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Faster, Cheaper And Out Of Control
by James Dunnigan
September 7, 2013

The U.S. Department of Defense has been having a hard time getting its suppliers to accept common standards, especially an open systems approach, for weapons and equipment. The suppliers resist this because an open systems approach (which many customers for commercial equipment insist on) would reduce income from later additions and modifications to stuff the military already uses. These services are worth a lot of money. For example, some ten percent of the procurement budget is now taken up by modifications to existing weapons systems.

Military users know that the open systems approach is not only cheaper (often 50 percent or less) but are much faster to implement. In wartime, that speed of implementation saves lives. The army has managed to get some open systems implemented but that was helped by the fact that the troops were at war for the last decade and suppliers are reluctant to dig their heels in on this while people are getting shot at. The U.S. Navy, taking advantage if this, forced suppliers to apply open systems standards to three of the four UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) systems they have adopted in the last decade. The army and air force got a lot less cooperation. The navy now gets upgrades and modifications to its open systems UAVs quicker and cheaper than their army and air force counterparts, and people in the UAV community have noticed. Army procurement officials are now getting less resistance to requests for open systems designs because of this experience, but suppliers are still not enthusiastic about it.

The resistance isn’t something as obvious as “no, we won’t do it.” The defense suppliers have usually been in the business a long time and adopt a more subtle (and less open to litigation or media criticism) approach that invokes performance (the custom design is said to be more effective, but that is usually not the case) issues. But as the data piles up on the cost and times savings with open systems gear, the traditional scam is harder to pull off.


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