Procurement: October 19, 2004

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In the next year, the U.S. Department of Defense will spend $144 billion developing and building new weapons. There are 77 major weapons projects being developed. If all were built, the cost would be $1,300 billion. These development projects currently consume 28 percent of the defense budget. 

Pay for the troops takes about 26 percent. The average compensation for enlisted troops is $40,000 a year, for officers its $79,000 a year. Cash is only two thirds of that, the rest is benefits like health care, housing, and food. Most of the benefits are tax free. 

One of the unnoticed transformations the military is going through is increasing emphasis on troop ingenuity, and the use of more off-the-shelf gear and low cost weapons. UAVs and the GPS guided smart bombs are prime examples of low cost, and highly effective weapons. All manner of goodies from camping and hunting gear suppliers, as well as gun shops, is being bought by the troops, adopted if useful, and forced on the Pentagon by enthusiastic users, to be adopted as official gear. These trends have not gone unnoticed at the top, and theres a lot of pressure on the proponents of big ticket items to justify the billions they are getting. This has already led to the cancellation of the Crusader self-propelled howitzer, and the Comanche combat helicopter. 

The air force and navy, which are highly dependent on very expensive aircraft and missiles for most of their combat power, have also got with the cheap and smart program. The very expensive new F-22 fighter may survive all this, but it number to be built keeps shrinking. The latest air force warplane, the F-35, is openly touted, by people in the air force, as the last manned warplane. The future is in UAVs, UAVs that can drop smart bombs, and launch missiles against aircraft and other UAVs. The navy is quicker to go with this than the air force because its hard getting enough people who can fly warplanes on and off aircraft carriers. UAVs would allow more aircraft on the carriers, and require fewer pilots. The navy is also learning, finally, from commercial ships, about how to automate things and keep the crew size small. The means fewer, and better trained and smarter, sailors. 

During the Cold War, there developed an attitude that military technology was somehow different, and thus more expensive, than civilian stuff. This was true, but not nearly as much as subsequent experience demonstrated. Civilians do a lot of the same stuff the troops do, including flying aircraft and manning ships. As the speed with which new technology was developed accelerated in the last few decades, the military found itself being left behind. The military procurement process was too slow, often producing obsolete gear for the troops. By the time a new item was ready for the troops, there was far better, and often cheaper, equivalents available in the civilian market. 

Even weapons development is feeling the pain, as weapons have electronic components that quickly get outclassed by new gear. The military is trying to adapt. The watchwords are fast, cheap and smart.

 


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