Readers Sound Off on Recent Stories

MRAP Under Fire

I am writing you to express disappointment with the recent article titled, “The MRAP: Was It Worth the Price?” (Oct. 2012, p.39).

As a former member of the special operations community, I can personally attest to the lifesaving value of the mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicle.

The only valid point of the article is that the Defense Department overestimated the number of lives saved by counting every survived soldier in an IED (improvised explosive device) attack as a saved life. That said, the article constantly compares the price and value of an MRAP to the Humvee. To say that the Humvee would have been purchased and used had the MRAP not existed is a ridiculous notion. There are several other medium to heavy options which would certainly have been fielded before the Humvee. The Rolhfs and Sullivan findings, often referred to in this article, call this vehicle a medium protection vehicle. The Humvee has always been a light armored vehicle.

The article states that Humvees would have been just as effective in preventing loss of human life. This claim is completely unsupported both in the article and by any reports coming from Iraq and Afghanistan.

I would ask how you could allow these armchair academics to make such outsider, unsupported claims? As someone who has seen the effects of roadside bombs on Humvees, I can attest to how truly unprotected our service members are while occupying those vehicles. I recently had a family member return from Afghanistan thanks completely to the lifesaving value of the MRAP. His vehicle hit a 500-pound IED causing the MRAP to roll several times. All members of that vehicle were operational within a week. If that had been a Humvee I can assure you all personnel would most likely have been killed in action.

Apart from the sentimental appreciation I have for the MRAP program and efforts of former Defense Secretary Robert Gates to meet the most direct threat to U.S. personnel, I am at a loss as to the amateurish budget scrutiny from uninformed sources that goes unchallenged in your publication.

Brendan McCarthy
Dumfries, VA

Acquisition Reform

I just couldn’t ignore an issue with Nathaniel Sledge’s “Pentagon Procurement Reforms Face Slim Chance of Success,” (Sept. 2012, p.16). I agree with his basic premise that improvements around the margins of the defense acquisition process will never compensate for an in-grown, entitled and broken procurement process.

But I disagree with the graph showing that Pentagon acquisition is out of control. It shows total acquisition costs from 2008 through 2011 with no data for 2009. After 2008, one year is lower and one year is higher — hardly a trend.

In fact, according to this graph, over the four years shown, there is only a 3.1 percent increase in total acquisitions — less than 1 percent per year and less than the rate of inflation. Hardly out of control.

I’m pretty sure that the Pentagon did not acquire over $1.5 trillion per year over that four year period when the 2011 federal budget was only $3.6 trillion, especially considering that the entire defense budget was only around $700 billion. In short, the graph uses “funny” numbers, and is deceptively presented.

Dave Clark
Los Lunas, NM

Acquisition Reform

In Nathaniel H. Sledge Jr.’s article, “Pentagon Procurement Reforms Face Slim Chance of Success,” the author makes a good point, but it is not the only issue with defense procurement. I see two major issues: All proposal estimates are too low, and Defense Department procurement offices do not have staff experienced in manufacturing or estimating.

In my almost four decades in the defense-aerospace industry, I have participated in more than 700 proposals. I have been a reviewer, writer, estimator and manager.

As a proposal writer and estimator, I have developed cost-estimating models. In the spacecraft industry for some disciplines, my estimates are within 3 percent of the actual costs. As a cost estimator, I developed accurate estimates. In many cases, my manager or director would reduce my estimates by 10 to 15 percent and send the cost estimate up the management chain. At the top of the chain, an executive would cut most of the bid cost by another 10 to 15 percent after removing the contingency estimates that the proposed program manager would put in (usually only the program manager was permitted to include any contingency). 

So even good estimates could be reduced by as much as 32 to 33 percent. Even if everything in the design, development and production processes went as planned, the cost overrun could be roughly 50 percent. I have included the reductions that often occur during contract negotiations. Executives bid a cost that they believe will win the contract. The mindset of executives and the burdensome government bidding process almost guarantees massive cost overruns.

I worked in an Army program office and had to run the contractor’s engineering change proposal cost information through the engineering staff who used a complicated design, development and manufacturing cost model. Only the manufacturer had any idea of the hours to complete any of the tasks in the model. My engineers had never been on a manufacturing floor and most had never even worked on a prototype design of simple mechanical items.

The cost model made no sense; I worked in configuration management for manufacturers for about eight years and was involved in the design and development of the end items and was on the shop floor often working on configuration issues during production.  I had a fair idea of what the design, development and manufacturing processes were and what skill types/levels might be appropriate. However, the contractor’s cost estimates were being questioned by engineers who had no clue what the estimates meant because they were acquisition engineers.

Not every manufacturer cuts the estimates of the senior engineering and manufacturing staff, just as not every government acquisition engineer is devoid of any design, development and manufacturing experience.

Dr. Michael E. Harris, CPL, CCM

Energy Security

In reference to the Nov. 2012 article by Michael Frodl and John Manoyan, “Energy Security Starts With Hardening Power Grids,” (p. 16), improving our nation’s infrastructure is an important national security, economic development and quality of life opportunity.

Underground power lines would provide an important improvement. Also consider the use of our underground natural gas lines and our plentiful natural gas supply.

Thousands of people impacted by Hurricane Sandy had natural gas while they were without electricity and standing in lines for gasoline. Natural-gas-powered vehicles are available. There are 15 million of them operating in the world today although there are less than 200,000 in the United States.

In addition to supplying vehicles, some car companies are commercializing systems to address home energy needs. Volkswagen is selling natural gas power stations that heat the home and water while generating electricity. Other companies are enabling car owners to fill up for their daily commute over night. GE, Whirlpool and Eaton are developing affordable home natural gas fueling units for cars, which should be available in the near future.

The authors properly framed the energy security issue to include U.S. homes rather than limiting it to barrels of oil. Our natural gas supply, the existing network of underground gas transmission lines and the technology to use that natural gas for a wide range of industrial, home and transportation uses is too large of an opportunity not to include in the energy security discussion.

Edward Gies
Novi, MI

Marine Corps
In reference to the Oct. 2012 articles, “Marines Counting on Robots to Keep Them Out of Harm’s Way” (p. 29) and “Frugality, Careful Timing Drive Marines’ Modernization Plan” (p. 40), from the squad, all the way through to the amphibious Force, the Marine Corps’ modernization strategy is ill-conceived, a wasteful plan leading to certain failure.

With the robotic Ground Unmanned Soldier Surrogate, everyone forgot that light infantry goes places where motorized equipment cannot. Some might suggest alternate routes, but meandering independently toward a rendezvous with all the equipment and no driver?

What happens when it meets an obstacle, breaks down or is seized by indigenous scavengers, never mind enemy forces?

Consider its vaunted multi-mission capability: Carry squad gear and evacuate casualties. Okay, so there is a casualty: Dump all the gear and then load the casualty onto the vehicle and send it on its robotic way?

Having finally recognized that infantry is overloaded, skip all this gee-whiz and costly robotic development nonsense. Having determined that commercial-off-the-shelf utility vehicles are suitable as tactical cargo vehicles, just buy them and issue them to troops now. At current costs, you can even discard them after the operation rather than evacuate and repair them.

Now consider the amphibious force modernization plan.  First the parts:
Of the 1,000 40-year-old Assault Amphibious Vehicles, less than 400 will be reset  — upgraded armor, blast-mitigating seats, beefed up suspension — from 2015 to 2017. The remaining 600 will be in service in their current configuration until replaced by the Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV) starting perhaps in 2030. So anyone joining up today can expect to serve until retiring and yet never see these vehicles “modernized.”

The ACV, expected to enter service in 2030, is yet another iteration of the canceled Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. Just like that program, the ACV is an amphibious landship; a fast amphibian transporter that is also an armored fighting vehicle. 

Being designed for both roles, it will do neither well. In fact, among the six alternatives being studied, one is actually the “reset” AAV.

Having not yet reached a decision on what’s adequate and effective or even needed, why proceed with a repeat of a failed proposal?  Although about 1,100 EFV/ACVs/AAVs are required, only 600 ACVs will be procured and so the 400 reset AAVs will remain in service until replaced by the MPC sometime later still, perhaps 2040. 

This follow-on Marine Personnel Carrier (MPC) is envisioned as an 8-wheeled amphibious armored vehicle for transporting troops once ashore. It will replace the last AAVs and operate alongside the ACVs. The MPC is not scheduled for production and deployment until later when the ACV is winding down, well past 2030, yet it is already claimed to be “in development” with the intent of getting something off the shelf. This is nonsense. Are we putting today’s designed equipment on a 20 year lay-away plan or are we nudging industry to develop a particular design and praying that it will then be miraculously available off the shelf? We’ve all heard that hope is not a strategy but this plan makes wishful thinking appear to be downright audacious.

The combat developers are not once but twice repeating the fatal flaw of the EFV program. Still committed to amphibious landships, now they want both, tracked and wheeled versions.  Just like the EFV, the ACV and MPC will be technically challenging, unaffordable and operationally unsuitable.

Here’s the obvious disconnect. If you accept the threat-based assumption that the Navy ships have to stay far off shore, amphibious assault vehicles must be fast and seaworthy to survive the long trip in rough, open water. Those very characteristics, bulk and weight, are anathema to armored fighting vehicles operating inland. Mechanized forces need compact fighting vehicles.

Think LAV-25, Stryker, M113, Bradley, Abrams and Paladin.

The assault from the sea must seize the beachhead. That is the role of the AAV. Just forget about the MPC altogether.

Second, a balanced mechanized force is needed to conduct operations deep inland. That requires tanks, fighting vehicles, artillery, and all their accompanying logistics, not just armored amphibian personnel carriers.  

Third, that mechanized combat force must be delivered ashore. That requires the Navy, whether by shallow draft landing ships or docks, or small and medium landing craft, or lighters and connectors, heavy lift helicopters, whatever.

Instead of going inland, the AAVs need to return to the ships and prepare for the next assault landing. They have no business maneuvering deep inland where existing armored fighting vehicles are far more effective.

If combat developers could only grasp this, they would be transforming those 12 Marine battalions into combined arms battalions and brigades, forming an unmatched sea-projected mechanized deep-attack force with global reach. 

Chester A. Kojro
Rolla, MO

Topics: Combat Vehicles, Defense Department, Procurement, Acquisition Reform, Land Forces, Land Forces

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