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Archive for the ‘Weapons Procurement’ Category

According to Matthew Cox’s piece “Corps to Replace SAW With Automatic Rifle,” the commandant of United States Marine Corps General James Amos has approved Heckler and Koch’s M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle for full fielding to all infantry battalions:

Marine infantry squads will replace their M249 light machine gun with a highly accurate, auto rifle geared for fast-moving assaults. In late May, Gen. James Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, approved a plan to field the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle to all Marine infantry battalions.

The lightweight auto rifle, made by Heckler & Koch, is a variant of the 5.56mm H&K 416. It weighs just under eight pounds unloaded — almost 10 pounds less than the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon.

The decision comes after the Corps fielded 458 M27s to five battalions as they prepared for upcoming deployments to Afghanistan.

“We wanted to get through the limited fielding and get the feedback before we moved ahead with the full fielding,” said Charles Clark III, who oversees infantry weapons requirements at the Corps’ Combat Development and Integration office in Quantico, Va.

“The decision is made. It’s happening,” Clark said.

Program officials plan to spend about $13 million to field all 4,476 M27s by late summer 2013, Clark said. In addition to the guns, that money also pays for spare parts, tools and gauges, he said.

As I have written, the long procurement process has not been without controversy.  However, the anecdotal reports I have heard indicate that H&K’s rifle has performed well in its limited fielding so far.  What remains to be seen is how the entire system–including optic, magazines, and other accessories–will perform.  Trijicon’s TA11SDO, which had been employed on the M249 SAW, will be transfered to IARs; questions remain if its reticle will be well-suited to the IAR and its very different tactical philosophy.  Moreover, there is the issue of existing 30-round magazines.  Due different mag well dimensions, the M27 is also incompatible with MagPul’s PMAG.

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In “The Pentagon’s Culture of Risk-Aversion and the Infantry Automatic Rifle (IAR) Solicitation,” I argued that risk aversion–more than threat assessment, technological requirements, or even the so-called “good ole boys” network–has come to drive weapons procurement in the United States. The IAR solicitation is one example, but there are many others that show a growing tendency to adopt weapons systems that pose the least risk. The significance of this pervasive culture of risk aversion is that the United States is not simply ignoring the “best” weapons systems but rather is choosing the wrong weapon systems for the threats facing America and, in turn, following wrongheaded policies founded upon risk aversion.

US Naval Institute Blog contributor “Galrahn” makes a similar argument regarding American policymakers’ reaction to China’s development of the DF-21 anti-ship ballistic missile system in “Risk Averse Political Policy Requires High End Focus.”

The DF-21 anti-ship ballistic missile system represents in one capability the most important discussion the Navy is not having, and considering how many discussions the Navy is not having with the American people and Congress; I think that is saying something. The capability specifically raises the fundamental strategic choices that Congress faces, likely in total ignorance, when looking to how many and what type of ships the US Navy needs to build. Countering this weapon system is going to require very expensive ships, and several of them per high value unit (carriers and amphibs). Countering the capability requires additional assets, like rapidly deployable satellite systems, Air Force tankers, UCAVs to extend the strike range of the carrier air wings, and newer, more capable long range strike platforms that may include replacements for the highly capable but enormously expensive Ohio class SSGNs. The range of attack and defense for the US Navy will not only extend out to 2000 nautical miles, but will also be required to range up, perhaps to specifically engage satellite systems that provide guidance to those weapon systems. Most importantly, the US Navy will require large numbers of these very expensive systems, and anything less would represent a calculated political decision to accept the risk. If large numbers of very expensive and capable ships is not the political option available, then Congress needs to be open to other ideas.

Right now, there is absolutely ZERO evidence Congress is open to other ideas no matter what they say, and in person I observed in shock the evidence last week.

As I have thought through the challenges these type of emerging kill weapons bring to the maritime domain, my thoughts have been trending towards the necessity for a new fleet survivability discussion similar to the one raised in the late 1990s regarding littoral warfare by Cebrowski and Hughes. Hughes in particular raises the fleet survivability discussion in his book Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat, noting that one hallmark of naval combat in history is that it becomes a war of attrition. As a theory, this is accurate, but there is a major political pressure against the theory of attrition that prevents the discussion from even taking place.

I encourage you to read the whole article. It is fascinating reading. Clearly, this is further evidence that risk aversion has lead war planners and policy makers to look to technological solutions (often without adequately addressing threats) rather than confronting the institutional culture of the national security establishment that keeps leading warfighters down this path.

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“To put it simply,” said one insider who wished to remain anonymous, “the Marines fucked up.”

He was speaking of the Marine Corp’s ongoing Infantry Automatic Rifle (IAR) solicitation, which intends to replace the infantry’s M249 squad automatic weapon (SAW) with a lighter, more maneuverable machine gun better suited to close quarters urban combat that will continue to be the predominant battle space of the twenty-first century.  The first round of the selection process has been completed, and candidates from FN Herstal and Colt Defense have advanced.  Both are well-established players in the defense industry, but the choice was not without controversy.

In recent months, there has been no shortage of aspersions cast towards the Pentagon’s weapons procurement process.  A common complaint is that high-tech, big-ticket weapons systems like the F-22 and the FCS are inappropriate for combating low-tech global insurgencies.  Other analysts have critiqued the Department of Defense’s freewheeling spending and lack of accountability.  In one notable example, journalist David Axe, author of War Bots, has pointed to the private sector and the use of lead systems integrators (LSI) as a source of the most egregious oversights in Defense Department procurement.  There is some indication that reform is on the horizon.  Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has put contractors on notice that “the spigot of defense funding opened by 9/11 is closing.”

However, there has been little said about how institutional culture of the Pentagon affects weapons buying.  Culture—particularly mapping “the human terrain”—has become an important lens to examine our enemies, but rarely do we turn that lens on ourselves.  Most famously, John Nagl examined the institutional cultures of the British military and the American military in order to understand why one succeeded and the other failed to defeat insurgencies in Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife.  As we will see, the IAR solicitation demonstrates a latent cultural phenomenon within the military that might be keeping the best weapons systems from reaching American warfighters.

As I have written before in “Technology, Risk Aversion, and Counterinsurgency,” risk aversion can make a serious impact on the choices the military makes not only about strategy and tactics but also equipment.  This institutional culture within the US military has, at times, left soldiers overburdened for effective counterinsurgency praxis.  The IAR solicitation gives some clue as to how this same mindset impacts procurement.

The most controversial element of the solicitation has been its exclusion of smaller, innovative companies from the latter stages of competition.  It is not an uncommon consideration to select companies based on their capacity to manufacture and deliver weapon systems in the quantities and time frame that the DoD requires, but the IAR solicitation goes a step further.  According to the criteria laid out in Marine Corps de-briefs, candidates must have “[m]inimal experience in large government weapons contracts of IAR size and scope.”  However, this factor alone eliminates all small companies, leaving a cadre of defense contractors only one of which is an American-based company, Colt.

One company that was eliminated was Knight’s Armament Company in Titusville, Florida.  A leader in innovation, KAC developed a rail interface for the M4A1 and M16A4.  Previously, operators had used duct tape to affix flashlights and other mission-critical tools to their weapons.  Today, militaries all over the world use this system to attach everything from vertical foregrips to infrared illuminators to their weapons.  Knight’s also manufactures the US Army’s M110 semi-automatic sniper rifle.

According to founder and CEO of Knight’s Armament, C. Reed Knight, Jr., the IAR solicitation has proven to be another red flag for contractors in already uncertain times.

“I spent somewhere close to $200,000 in responding to the RFP,” he said. “If they are going to disqualify me because they thought I was too small of a company or that I was not up to speed, then they should have put those qualifications up front so that we could have looked at that up front qualification and we could have made a judgment whether we wanted to respond to that or not.”

“I will guarantee you that the people that made the decision on that IAR not one of them have ever stepped foot in my factory. More importantly, we have more CNC table space [within the United States] than Saco Defense, Colt, and FN all added together,” said Mr. Knight.  “I just feel like if they told me that they didn’t like my gun because it was the wrong color or if was too little, too light, too heavy or whatever, that is one thing, but they disqualified—partially disqualified—it because of us as a manufacturer.”

“Of the companies that they accepted to the second level, H&K does not have to my knowledge an M- gun,” Knight continued.  “I do have one.  I have an M110.  I have a US Army type-classified rifle, yet H&K does not, but H&K moved to the next level.  Now, I could cry over spilt milk, but all those things being said, it has just cautioned me on how I bid on my next RFP, and basically that’s what it all boils down to.”

LWRC International was another small company excluded from the second round.  Their candidate utilized the same ergonomics of the M4 while employing new features such as a cleaner and cooler short-stroke piston as well as the ability to fire from a closed or open bolt.  LWRC has also deployed a surface conversion process that exceeds traditional anodizing and chrome lining.  This rifle was featured on the third season premier of Discovery’s Future Weapons:

According to Darren Mellors, LWRC’s Vice President of Business Development, there is another factor that makes the Marines reluctant to choose small companies and innovative, new weapon systems:  risk aversion.

“Often times, junior officers—say, a major—are in charge of the selection, and they don’t want to hang their hat on anything but a sure thing,” he said.  “If the design fails or the company can’t deliver, their career is over, so they choose the system that involves the least risk.”

Initiatives like the Marine Enhancement Program (MEP) and Rapid Fielding Initiative (RFI) have taken a chance on smaller companies who have provided innovative solutions to meet the needs of soldiers on the ground. However, procurement still involves a process better suited for the industrial age rather than the information age at a time when product development may only take a few months.  Complex procurement systems may be suited to complex weapons, but current processes have failed to balance government oversight and fast-paced innovation.  More importantly, the current system fails to reward small companies that operate at this pace.

To offset this disadvantage, some companies have allied themselves with larger companies.  Recently, MagPul Industries partnered with Bushmaster Firearms, itself a recent acquisition of private equity giant Cerebrus Capital Management.

“We’re more of a fast-paced entity,” said Eric Burt, product designer for Magpul.  “We’re going in knowing it’s an uphill battle [for smaller companies].  They don’t know us, our capacity, or our quality control.”

Even if the Pentagon does realize the value of “betting” on smaller companies, small companies themselves may no longer be willing to take the risk in the current climate.

“I have been very fortunate in that I have put a lot of effort, a lot of guestimation, a lot of capital into what I saw as the future and the numbers that I bet on—whether it be red or blacks—I’ve been more right than I’ve been wrong,” said Mr. Knight. “That’s not what I see in the future.  I am totally confused.  I don’t have any idea where it’s going from here, and I don’t know which color to bet on.  It could come up double-aughts or single-aughts green just as easily as red or black.”

According to Mr. Knight, there are a variety of forces contributing to this atmosphere of uncertainty among defense contractors.

“Mixed signals.  Lack of adult supervision.  The Marine Corps IAR is a perfect example,” Mr. Knight continued.  “The economy is in disarray.  The military climate is in disarray.  We’ve already seen an incredible shift from Republican to Democrat, and that political shift has got an entrepreneur, a capitalist, like myself looking at a very socialist-looking economy and saying I don’t want to give up, I don’t want to take a chance at giving up anything I have.  I’m just going to sit tight.  I don’t need to take the risk.  I have no need to continue betting.  I have what I have and what I have is safe if I don’t bet it on the next game.  I’m not going to double down, because it looks too uncertain.”

“I’m sure I’m not the only one thinking like this,” he said.

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