by DAVID AXE
Cost overruns and program delays are pretty much the rule these days in Pentagon weapons buys. Just last week, the military admitted that the $300-billion F-35 stealth fighter program would require an extra year of development. Air Force reformer Major Dan Ward has called for the air service to take a “fast, inexpensive, simple and tiny” approach to buying many weapons. “FIST” quickly procures small batches of simple weapons specifically tailored for particular missions, rather than “gold-plated,” multi-mission gear like the F-35.
FIST is controversial, especially within the defense industry, which depends on long-running development contracts for its profits. Others question whether FIST would even work on a broad basis. In an article for Defense AT&L, Ward recalls when NASA tried a “FISTy” approach to space missions.
“In 1992, NASA administrator Daniel Goldin began the agency’s “Faster, Better, Cheaper” initiative,” Ward writes. “Over the next eight years, 16 missions were launched under the FBC banner, including the remarkable Mars Pathfinder mission. Today, however, many people look back at FBC with disparaging chuckles and wry remarks.”
Why? Because “in 1999, four out of five FBC missions crashed and burned (sometimes literally). NASA ended up with a total of six failures out of 16 FBC missions — a success rate that was deemed unacceptably low.”
Despite this, FBC worked for NASA, just as FIST could work for the Air Force, Ward argues. “A closer examination of NASA’s FBC missions reveals an admirable record of success, along with helpful and illuminating lessons for anyone involved in developing and fielding high-tech systems. Far from an embarrassing failure … the FBC initiative actually improved cost, schedule and performance all at once.”
Notable successes include the asteroid-chasing Rendezvous program in 1996 and the 1997 Pathfinder mission to Mars, which Ward insists outweigh the failures in 1999. “Success-per-dollar is a more meaningful measurement of achievement than success-per-attempt,” Ward posits.
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The Emerging U.S. Counter-Insurgency Air Force
U.S. Air Force’s Failure of Imagination
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The Day U.S. Air Power Was Saved from Itself
F-22s versus Russia’s Rusting, Ramshackle Air Force
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Boeing Unveils New “Stealthy” F-15
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