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December 20, 2009


Chris Gunderson

Jim, great post. ... a friend told me that the RFP for the first Airliner (TWA) was one paragraph long. That turned out pretty well...

I went to an AOC WS industry days a couple months ago and had a similar experience to yours. I wish AOC WS focus on bureaucracy was atypical, but we both know it is not. E.g. I was at meeting with some engineers discussing a new standard associated with military communications. The question "should we bring NATO allies into the discussion?" came up. The OSD rep's answer was essentially..."NO! That would complicate the paperwork badly." I mentioned that if we didn't bring the allies into the conversation up front, it would add years onto the implementation timeline at the back end. The answer was "what's your point?"

Good news is that there seems to be a growing center of mass of technical people in the trenches who are fed up with the madness. I'm hoping we're close to a tipping point!


Acquisition is screwed up, and it got this way because... Well, I don't really know enough to say how it got this way. I was going to say, "Because everything needs to be specified down to a gnat's ass because if not the contractors will take the government for a ride." ("Oh, you wanted tires on that truck... well, I delivered the spec and it didn't say anything about tires. The truck has special hubs, and any tires can only be created using my proprietary specs, and are $10M a piece.")

However, I realize that is probably unfair since all I've been is a user (in the military) or a government type. I know that changing/unclear specs causes all sorts of problems also, as well as many other things.

I don't know what needs to be done, and I'm sure any process to reform would end up completely ugly, and probably produce something worse than the Congressional process over health care. But here's a thought on how to do it to remove all the BS: Grab 20 people with the highest reputations for integrity, common sense, and intelligence (in that order) and lots of experience in the field, from both sides of the government/industry. Have them study and address all the issues and come up with the best way to buy everything, from ships to software, bullets to bedding, and whatever they say goes.

Here's the kicker: pay them $250M each for the two years of work. With the caveat that they, or anyone in their immediate family, cannot work in a company involved with DoD contracting for the remainder of their lives. Any ethical lapse will cause immediate loss of all payment, plus LONG sentences in a max security federal pen. The idea is to give them a very big carrot to stay good and a very big stick to prevent to avoid being bad, so they can make decisions simply for the good of the person at the tip of the spear and then the services. That's $5B, and a lot of money, but do you think it would be worth $5B to just unBLEEP the current system?

Bob Gourley

Jim I really appreciate you spelling things out like this. I have to admit I had hoped there was more "platform" thinking in their approach. There are a growing number of seniors who "get it" in this regard. I'll forward this on to those I know who are with you on this.


Garry Trexler

Jim, wonderful job laying out the issue. I spent the last 12 years of my active duty career in and out of the AOC business…the majority of that time as a commander. The frustration was tremendous.
Early on in the 1990s every commander wanted his own AOC and many built them. They truly were a hodgepodge of kluged together systems. Something had to be done, and recognizing the AOC as a weapon system and introducing configuration management was the right thing to do at the time. But, as you pointed out so well, the bureaucracy could not make changes, which were needed at the local level, fast enough. Innovation was stifled! Upgrades delivered were “late-to-need” and in most cases unusable once they were fielded. Early on, most fielding problems were caused because “no one” was in charge or held responsible for integration.
As you pointed out, many of the problems were caused because the government acquisition personnel and the private sector engineers did not understand how commander’s employed air and space power. Additionally and more importantly, they did not take into account the skill level and backgrounds of the personnel operating the systems. What might be intuitive to a software engineer is not necessarily intuitive to an “augmentee” brought into the AOC for 90 days. Couple this with the fact that in some cases the “augmentee” may be from a foreign country.
The Government is its own worst enemy; however, industry does not get a pass. Your discussion regarding not allowing contractors to hold “proprietary” positions in the layers is extremely important. Of course their innovations and intellectual property must be protected; but this can be done while still demanding COTS, GFE, and Open Source.
Finally, “Flexibility is the key to Airpower” and that basic tenet is forgotten by those who write the FARs.

It's probably time to take a "platform" approach to supporting the warfighter's requirements.

Carmine Wiggins

What is funny about this is all the MAJCOMs w/AOCs sends reps to all the requisite working groups that manage (vote too) what goes into or does not go into the AOC WS. I cannot tell you how many times these reps voted for something they had no clue about what they are putting into our AOCs. We need qualified blue-suiters in those voting seats and extremely tech savy folks in the engineering dept that know how useless things like SOA based architecture might be. As far as TBONE, that was a mistake on Tommy Crawford-he decided on his own to break the current system of record by taking all the money to fix it properly. So we get what we got. It's time for total truths, TBMCS should never have been fielded, it was old by the time it was and too much money wasted.

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