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Hardware Hacking Businesses

Army of Davids Beats Pentagon Procurement 412

chris-chittleborough writes "The Wall Street Journal reports that 'a Marine officer in Iraq, a small network-design company in California, a nonprofit troop-support group, a blogger and other undeterrable folk designed a handheld insurgent-identification device, built it, shipped it and deployed it in [Iraq] in 30 days.' Compare this to the Automated Biometric Identification System, a multi-megabuck Pentagon project now 2 years old. With bureaucracy increasingly strangling innovation, will agile smaller businesses be able to accomplish what once required a sprawling government project?"
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Army of Davids Beats Pentagon Procurement

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  • Infantry proof (Score:5, Informative)

    by wiredog ( 43288 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @03:53PM (#17952702) Journal
    That's what we called it when I was in the Army in the mid-80's. The PRC-77 was the size of a briefcase, carried on your back, and fairly pricey. Cost far more than handheld walkie talkies that operated on the same freqs. But the PRC-77 was far more robust. When it's raining artillery, robust is what you want.
  • Nope (Score:3, Informative)

    by kurthr ( 30155 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @04:02PM (#17952860)
    "will agile smaller businesses be able to accomplish what once required a sprawling government project?"

    No, because they don't have the political power to actually get large contracts. Their larger competitors will use their influence on legislators to get "written in" to large budget bills. Can you say, "No bid contract"? Their less scrupulous competitors will bribe legislators or military procurement. We've already seen this in Iraq with everything from oil and water, to flack jackets.

    The most insidious tool that's used are the absurd design requirements documents. They set out an often completely unnecessary set of requirements that often only one company, or perhaps two very large companies can provide. This keeps any bidding process "under control". What will be delivered may not even meet those requirements, but only after years of delays, "best effort", and disappointment. The only good thing that seems to come out of the larger projects are the much derided "slush funds" that let individuals actually innovate without being put under this absurd process.

    Why is it set up this way? Is there a better way with the Bureaucracy we have? Is tearing it down the way to go? Good questions. DARPA and some small programs try to fix this around the edges, but something with this much money in it will always draw the crooks.

    NASA is subject to the same pitfalls. It just costs less money, and fewer people die.
  • by whoever57 ( 658626 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @04:54PM (#17953644) Journal

    So does their device withstand extremes of temperature duration both operation and storage? High humidity? Is it impervious to dust? How does it handle shock and vibration?
    Which is better: a theoretical device that has not been delivered, or a real device that may be unreliable?

    There are many reasons why some military equipment should withstand such environmental stresses, but applying the same rules to all equipment makes little sense if the end result is that the US army does not readily have the equipment. Sometimes, it is better to have access to many units at a cost effective price and time than a much smaller numer of no-more capable (albeit more reliable) units. I think the Israeli forces have recognised this.
  • by Master of Transhuman ( 597628 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @05:57PM (#17955000) Homepage

    Great. So our morons in Iraq are going to fingerprint (and perhaps photograph) "suspected insurgents".

    I can't think of a more idiotic way to deal with the insurgency.

    Exactly what good do fingerprints do you? Or even photos of suspected insurgents? The latter may have some use in that you can show them to informants and get an ID, then give copies to patrols who can spot the guy and pick him up - IF you KNOW he's an insurgent, not just a "suspect". And if he's a "suspect", THEN what do you do? Toss him in Abu Ghraib and torture him until he "confesses"? Right, real effective so far.

    But fingerprints? Useful ONLY for identifying someone you HAVE picked up, geniuses! And only for someone you have picked up BEFORE as well!

    This is just makework. It's useless in actually doing anything to WIN the counter-insurgency. Utterly useless. Even if you arrest five times more people than the US is now - with its random sweeps yanking in everybody on the street after an incident - it will do absolutely nothing to stem recruitment and motivation for the insurgency.

    Morons. That word is WHY the US lost the war - and will lose the next one in Iran with far more devastating consequences on the US economy, military, and geopolitical credibility.

    Expect to be at war with Iran in the next three to six months. A third aircraft carrier group is on the way into the Pacific, probably heading for the Indian Ocean as support for the two in the Gulf region.

  • by sheldon ( 2322 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @06:38PM (#17955900)
    Pol Pot came to power because the US destabilized Cambodia while fighting in Vietnam.

    It was the Vietnamese who went in to Cambodia and took out Pol Pot.

    Peace comes from courage. Not shooting people without understanding what is going on.
  • Re:Infantry proof (Score:3, Informative)

    by Danse ( 1026 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @07:13PM (#17956490)

    What a funny example. If everybody made do with quick short-term solutions, there would be no commercial GPS receivers, becaus there would be no GPS satellite constellation! Those satellites weren't designed and launched by a scrappy startup in a month.

    I think what he's getting at is that not everything needs to be a major undertaking. Yes, launching satellites is something that requires a huge effort. You really have to make sure you get it right the first time because it's extremely expensive to fix things if you don't. It's not the same situation with most electronic devices, even those used in combat. You want to make sure they work well enough to get the job done, but it's better to be able to build them for a reasonable price and ship a bunch of spares than to insist on perfection and spend years developing a device that is very expensive and doesn't get rolled out until the war is over. For the troops over there now, something is better than nothing.
  • by emurphy42 ( 631808 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @08:15PM (#17957278) Homepage

    Exactly what good do fingerprints do you? Or even photos of suspected insurgents?

    From TFA:

    Beyond Baghdad, the U.S. role has become less about killing insurgents than arresting the worst and isolating them from the population. Obviously it would help to have an electronic database of who the bad guys are, their friends, where they live, tribal affiliation--in short the insurgency's networks.

    The Marine and Army officers who patrol Iraq's dangerous places know they need an identification system similar to cops back home. The troops now write down suspects' names and addresses. Some, like Marine Maj. Owen West in Anbar, have created their own spreadsheets and PowerPoint programs, or use digital cameras to input the details of suspected insurgents. But no Iraq-wide software architecture exists.
  • From the submitter (Score:2, Informative)

    by chris-chittleborough ( 771209 ) on Saturday February 10, 2007 @12:09AM (#17959254) Journal
    When I submitted the article, I should have included a link to Bill Roggio's blog post [] about deploying the device. D'oh.

    I'm glad to see my submission sparking some good discussion. (But I was surprised that only toupsie [] (heh!) caught the reference to a book [] by Glenn Reynolds, AKA Instapundit.)

    It's true that the DoD has good reasons for requiring equipment to be "infantry-proof". The difference between "good" and "good enough" matters in most fields of human activity, and has done for millennia. The infantry themselves often prefer quick and dirty; this device is, in a way, just another of thousands of in-the-field innovations ... only a lot more high-tech.

The primary function of the design engineer is to make things difficult for the fabricator and impossible for the serviceman.