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Jan 18, 2011

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Dfens

One of the biggest problems you had as a design engineer in the late '70s through the '80s was that managment was always strong arming us into insufficient testing. It actually began the slow down in military technology development that we very much see the fuits of today where often commercial aircraft have more sophisticated avionics than fighter jets (except for the sensors technology, typically).

The problem back then was due to the fact that the government was reimbursing the contractors on development costs, but not paying any profit until production weapons were delivered. Thus there was great pressure on individual engineers to shortcut the development process to get on with production. This lead to many aircraft being death traps until the B or C model when many of the problems that should have been tested before production were finally worked out.

When the contractors were lobbying the DoD for today's "cost plus award fee" contracts, they promised they would stop delivering aircraft that were not ready for production, and promised that more cutting edge technology would be incorporated in weapons if the contractors made a profit on development. What really happened is development times have dragged out and costs have soared, but without any competition pressure technology has maintained its snail's pace.

Testing is much more extensive than it was, but often the items tested make no sense. Is the item blue? Yes, it is blue. It's just checking off a box because we get paid a profit to check it off. We still make more money if we deliver faulty hardware, because we know the DoD will go to the original contractor to fix the problems. There is never any pressure to do anything right, but there's always an opportunity to do it over and over and over again.

It is a procurement system that is very demoralizing for those of us caught up in this military-industrial mess, and it wastes taxpayer money like there's no tomorrow. It is too bad that between the two groups we can't get together to change things in a way that would benefit both sides, even if it does make things more difficult for the contractor executives and the sorry ass military brass who might have to get off their butt and fight a war instead of maximizing thier frequent flier mileage and golf time at the taxpayer's expense.

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