“Not good at the ‘vision thing.'” George Bush ’41


"Between 1995 and 2009, $32 billion was expended on programs such as the Future Combat System[220] (2003-2009), with no harvestable content by the time of its cancellation.[221] The Army has not fielded a new combat system in decades.[222][93][223][224][35]

Secretary of the Army Mark Esper has remarked that AFC will provide the unity of command and purpose needed to reduce the requirements definition phase from 60 months to 12 months.[225][25][54] A simple statement of a problem (rather than a full-blown requirements definition) that the Army is trying to address may suffice for a surprising, usable solution. —General Mike Murray, paraphrasing Trae Stephens[43]:minute 41:50 (One task will be to quantify the lead time for identifying a requirement; the next task would then be to learn how to reduce that lead time.—Gap analysis )[30]:minute 11:00[226][227][5] Process changes are expected.[226][48] The development process will be cyclic, consisting of prototype, demonstration/testing, and evaluation, in an iterative process designed to unearth unrealistic requirements early, before prematurely including that requirement in a program of record. The ASA(ALT) Bruce Jette[156] has cautioned the acquisition community to 'call-out' unrealistic processes which commit a program to a drawn-out failure,[228] rather than failing early, and seeking another solution.[229]

Secretary Esper scrubbed through 800[230] modernization programs to reprioritize funding[231] for the top 6 modernization priorities,[60] which will consume 80% of the modernization funding,[232] of 18 systems.[232] The Budget Control Act will restrict funds by 2020.[233][234][235][236][237][238][239][240][241][31][32][242][243][244] Secretary McCarthy has cautioned that a stopgap 2019 Continuing resolution (CR) would halt development of some of the critical modernization projects.[245][246] Realistically, budget considerations will restrict the fielding of new materiel to one Armor BCT per year;[247] at that rate, updates would take decades.[247][243] The Budget Control Act (BCA) expires in 2022.[248][249] The "night court" budget review process realigned $2.4 billion for modernization away from programs which were not tied to modernization or to the 2018 National Defense Strategy.[250] The total FY2021 budget request of $178 billion is $2 billion less than the enacted FY2020 budget of $180 billion.  wiki on AFC


Me dear ol' da' (a cynical old soldier if ever there was one) served for 34 years and cautioned me that "in the Regular Army we cut off anything that sticks out."  That glorious tradition is still alive.

The Army Futures Command, like many previous attempts at enabling rigorous but unimaginative thinkers to try to do "the vision thing"  will probably solve few problems.  The folks they are dealing with just aren't up to the task.  These guys are better suited to drawing up railroad timetables than they are at making an intuitive leap.

This reminds of the British Army leadership who tried to resist the introduction of machine guns before 1914 and who thought that motor vehicles were a bad thing because they would frighten the horses.  To be fair the Ordnance Department of the US Army successfully resisted the introduction of breech loading cannon and repeating rifles on the basis of an anticipated prodigal use of ammunition by the troops.  That was in 1860.

I wish Esper and McCarthy lots of luck in this effort to induce streamlined, creative thought.  They will need it.  The desire to reduce such thought to smaller and smaller bits run by interlocking committees is overwhelming among the people they are working with.  pl


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19 Responses to “Not good at the ‘vision thing.'” George Bush ’41

  1. Bill H says:

    Look up Hyman G. Rickover and his remarks on “ox cart thinking” that would lead the military to have the “most heavily armored ox carts that modern engineering can devise.”

  2. Deap says:

    California is good at this vision thing – out of work private sector taxpayers nationwide are asked to bail out public sector workers in California, so they don’t have to miss a paycheck. From local news story:
    ….The nation has nearly 22 million public sector workers, with 63 percent of them in local government and 23 percent in state government. The rest work for the federal government or the U.S. Postal Service, a quasi-federal agency.
    Revenue losses in the states reflect soaring joblessness in the private sector. Public sector job losses will follow as states fall short in balancing their budgets — unless they receive a massive infusion of federal aid. …

    BTW: 22 million public sector workers, their family and friends do make a significant special interest voting block, and do also respond to public opinion polls.
    This concentrated 22 million public worker voting block especially likes to ensure they sit on both sides of the bargaining table, supporting favored candidates who in turn hand out tax dollars to the very same ….public workers.

  3. walrus says:

    Read “The Rules Of The Game” by Andrew Gordon. It’s about British Naval Communicatons systems and thinking – which hasn’t changed much since the disastrous battle of Jutland. He points out that modern naval communications up to including the Falklands war, was still ensured in flag signal era thinking.

  4. Barbara Ann says:

    “The vision thing” is not my forté either (I was schooled as an engineer, after all). In my business career my skill was in building the necessary supporting structures beneath a vision, in order to save the visionary the embarrassment of its subsequent collapse. I have witnessed first hand the immense contrast between a cyclic (iterative) development process and one in which a full-blown requirements definition was required up front. The former, collaborative methodology (termed “Agile”, I believe these days) was a joy. The latter an absolute nightmare. The changes described above therefore sound promising to me – the reductio ad absurdum and death-by-committee affliction you describe from personal experience, less so.
    AFC is headquartered in Austin, I see. That was an interesting choice. The “Keep Austin Weird” mentality there may be just the sort of out of the box thinking needed to render the bureaucratic entanglements built up over 245 years slightly less lethal. I wish Esper and McCarthy luck too, they will need it.

  5. turcopolier says:

    You engineers always say that us artists would starve to death without you. I worked with people like you all my life. They never had an original thought in their lives. Most senior officers (o-6 and up are just like you). That is why they can’t do or even envision anything new.

  6. Another approach to this “vision thing” is to begin at the ground and go up rather than the top down approach of the Army Futures Command. Back in the 80s, Colonel Dick Potter lobbied for and received permission to develop a new cold weather combat system. It was run by an experienced group of 10th SFG(A) team sergeants and sergeants major working directly with a few expedition and mountaineering gear manufacturers. This group worked quickly and inexpensively to develop and field test two generations of gear in one year. The polypropylene, fleece and gortex now worn throughout the Army was the result. There was a wide range of other cold weather gear as well. I believe either SF or JSOC NCOs developed new sniper weapons in a similar fashion.
    I don’t see any reason why this approach shouldn’t be tried for other Army systems like armor and artillery. Experienced NCOs working directly with experienced automotive, electronics and ballistics engineers, tool makers and machinists could shave years off the development of new combat systems and prevent the attempted creation of Rube Goldberg monstrosities that just don’t work. Beyond producing the stuff, these grass roots groups would surely be better at developing doctrine and tactics for fighting with this new stuff than those high level bureaucracies.

  7. Eric Newhill says:

    I prefer the citizen soldier. Draw from a wide range of backgrounds and not from ring knockers molded and indoctrinated into careerist paths because they didn’t get a better offer from private industry after 8 years. Patriotism is the glue and honor/integrity the balance that drives the vision. Too many self licking ice cream cones in the current system.

  8. elaine says:

    Colonel, Perhaps the engineers you worked with were dullards lacking in imagination & artistry, ok? However, I on the other hand have met & worked with some I credit with implied genius, especially in making things actually happen. All the visioning in the upper spheres doesn’t amount to much if it can’t function on the physical plane. Hell I’ve known a few who were good musicians
    & poets.
    I consider Barbara Ann’s contributions on this committee as grade A+ & only wish I could obtain that level of coherent knowledge & literary skill especially in bringing newsworthy opinions & info
    to SST. I often wondered if Babs was really a guy, guess it doesn’t really make much difference…Barbera Ann shines like the

  9. Barbara Ann says:

    Hyperbole and an attempt by this non-artist at artistic license (the ill-judged part about visionary embarrassment) have left the impression of egotism were there is none. My kind is dispensable and certainly no enabler of artistry.
    I have re-read “Bureaucrats Versus Artists” and would be mortified if I were thought one of the former, all the more because so much of it chimed with my own experience of individualism-crushing bureaucracy.
    Though my education was mostly narrowly oriented around reductionist science, my disposition long ago evolved to favor the study of mankind. This is largely why I am here – to learn from a master of the art and all I now read is in the attempt to make up for the deficiencies in my formal education. Nietzsche was unknown to me until I learned that you were a fan. Isaiah Berlin is my most recent choice.
    As to the originality of my thought, you have allowed me to grace the pages of your wonderful blog for some time, I am happy to be judged on these small contributions.

  10. Amir says:

    Deap; surely public sector healthcare proved to be inferior to private sector healthcare; with this “Corona thing”.
    We should think less hard before advocating for more privatization.
    But at least in case of USPS; please keep your hands off this institution that has even been mentioned in Article I of US Constitution.

  11. BillWade says:

    Amir, You can buy US postage at 60-70% on the dollar all day long on eBay. My guess is that once the new owner of USPS comes on board, stamps will be gone (without value) – the new owner will reap great reward – if it’s a public company – best to buy stock in it.

  12. Bill H says:

    Oh lordy you got me to thinking about engineers. I was working as a production electrician at Allis Chalmers where we were making transformers for the TVA. These things were the size, not of houses, but of apartment buildings. The engineers apparently thought you made giant transformers simply by making regular transformers bigger. Sadly, no.
    We were putting some copper conductors inside and the lengths on the drawing were clearly wrong, so we called the engineers down. They scratched their heads, played with their side rules, and muttered with each other. Finally they told us, “Cut them to whatever fits, then let us know how long they are and we’ll change the drawings.”
    We thought that was bass ackwards, but they were the suits so we did as we were told. We finished the first transformer and craned it over to the testing point where it was filled with oil and powered up for testing. As soon as power was applied it exploded like a bomb. Nobody hurt, but $15 million blown to smithereens.
    That was in 1964 iirc, so $15 million was not chicken feed.

  13. turcopolier says:

    I would be for that. I am thinking of all the great things designed by EM, like the fork thingy welded to the front of tanks so that it was possible to advance in the bocage in Normandy and the ANGRC-109 radio.

  14. turcopolier says:

    Barbara Ann et al
    “The wind blew from the southwest. Because of that, the first shots announcing that Spear’s force had made contact with the enemy came to the general as a distant sputter, an almost inaudible rattle. He paid little attention.
    Farinelli was struggling with his English as he tried to explain to the officers the criteria by which one decided to fight dismounted.
    Kautz half listened to this, and half watched the progress of the track wrecking. His big, black horse pulled hard at the small tree to which the general had tied him. The animal yanked again and again at the thin leather straps. Kautz found hobbles in a saddlebag and released the horse to forage in the deep grass.
    Five minutes later the dull thud of the mountain howitzer he had sent with Spear echoed in his skull.
    The Italian looked up.
    “Go remind Colonel Spear that it is not my intention that he should become decisively engaged, that we are, in a word, in a hurry.” Sarcasm colored his words.
    The junior officers around Farinelli stared at the heavy browed, black bearded figure with fear and surprise.
    He hated their awe. He was a man who did not worship idols. He had no regard for those who did. He knew how much they wished to please him. He hated that too and for the same reason. It diminished them as men in his eyes.
    Careful, he thought. Much more of that and they will start avoiding you. We can’t have that.
    He wrote out an order on the message pad he carried in a coat pocket.
    He carried the little piece of paper to Farinelli. The circle parted before him like the waves before Moses.
    “Give this to Colonel Spear, at your discretion. It directs him to withdraw to this position.”” From “Death Piled Hard”
    My apologies for the harsh words concerning engineers.

  15. scott s. says:

    Bill H:
    My father spent his entire working life at Allis Chalmers (except for a Navy stint 43-46). Most of it in motor-generators. Some of it as an engineering tech but mostly in production. His assessment is the company’s problem was it was number 3 behind GE and Westinghouse and had to compete on price. The result was they couldn’t afford the engineering to really innovate. He also experienced the problem of just scaling up an existing design which led to the failure of “Big Allis” (being built for Con Ed) during test. Eventually the company got rid of engineering and entered an agreement with Siemans AG to do the engineering so Allis Chalmers was just building to their designs. (Wasn’t trivial for production as a decision was taken that Siemans drawings would convert fractional inches to decimal inches.) Obviously it wasn’t enough as now Allis Chalmers is no more. (Very sad to drive around West Allis where there was a huge engineering building and behind it the numbered shops and then the tractor plant — all gone.)

  16. scott s. says:

    As a retired engineering duty officer I guess I am one of the “enemy”. I had a boss, one of his sayings was “if the most lethal thing your system fires is a diode, it’s easy to be an innovator”. Some things, like ordnance safety, are pretty much inherently conservative. Then when you get to special weapons security, almost impossible to move the needle much.
    For our community, I would say Wayne Meyer was pretty much the ideal. His mantra was “build a little — test a little”. Up thread Rickover (another ED) was cited — I would argue his approach was pretty conservative. Still relying on things like amplidynes when industry had moved on. I would say his real innovation was developing NR as a stand-alone entity with “spies” at all levels reporting back to him.
    There was a good study done of the sub torpedo fusing failures in WWII. (No, John Wayne didn’t solve it!) It came down to pre-war false economy. The testing program that was developed would have uncovered the problems, but to save money the testing was truncated. Then you blame the engineers.
    Army Ordnance bureau in the ACW was cited as an example of failure. I would think the 3″ Ordnance Rifle was pretty successful. The 12 lb Napoleon Gun/Howitzer was an innovation Army Ordnance brought back from observing Euro armies in the Crimean War.
    Typically the case is made that Ericsson’s Monitor was proof that “big navy” (Chief Engineer and Chief Constructor) weren’t up to the task. But the Monitors (Passaic) failed in their big test (naval attack on Charleston). And the river monitors didn’t even float (A big part of the problem there was the ironclad office delivered “contract drawings”, not detailed drawings and expected the yards to figure out the missing details — which they couldn’t). I would argue that USS New Ironsides built by Cramp had the best results. The in-house designed and built (Boston Navy Yard) USS Monadnock and follow ons were really better monitors.

  17. Barbara Ann says:

    “Let us, moreover, exchange presents that it may be said among the Achaeans and Trojans, ‘They fought with might and main, but were reconciled and parted in friendship.'”
    I am speechless.

  18. David Habakkuk says:

    As comments on British military history have featured in this discussion, some observations on the complex relations between military men, engineers – also bureaucrats, ‘artists’, and women – in that history seem worth making.
    Many of the successes of British intelligence in both world wars can be traced back to ‘Room 40’, later I.D.25, in the Admiralty in the First World War.
    It was originally largely the creation of the Scots physicist-cum-engineer, Sir Alfred Ewing, who had come up through the Scottish university system, become a professor at Cambridge, and then been appointed Director of Naval Education in 1903.
    (See https://eandt.theiet.org/content/articles/2014/05/first-world-war-technology-room-40-secret-intelligence-unit/ )
    While Ewing certainly did not lack imagination or vision, he was less effective in exploiting the successes achieved quite rapidly by the code-breakers in turning Room 40 into an extremely effective ‘all source’ intelligence operation.
    This was largely the work of the Director of Naval Intelligence, Admiral William Reginald ‘Blinker’ Hall, who among other his many other achievements, played a key role in exploiting German stupidity to draw you into the war.
    I remember reading that the compulsive ‘blinking’ which gave him his nickname was due to malnutrition while a cadet at Dartmouth, but do not know whether that is accurate.
    What is clear is that, whether through luck or judgement, the figure chosen to head naval intelligence, while effective in ‘bureaucratic’ contexts, turned out to be completely free of the kind of some of the kinds of rigidity often found alike in people who are good at operating in these, and those who rise to the top of ‘military’ hierarchies – in peacetime, at least.
    Indeed, he employed quite a few people who were more on the ‘artist’ side of things:
    ‘Just like Bletchley in the next war, Hall recruited all and sundry to Room 40 and to the rest of the Naval Intelligence (he ran extensive agent operations as well and very nearly succeeded in buying Turkey out of the war). Bankers, clergy, academics and writers, including women – anyone who could do the job – found themselves in uniform or at least in employment. For someone brought up in the rigidities of the Victorian navy to exhibit such flexibility and imagination was impressive enough, but Hall, though an unstinting taskmaster (he took no leave 1914-17), clearly earned their affection and loyalty.’
    (See https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/the-secrets-of-room-40 .)
    The employment of women, incidentally, probably laid the basis for that of young girl graduates by the Room 40 veteran ‘Dilly’ Knox at Bletchley Park, where they played a crucial role both in the destruction of Italian naval power off Cape Matapan in March 1941, and also in making possible the amphibious operations against first Sicily and then Normandy.
    I have recently had the unpleasant experience of reading through the responses given by the former GCHQ employee Matt Tait in October 2017 to the House Intelligence Committee.
    (See https://intelligence.house.gov/uploadedfiles/mt52.pdf .)
    That a tradition which started with Sir Alfred Ewing and ‘Blinker’ Hall, and includes figures like Knox, and his most crucial assistant, Mavis Batey, as well as better known people like Alan Turing, should end with rogues like Tait and Hannigan colluding with the likes of Brennan, Clapper and Comey in a bid to subvert the American Constitution leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth.
    I feel as though they have trampled – perhaps, a more vulgar word would be better – on my ‘household gods.’

  19. Bill H says:

    @scott s.
    Sad indeed in West Allis. I heard it claimed that the tractor plant was the longest single manufacturing building in the nation, and I don’t doubt it.

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