Electronic Weapons: May 29, 2005

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Military bureaucrats are slowing down upgrades for electronic jammers that save American soldiers lives every day. Last Summer, the U.S. Army began using new jammers to interfere with the radio signals that control many roadside bombs in Iraq. The terrorists use a number of wireless devices (cell phones, garage door openers, radio control toys) to set off the bombs, and there are a wide variety of frequencies to be jammed. Last fall, the manufacturer (TMC Design) of the jammer (called Warlock) was told that the terrorists had come up with some devices using frequencies that were not being jammed. The Warlock was quickly updated. Technically, its not difficult to modify the Warlock to jam more frequencies. In February, American troops noted that the terrorists had again figured out which frequencies the Warlocks could, and could not, jam, and were again using frequencies the Warlock could not handle. Again, the army asked the manufacturer to add more frequencies for the Warlock to jam. This time, the upgrade was delayed several months as army procurement bureaucrats fussed with additional regulations and procedures. The bureaucrats were more concerned with keeping their paperwork in order than in saving the lives of American troops. Changing the Warlocks is not rocket science, and the manufacturer can work out how to do it in days, or weeks at most. But it takes the army bureaucracy months to sign off on it. This is common enough in peace time, but youd think a sense of urgency would prevail in wartime. 

Warlock was originally developed outside the army procurement bureaucracy,  using the Rapid Fielding Initiative program. This is a procedure designed to get needed gear to the troops as rapidly as possible, bypassing the procurement bureaucracy. But once the procurement bureaucracy gets involved, other priorities take over. In this case, the bureaucrats will insist that the delays did not endanger many Americans, as not that many terrorists knew about the new terrorists, and that the exacting, and time consuming procurement procedures are mandated by Congress and so it's not our fault. That's the appeal of bureaucracy, no one is at fault. But it doesn't help the troops. This sort of thing has happened before, during wartime, and will happen again. Don't think it will ever go away.

 


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