded to people for inventing old technology. The "patriotism, ignorance and PR work" of the education system behind the technologies of the US Americans produces concrete results, while the education system supporting the technologies of the EU Germans produces pseudo economists who use phony numbers to make foolish comparisons.

    Rah Rah!

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  8. 1)
    The line was NOT about innovation relative to other nations, but about a mismatch of claims and reality.
    I already explained in addition to the original line.
    2)
    Invention is not innovation. Academic theory isn't even close to innovation.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Innovation

    By the way; count your economics science Nobel prize winners and look at the state of your economy. Nobel prizes mean very little.
    It's not 1930's any more. Individual researchers and small research teams aren't the mainstay of progress, modern science works differently.


    The name is OK, but stick to it, please.

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  9. Economics a science? Very funny.

    Don't be in such a rush to discredit Nobel Prize winners or your educational system. If EU Germans had won more Nobels than US Americans, I'm sure you would point that out.
    Your educational system isn't that bad, as long as you know what career you want for the rest of your life by the time you are a teenager, and get channelled into the correct school. If you don't, you're out of luck.

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