Procurement: December 16, 2003

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The army and the marines are paying close attention to what SOCOM has been doing with their large unrestricted budget for buying needed stuff. In effect, SOCOM is acting as a testing operation for new weapons and equipment. For example, after over a decade of resisting, the army is now looking to buy the Carl Gustav portable rocket launcher (sort of a higher capability RPG-7, which SOCOM has been using since 1990, and with great success in Iraq). SOCOM is usually the first to buy commercial gear that has military applications. This includes communications and optical gear. While it normally takes the army years to evaluate such stuff, SOCOM will just buy some and take it off on a training exercise, or an actual operation. Much of the essential equipment used in Afghanistan was that kind of gear. The Special Forces were out there with laptop computers, binoculars with built in laser rangefinder and new GPS gear. SOCOM also buys the latest outdoors clothing and boots. Because of the quick spread of information via the Internet, soldiers and marines are finding out about these SOCOM moves earlier, and spreading the word more quickly. The troops often buy some of this stuff with their own money, and their email or message board user reports either encourages more buys, or shoots down a new item. Procurement decisions, as a result, are moving a lot more quickly. The army brass don't like to see stories of troops buying more effective gear with their own money, and lean on the procurement people to check out the latest fads and adopt the ones that really are superior to the current government issue. Another trend that is driving this is the much faster speed at which new technologies are developed and put into use. Half a century ago, it took 5-10 times longer to develop new technologies for production and sale. This is why SOCOM was buying the most modern commercial communications and optical gear. This stuff was not only better than available military gear, but had life saving capabilities. The military simply cannot keep up with a lot of this civilian R&D. It's not for want of trying. In 1985, 25 percent of U.S. military procurement was spent on research and development. By 1998, R&D was getting 85 percent. That is now coming down as the military just forgets about competing with civilian products, and buys the civilian stuff and paints it green. As a result of all this, soldiers and marines are much better equipped than they were ten, and especially twenty, years ago.

 


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