Friday, November 09, 2007

Walmarting Defense

Here's is Walmart founder and American entrepreneur Sam Walton on his revolutionary company's mission:

"The secret of successful retailing is to give your customers what they want. And really, if you think about it from your point of view as a customer, you want everything: a wide assortment of good-quality merchandise; the lowest possible prices; guaranteed satisfaction with what you buy;"
Walmart has been the death of many companies mired in the old, pre-globalization way of marketing consumer goods. One of these has been the fix-it and repair shop. Remember when you could see such local owned stores on almost every street corner? Instead of buying costly new merchandise, you could take your black and white TV, or radio, or toaster oven and have it fixed in jiffy by a friendly repairman. These days, cheap consumer goods are available at your local Walmart store, often for less than an old appliance can be fixed.

Meanwhile, the US Defense industry is still mired in the Medieval way of providing goods for the military's need. It is a far cry from its 1940 forbears who were able to mass produce cheap but effective arms for not just US forces, but the Allied powers as well. In contrast, modern weapons platforms, like planes, tanks, and ships are like works of art, individually so costly and technically complicated that we dare not consider losing even one in combat.

But weapons were meant to be lost, destroyed, cast aside when useless and a new one procured ASAP. This is not how our modern military works, who are consistently sent to war with arms built in another era. These includes planes from the Eisenhower administration, helicopters from the Vietnam War, and tanks from the 1980's Reagan buildup. This article on the backlog of MRAP vehicles desperately needed in Iraq is revealing:

The Pentagon's $23 billion program to rush thousands of lifesaving vehicles to Iraq is bogged down by production delays and the demands of the military services, members of Congress said Thursday...
Even though the 15,274 MRAPs to be built are needed to protect U.S. troops from the common threat of roadside bombs, each branch of the armed services has its own unique gear it wants installed, said Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii.

In World War 2, chief of the Army General George Marshall gave US Industry orders to produce basic weapons which could be provided quickly to the troops already in the field. Often this caused problems, as Axis tanks were often better armed and armored than the American M-4 Sherman, and British tactics were especially wasteful to armored vehicles. Yet, for each Sherman destroyed several more could easily take its place, often just a few months fresh from the factory. The US built over 50,000 M-4s in the war.

A way to end wasteful spending and procurement delays in the defense industry is for the services to order basic platforms in planes, ships, and armored vehicles. These would be no-frills, cheap as possible weapons that could later be provided with armament suitable to its functions, whether precision bombs, cruise missiles, or advance air-to-air missiles. We can then trust in American high training standards, and the benefits from computer technology to defeat our enemies, rather than spending precious funds on hot-fighters and stealth bombers.

Taking Sam Walton's philosophy to heart, we could then provide our boots on the ground with effective weapons when they need them, not decades later when technology and new ideas have long moved on.