FIST Could Revolutionize Defense Procurement

December 23rd, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the largest single piece of new hardware procurement the armed forces are currently pursuing, now that the F-22 Raptor project has melted down into a molten puddle of red ink. Both of those programs will end up taking twenty years from inception to fielding of a weapon system, and a big part of the procurement system we have right now is that the whole world changes a lot in twenty years. Increasingly, these sorts of procurement times are the rule, not the exception. One result is that the specifications for the hardware keep morphing to meet that new world, or simply to meet the latest military fad which has caught the headlines. Lots of army vehicle projects died on the vine because the world changed out from under them before real vehicles could come off assembly lines.

A group of Air Force officers have been arguing for a while that there is a better way. They call it “Fast, Inexpensive, Simple, and Tiny,” or FIST. One real-world example of FIST is the MC-12W intelligence gather aircraft, a manned variant of the C-12 unmanned system, optimized for intelligence gathering, and which went from concept to deployment in thirteen months.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has gotten on-board with its “Sim Tank,” more formally (if awkwardly) title the Adaptive Vehicle Make (AVM) initiative. It aims at taking basic computer design and modeling a step beyond current software limitations to make the final output of computer modeling “correct-by-construction,” or assembly-line ready. Interesting stuff, and here’s a link to a good article in Wired.

About the Author: The major landmarks in Frank's historical interests range from ancient Persia through the Crimean War, World War II, and the modern U.S. Armed Forces, with a lot of stops in between. Frank is fascinated by the unusual, the overlooked, and the surprising. He is the New York Times number one best-selling author of the Desert Shield Fact Book (1991) and he is currently writing an historical novel on Alexander's conquest of Persia – from the Persian point of view.

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2 Responses to “FIST Could Revolutionize Defense Procurement”

  1. Hal said:

    You better maintain air superiority with that combo. The F-22/F-35 types equal air superiority. For the MC-12 and the unmanned vehicles to be able to operate without unacceptable losses you must control the air above and beyond the battlefield.

  2. Hal,
    Thanks for joining the discussion.
    Air superiority is necessary for the lighter craft to survive, no doubt. There is a growing sense, however, that quicker and lighter is superior to the long lead-time monster projects like F22 and F35, including in the air superiority field.
    I have never been a fan of quantity over quality. The 1991 Gulf War provided a lot of proof of the value of quality over quantity, but one which gets consistently ignored (or simply forgotten)was that quantity was not an option open to us, at least not quantity beyond what we put in the area. We maxed out the airfield capacity of the entire theater. We could not have put another aircraft over the battlefield if we had wanted to.
    So I’m a believer in quality. But quality doesn’t always mean the most bells and whistles. Lots of times it means the right plane for the right job when you need it, not the “perfect” plane ten years later.

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