Readers Sound Off on Recent Stories

Measuring Contractor Performance

■ This is in response to the article, “Contractors on the Battlefield,” March 2011. Having been a contractor in Operation Enduring Freedom and throughout the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, I witnessed the relationship between military and contractors first hand.  
One of the circumstances not addressed is the systemic rotation of military units and military personnel into and out of an area. We contractors taught air command and control through the use of the Theater Battle Management Core System (TBMCS). Our task involved teaching deployed individuals and units how to report unit and airfield status. We were accompanied by an armed active-duty Air Force officer in the combat zone who was there to provide transportation between facilities and units among other things. Units arriving in theater had little training in TBMCS. 

Thus, the reporting and currency of a broad range of information to the Air and Space Operations Center essential to the effective employment of airpower across the theater was abysmal. From a training perspective, we were constantly starting at zero. At the end our “line period,” reporting up the chain of command was adequate. A few weeks later it was back to zero.

Most contracts deliver a definable outcome which is relatively easy to measure. The contractor performs or does not perform. However, there are Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity contracts, vital to the readiness of troops in the field, which are much more difficult to quantify. Such was my circumstance for which there was no simple solution to the problem of status and readiness reporting.

Sometimes contracts fail simply because the fix is systemic to the uniformed military and not always solvable by contractors. Occasionally, these things are not well understood by either party at the contract inception. Our contractor after-action report proposed a systemic fix addressing the larger issue of tactical readiness reporting in the field. It went well beyond the training task order executed down range. We were invited back to the theater, but the staff changed over and priorities were realigned. Thus, the problem remains.

Tom Brannon
Sent by email

Acquisition Failures

■ In reference to several articles in the April 2011 issue of National Defense (“Contractors Advised to Focus Less On Stock Prices, More on Customers,” “Gates: My Words Have Been Distorted,” “Challenges Remain as JLTV Competition Heats Up” and “Ghost of Comanche Haunts Army Helicopter Leaders as They Push for New Models.”), the endless confusion only continues amidst military acquisition because it starts at the top.

Sandra Erwin passes on some odd advice for contractors to focus less on stock prices and more on customers, but she fails to recognize the hopeless befuddlement of the customer, the Department of Defense. She writes that the mantra of Defense Acquisition Chief Ashton Carter is to do “more without more.” Oh yes, that’s such an improvement over the old banal, “Do more with less.” Yes, a veritable sea change. Then she adds: “The other big problem that Defense wants solved has to do with innovation.” Got that, industry? You should provide an innovative solution to a customer who cannot even articulate a problem, never mind a desired solution.

Where does this nonsense start?  Well, on page 8, Defense Secretary Robert Gates laments that his public statements are distorted and misunderstood. Well, gee, perhaps he should have spoken plainly and clearly. The responsibility for communication is always from higher to lower.

So how confused are things at the joint level? Well, according to the story by Eric Beidel, the Army and Marines are still trying to build a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle even though both have distinctly different requirements. The Army wants to buy 50,000 and is already cutting back requirements in order to satisfy a desired weight of 15,629 pounds, light enough for it to be air lifted by a CH-47 Chinook helicopter. Meanwhile, the Marines are concerned that even this ever-shrinking and limited capability vehicle will be too heavy and too costly for the specific needs of their desired fleet of 5,500 light trucks.

I have a suggestion. Let the two services separately develop what they each need and end this “joint” nonsense. Otherwise we will be reading about this failing program for another decade or two.

As Stew Magnuson illustrates on page 32, the Comanche was finally canceled after 22 years. However, I must take issue with the comment, “It took eight years just to name the Comanche.” That makes it sound like just some petty bureaucratic glitch and glosses over the program’s utter leadership failure. For the first eight years, the Army could not even decide on the role of the aircraft that it was already contracting to design, build and test. Not only was there confusion about mission (recon, attack, command and control, some of the above, all of the above), but the Army had not even decided if it would be a single-seat or two-seat aircraft.
This inanity continues today. Magnuson reports that since canceling the Comanche in 2004, the OH-58D Kiowa remains with no replacement in sight while the Army is still studying what it wants in a reconnaissance helicopter. We should at least know what part of the requirement is feasible and that should be the new “requirement” for the replacement aircraft. But that sort of a reasoned decision would require a decision maker and we know that those are rarer than hen’s teeth in this business.

Finally, the beginning of Magnuson’s article quotes Brig. Gen. Anthony Crutchfield, Army Aviation Commanding General: “I don’t want my grandchildren to be flying the UH-60 Zulu model.” To that concern, I have good news: They will not be flying the “Zulu” model. The bad news: They will likely still be flying the current model.

Chester A. Kojro
Rolla, MO

Army Aviation: Get it Right

■ In reference to the April 2011 article, “Army Slow To Adapt Fly-by-Wire,” the story was 90 percent facts and 45 percent truth. I will not waste time refuting all of the false assumptions and conclusions, but here are some of the more significant discrepancies:

• The Army is not slow to adapt to fly by wire. Fly by wire was part of the development of the AH-64A Apache over 30 years ago.

• Don’t compare fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft control systems and their requirements. The threat, mission profile, and air speeds are completely different. Helicopters fly low level at low air speeds and are exposed to a greater range of threats and hazards to include small arms fire. Redundancy in all helicopter subsystems are essential for aircraft and aircrew survivability, which all modernized helicopters have. Besides, instead of ejecting from a catastrophic failure or from battle damage, the crew stays with aircraft to the ground.

• All Army helicopters have some form of computerized flight control stabilization system. The loss of true mechanical feedback was lost with the transitioned from legacy helicopters to the current inventory.

While I do support the fly by wire on the UH-60 as a part of the primary or back up redundancy system, this article proposes the wrong argument for the implementation of fly by wire for the Sikorsky UH-60.   
Sam Hamontree
Sent by email

Innovation Dilemmas

■ Several National Defense articles in recent months have expounded the same message: The Army cannot formulate what it needs, but it wants “good, fast and cheap.” Interestingly, everyone appears to agree that the answer is innovation. 

The challenges are complex and fortified by experience-based skepticism, customers who cannot or are not willing to formulate specific needs because they are afraid it will squelch the innovation. Contradictory requirements are everywhere.

The next question one should be asking is what kind of innovation is required to formulate needs and how innovation should be applied to deliver new levels of capability to the war fighter. It is innovation that is based on having a deep understanding of how a system evolves over decades and gradually becomes better but depletes the technological resources required to continue the system’s evolution.

Today’s structured approaches to innovation can enable the recognition and visualization of the next emerging steps of a system’s evolution. Does this mean that we can see into the future?  Yes, but not through a collection of technology predictions but through well-defined, analytical innovation processes. To some, this is an oxymoron but it is structured analysis of a system’s evolution to identify the next set of problems and solve them before they are needed. It is the opposite of waiting for the end of a system’s life or going to battle with the technology used in the last war.

Not only do the required innovation processes exist but they have been used to satisfy military needs for over a decade. Quieter helicopters, lighter combat vehicles, jet engines, future propulsion systems, power and energy applications, lasers and hypersonic weapons have all been touched by structured approaches to innovation, but the innovation lies hidden within the delivered technologies. Making innovation visible, executable and manageable is not something that should happen in the future; it should be happening now.  

Dana Clarke and Peter Ulan
Applied Innovation Alliance

Rodents and IEDs

■ Regarding Eric Beidel’s Defense Technology Newswire segment (May 2011, p. 18) entitled “Will African Rodents Joint the Hunt for IEDs?” the article asserted that canines are not looked upon favorably in Muslim culture. We need a more nuanced understanding of the Islamic view on dogs. Since Islam has 1.5 billion adherents, there is not a general agreement on the issue of aversion towards dogs.

The majority of the schools of Islam both Shia and Sunni view dogs as ritually unclean, however the Maliki School, one of four schools of Sunni Islam, disagrees with this view.
Islamic tradition also holds that angels do not enter the home in which dogs are kept inside.

On the other hand, Islamic tradition also generally approves of the use of dogs for work, such as guard and hunting dogs. In the 21st century one could extrapolate finding IEDs as part of that Islamic rationale.

Of note, there was a pre-Islamic form of mythology in which black dogs specifically were considered evil or manifestations of Satan, some pre-Islamic tribal customs have embedded itself into Islamic tradition.

Finally, the Prophet Muhammad praised the action of a female who provided drinking water from a well to a dog, and in 630 AD, Muhammad had sentries posted to protect a female dog who had given birth to newborn puppies. The sentries were to prevent his army from disturbing the litter.

Part of protecting U.S. combat forces is having an immersion into diverse Islamic narratives and the nuances between Islam, tribalized Islam, Islamist political narratives, as well as militant or violent Islamist propaganda.
Youssef Aboul-Enein
North Potomac, MD

Topics: Aviation, Defense Department

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