16. April 2005 · Comments Off on Commercial Tech Displacing The Old-Guard Contractors · Categories: Military, Technology

This from James Dunnigan at StategyPage:

Around the same time, more troops became aware of the presence, and success, of SOCOMs (Special Operations Command) free-wheeling style of procurement. SOCOM personnel were given considerable freedom to find the best equipment and weapons for the job, wherever they could find it. When the Internet became widely available in the 1990s, more military personnel became aware of SOCOMs methods. At the same time, more and more new, relatively inexpensive technologies began to appear. Perhaps the most dramatic example of this is found in the development of micro-UAVs. New materials, digital cameras and wireless communications technologies combined to produce inexpensive (by military standards) UAVs weighing under ten pounds. It’s also no accident that many of these look, and perform, like the small, remote control aircraft, built and operated by hobbyists. The gadget geeks were also building “toy robots” that soon turned into battlefield tools for checking out caves, or possible booby traps. After September 11, 2001, some of these hobby projects were sent off to war. While the traditional military manufacturers scoffed at the idea of hobbyist remote control aircraft being used by the military, the troops had a very different idea. For an infantryman, or Special Forces operator, a five or ten pound remotely controlled aircraft, that could send back live images of what it was seeing over the hill or around the bend, could be a lifesaver.

This rush of new, cheaper and more effective technology is beginning to bother the traditional manufacturers. These large outfits make lots of money by building high tech, high dollar, items. The new guys are building inexpensive stuff that works better. Now you can’t come right out and complain about this. At least not while troops in combat zones are singing the praises of inexpensive gadgets like micro-UAVs. But large corporations think in the long term. So the U.S. Air Force proposes to get things organized by taking charge of UAV development for all the services. The air force is not known for the inexpensive, not with the two billion dollar (each) B-2 bomber or $250 million (each) F-22 fighter. Moreover, the air force has long dragged its heels when it came to UAVs. The pilots who run the air force were not eager to build aircraft that don’t need pilots. That kind of thinking has changed as UAVs have become more effective. Besides, UAVs still have pilots, who operate from the ground or a nearby aircraft. That will change eventually as well, with UAVs having “operators” instead of pilots. But in the meantime, the air force wants to be in charge of deciding what UAVs will be, and which ones will be bought.

I think this is a positive development. Through my years in the AF, and various contractors, even the newest stuff was antiquated by civilian standards.

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