11 December 2008

Bureaucracy in a Time of War

Can We Save Our Military From Ourselves

One of the most infuriating paradoxes for our troops during our modern conflicts has been that, despite the United States being the most well-funded fighting force in the history of civilization, soldiers were forced to utilize makeshift "hillbilly armor" to help prevent attacks from a disorganized insurgency using Saddam's left-over junk. Rumsfeld famously quipped that "You have to to war with the Army you have" in response to these "out-of-line" soldiers while he advocated for billions of taxpayer loot towards the troubled Future Combat Systems. Sure, it's easy to blame the guy who eventually got fired 2 years ago, but a look at the slow acquisition of the MRAP (which is great at stopping IEDs) shows another culprit contributing to the military being under-resourced: bureaucracy. From McClatchy:
The IG's report says that the military knew years before the war that mines and homemade bombs, which the military calls "improvised explosive devices," would be a "threat . . . in low-intensity conflicts" and that "mine-resistant vehicles" were available.

"Yet the military did not develop requirements for, fund or acquire" safer vehicles, the report says. The military invaded Iraq in 2003 "without having taken available steps to acquire technology to mitigate the known mine and IED risk to soldiers and Marines."

Even after the war was under way, as the devices began taking a deadly toll and field commanders pressed for vehicles that were better protected from roadside bombs, the Pentagon was slow to act, the report says.
"Slow to act" is an understatement as it languished in the DC bureaucracy for two years. The problem with the monstrosity of these alphabet soup organizations is there is no accountability and no one gets blamed if something is fucked up. People have their guaranteed job security, politicians can advocate for military contracts from their home states, and all is well in the world (with the exception of the troops dying on the battlefield).

Lucky for us, SECDEF Gates has signaled that he is looking to shake things up to fix this beast. From LA Times:

The acquisition system at the Pentagon, particularly within the Air Force and Navy, has been mired in controversy. Ships have been delayed because of construction defects and other problems.

The Air Force has been embroiled in controversy and delays over several weapons competitions, including over its aerial tanker.

Morrell said Gates was not trying to remake the entire purchasing system.

"He wants to get acquisition and procurement back on track," Morrell said. "He is not looking to build a new railway, but he is determined to put them back on the rails."

The "buck stops here" approach is a refreshing attitude from the powers that be in Washington...too bad Gates is the exception.