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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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  • by yagu ( 721525 ) * <<moc.liamg> <ta> <ugayay>> on Friday February 09, 2007 @03:48PM (#17952632) Journal

    I once learned (or was taught) at a consortium if you (as a corporation) couldn't build a new major application/suite of applications in six months, you shouldn't do it. I think the message wasn't that if the task was more than six months it was too hard... the message (in my interpretation) was you should find a better way to get to your endpoint, i.e., in a business setting you had to be more "agile" (sorry).

    I think this is even more true for this example. Bigger organizations (and they don't seem to get more bigger than the government, eh?) beget less ability to:

    • decide what you need
    • design it
    • create it
    • deliver it

    When lives are at stake it is even more/most glaring. It would be nice to see the government (whoever that is) take a lesson from this. However, different pieces of the government maintain a stranglehold grip on their turf and are generally loathe to loosen that grip.

    Less is more, but it's hard to convince the more to let the less get 'er done.

  • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @03:49PM (#17952634) Homepage
    Now without all of those pesky "legal restraints", "checks and balances", and "aquittals"! Now, when you round up every male between the ages of 16 and 70 after an attack and have them fingerprinted, everyone else will know that they're all suspected terrorists.
  • Something tells me that if we drafted the appropriate industries to build a *REAL* military industrial complex, and punished profiteering adequately in the first place, our troops could have had this technology (instead of a stupid deck of playing cards) in 2002, instead of waiting until 2007 for it to be delivered. But since Bush doesn't want to impact the profitability of this war, we have to wait for a significantly patriotic David to identify who the enemy is. It's exactly this lack of vision that has turned Afghanistan back into a Taliban-controlled country and destroyed our success in Iraq.
  • the wrong question (Score:3, Interesting)

    by User 956 ( 568564 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @03:52PM (#17952692) Homepage
    With bureaucracy increasingly strangling innovation, will agile smaller businesses be able to accomplish what once required a sprawling government project?

    I think a better question is: "Are sprawling government projects and bureaucracy really necessary?
  • The moment you try to limit funding to a wasteful Pentagon program you're accused of hating the troops.

    And so it goes.

    The standard rip against wasteful education spending is, "You can't just throw money at a problem and expect it to be fixed!"

    Yet that's done 10x with the military and no one bats an eye.
  • Re:Apples & Oranges? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bluekanoodle ( 672900 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @04:01PM (#17952848)
    Take the google example to extreme, build the system of out cogs, and when a cog breaks replace it. Granted some things need to be military spec, but these devices are being used in a law enforcement style capacity, not a chugging through the brush for 20 days role. Just like the police style equipment this is modeled from, the users of the system are never more then a couple of hours aways from the base of operations that a replacement part can't be substituted. whats important is to ensure the units are interchangeable and that you keep sufficient stock on hand.

    In any case, having something like this that has not had extensive field trials is better then what they had before, which was nothing. The problem with the military procurement system, is that everything has to go thrugh the same process, regardless of whether its a 200 handheld unit, or a 1 million dollar vehicle. This does not allow the agility that the private sector can afford.

  • by soft_guy ( 534437 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @04:34PM (#17953342)

    if you don't buy that it is effective, consider that the enemy, armed with AK-47s, RPGs, high explosives, and dedication to their cause, are holding their own against what is likely the most expensive and advanced miltary in the world.
    This is classic asymetric warfare. It is how the US was beaten in Vietnam and it is how the US is likely to be beaten in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Re:Infantry proof (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Qzukk ( 229616 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @04:40PM (#17953422) Journal
    But the PRC-77 was far more robust.

    And naturally, after the PRC-77 run was over, every engineer that made it robust was taken out back and shot, and the plans shredded, pulped and incinerated, and the contractor began working on the PRC-78, spending 5 years trying to figure out just how to make it robust.

    In the real world, robustness is solved. Engineers don't need half a decade to build some contraption that can take a licking and keep on ticking, they just have to look at the previous designs and apply the same techniques to a modern device. But hey, when its the government's money, spending 2 months researching 400 different types of rubber grommets to determine which one works best for shock absorbing because, you know, physics might have changed in the last year or so, is a perfectly reasonable idea.
  • Re:Apples & Oranges? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 09, 2007 @05:09PM (#17953936)
    What's your point? I've done military systems design work as well, and fuckups like you are prone to throw things in the field that will malfunction at the worst possible time. When lives are on the line it's not amateur hour for the engineers.

    There.. now THAT'S a flame.
  • by bmajik ( 96670 ) <> on Friday February 09, 2007 @05:23PM (#17954196) Homepage Journal
    More is spent on education than defense in this country.

    CIA world factbook shows that Defense is 4.06% of GDP.

    This page shows that Education is 5.7% of GDP. ation-spending-of-gdp []

    What that page doesn't show you us that the US GDP is 12tr$, so 5.7% is 648 BILLION dollars, or over $2k per year for every man, woman, and child in this country. When you consider the fraction of the 300m assumed population that actually receive public school instruction, and the magnificent failure of public schooling to produce much more than school shootings, the crushing magnitude of the failure of this investment is starkly obvious - even in comparison to the "investments" we make in our military.

    When i think back to all the public school english literature teachers that had their big NOW/Teachers Union pow-wows and the classroms filled with posters about it being a wonderful day when the air force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber, i want to smack them un-stupid more than ever.

    The notion that we (the US) overspend on defense to the detriment of education, loudly trumpeted by the entrenched teachers unions of our horrible nationalized schooling system, is one of the critical self-serving fallacies in popular culture.

    I want kids to be educated. I like hard working teachers. I hate the modern US government, which goes to tremendous lengths to prevent good hard working teachers from having a meaningful positive impact in the lives of deserving kids.
  • Rumsfeld's military (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Bassman59 ( 519820 ) <andy@[ ] ['lat' in gap]> on Friday February 09, 2007 @06:29PM (#17955752) Homepage
    "You don't go to war with the military you want. You go to war with the military you have."
  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @06:31PM (#17955778) Homepage Journal
    Issues of government (in)competence and procurement arcana aside, let me offer an alternative explanation.

    We, through our elected representatives, have not faced up to the fact that we're in the occupation and counter-insurgency business for the long term.

    We've created a military with unprecedented tactical agility -- which doesn't help in this situation, as they trudge out on patrols and get picked off on the way back. We've equipped them so they are more lethal per person than any military in history -- which is downright harmful. What we can infer about this is that we want our guys to fly in, kick the shit out of anybody they have to, then get the hell out.

    Rushing new technology into the hands of troop is les than ideal for many reasons. Nor should you need to do it if you anticipated how you'd be using the troops correctly. The first weeks of the Iraq war showed how well the troops were equipped, trained and structured for the ass kicking duties we thought we'd be using them for. The remainder showed how poorly we'd planned the aftermath; the intention was to be well out of there by now. We were assured that while nobody could predict how long it would take, that people who said it would take years were crazy or something.

    The bottom line is the reason we are bogged down in Iraq isn't bureaucratic incompetence, it is strategic incompetence.
  • by dlt074 ( 548126 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @06:48PM (#17956062)
    "Pol Pot came to power because the US destabilized Cambodia while fighting in Vietnam."

    close, but no. it was stable until we pulled out. when the US pulls its troops out of an area, it destabilizes.

    spot on. of coarse Vietnam went in to take him out, the US sure didn't have the spine to do it. they were drowning in hippie's. and communist countries can barely feed their own let alone the flood of refugees, monsters like pol pot create.

    close again. understanding which people you need to shoot and having the courage to do it is what brings peace.

  • by rho ( 6063 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @06:49PM (#17956078) Homepage Journal

    Why did they arm Saddam Hussein for decades so he could oppress his own people? Why did the american government not make a big fuss when he first gassed his own people? I could go on and on.

    One way of looking at it is a change of US policy. No more "stability", the US is proactively supporting democracy everywhere. That may or may not be a good thing, and that's an important debate to have. But if the government has decided that 9/11 was a result of letting rogue nations be in the interest of stability in the region, then a change in policy is in order.

    It doesn't give a damn about the Iraqis. It never has, and it probably never will.

    That's a fascinating unsupported assertion, and I'm curious what you think we are there for. If you're thinking "oil", "imperialism", or "Haliburton", you don't have to reply. I'll automatically assume you're a fool.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 09, 2007 @08:27PM (#17957398)
    our morons in Iraq

    Well, thank you for making your bias completely clear up front.

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

    Okay, stop and think for a moment.

    Today, a squad of soldiers led by Lieutenant A picks up some guy, call him T. T was seen right near where a bomb went off. They don't have enough evidence to throw T into prison, so they give him a warning and let him go.

    Tomorrow, T goes to a diffent city, and lights off another bomb, killing another batch of innocent people. Another squad of soldiers led by Lieutenant B picks him up. T gives a different name. They don't have enough evidence so they give him a warning and let him go.

    Hah! Those stupid morons on patrol in Iraq probably think that, if they had T's fingerprints on file, that Lieutenant B would have more evidence and might not let T go! Oh wait, that would work. T can give whatever name he wants, but there is no known way to really change fingerprints.

    You are correct that the device can only identify people you have already picked up. You are completely wrong to think that the device is therefore useless.

    it will do absolutely nothing to stem recruitment and motivation for the insurgency.

    And we all know that unless a new solution solves 100% of all problems, it's completely useless and a total waste of time. Plus the people who think it's useful must be morons. And we should pay attention to your thoughts, rather than those of the people who are actually over there.

    Morons. That word is WHY the US lost the war

    The US won the war, handily. The US is having somewhat more trouble occupying the country, a different problem.
  • by ben there... ( 946946 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @10:44PM (#17958620) Journal

    It's not just that. Bigger companies (and governments) solve bigger problems. The reason the Army is careful is because going off half-cocked gets people killed just as much as doing nothing, and, yes, is more scandalous. It sounds great to give everybody autonomy so they can react quickly and decisively, but along with that comes Abu Ghraib, friendly fire, and missing palettes of cash.

    The missing palettes of cash were known about through independent news and radio long before the news hit mainstream media, including an interview with a woman soldier who had refused to take the money who said that she was told to keep quiet about it, not send any home, and not to make it obvious when she returned home. But it's only a small part of a bigger picture. The DoD has over $2.3 trillion unaccounted for [][CBS], 25% of its budget of taxpayers' money. The palettes of cash are business as usual. The worrisome part is not the American and Iraqi soldiers receiving what one might call "bonuses", but where the rest of that $2.3 trillion+ went. If the Executive and military authority are that brazen about giving out unaccounted for money and then telling them to keep quiet about it, imagine what other undocumented transactions of our tax money they might be willing to do. It's obvious at this point that the people of this country (and their representatives) will not hold them accountable, and I'm sure they realize that.

    It's also hard to believe that Abu Graib was the result of giving too much "autonomy" while Alberto Gonzales is arguing for the use of torture. Do you think you'll ever really know how high up the chain of command the knowledge of what was going on in Abu Graib reached? Or whether the same thing didn't happen at other locations? Do you think you'll ever know all the horrors and atrocities that have resulted from an urban war that has gone on far too long, with many of its battered participants now having served several tours of duty?

    No, it is my belief that only the uninformed will believe that these cases are isolated incidents resulting from giving the perpetrators too much autonomy. They are the exact opposite: the inevitable corruption resulting from giving a military bureaucracy too much power with far too little oversight.

To do two things at once is to do neither. -- Publilius Syrus