With the latest delays, it now seems likely the Joint Strike Fighter program will take 21 years from concept to combat-readiness. And that’s all-too-typical for a major U.S. weapon program; the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft and the F-22 stealth jet took just as long. These decades-long developments aren’t just a waste of time, effort, and cash. They can be self-defeating. “When systems finally reach the users, the world has changed around them,” Bill Sweetman warns at Ares. If the military isn’t careful, it could pour hundreds of billions of dollars into weapons that are obsolete the day they enter service.
It’s for that reason that a small cadre of Air Force officers, including Lt. Col. Dan War, advocated a new, “fast, inexpensive, simple and tiny” approach to buying weapons, aiming to reduce 20-year development cycles to just three years by using mostly off-the-shelf components. The “FIST” concept saw its first big success with the MC-12W spy plane, which went from blueprint to combat in just 13 months.
Now the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency wants to do the same for Army ground vehicles. Darpa’s Adaptive Vehicle Make initiative means to replace old-school, metal-bending prototyping with new, speedy computer modeling taking a fraction of the time. “We look forward to tackling some very challenging fundamental problems that, once solved, offer the potential to truly revolutionize the way we make products in the defense industry and beyond,” AVM manager Paul Eremenko said.