by DAVID AXE
“Crowdsourcing” means soliciting the general public to contribute ideas or materials to a project. Typically rooted on the Internet — as this is the most public forum anyone has — crowdsourcing helps match up supply and demand better than most methods. Take War Is Boring. Our funding and equipment is largely crowdsourced. We make a simple, public appeal: we need a camera, for example, or we just need cash. Anyone can contribute. And they usually do. Our crowdsourcing efforts have never failed.
Now one Air Force reformer wants to crowd-source small weapons design. Lieutenant Colonel Dan Ward, an advocate for what he calls “FISTy” weapons procurement — that’s “Fast, Inexpensive, Simple and Tiny” — says program managers should solicit ideas from a much larger pool of contributors, if not the general public. It’s all codified in Ward’s new newsletter, “The Innovator.”
What’s more, Air Force program managers should also release small techs into the public domain under the Creative Commons License, so that the public can better respond to crowdsourcing pleas. Finally, managers should also consider setting up “micro-factories” — in essence, garage-style workshops where small teams, widely distributed across the country, can work simultaneously to produce weapons based on crowdsourced designs buttressed by government technology released under Creative Commons.
“While this approach is unlikely to produce an advanced stealth fighter,” Ward writes, “it just might lead to a break-through UAV … which might be exactly what the war-fighter needs.”
Fundamentally, what Ward wants is to break the current big-business monopoly on weapons design. Just a handful of companies make the majority of our major weapons. That has resulted in steadily rising costs, ever-poorer performance and a calcifying creative culture that, together, might doom American technological superiority. To save our Air Force from its own industry, Ward says, we have to think “small” and “open.”