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January 03, 2005

Making These Mistakes in December 2004 Is Negligence...

Phil Carter reports on HUMV armor, and reveals that he too is a shrill unbalanced critic of the George W. Bush administration:

INTEL DUMP - : Ross Kerber has an excellent report in the Boston Globe on the business and legal considerations which are really at the heart of the current vehicle armor imbroglio. Of all the reports I've seen, this one goes into the most depth about why the Army is having such a tough time outfitting its force --

... [Protective Armored Systems Inc. Vice President Tom] Briggs said he's been frustrated by the slow pace of Army orders.

"You watch the evening news and Rumsfeld says you can't get the people to do the work, and that's not true," Briggs said.

Such complaints have put heat on the Army to explain itself, in the wake of Rumsfeld's Dec. 8 statement that the work was going as fast as possible.

Yet Army officials say they don't need the help. Instead they have set up a $4.1 billion armor industry that's a mix of federal weapons depots and a few big privately owned factories. So far this empire has sent 15,263 armored Humvees and armor kits to Iraq and Afghanistan, or 69 percent of the total needed. By July it is scheduled to deliver armor for most transport vehicles in the region as well.

* * *
The two competing views on the Army's procurement strategy, from both the insiders and contractors like Briggs, will be at the center of congressional hearings next year. "The question, and it's a legitimate one when it comes to protecting our troops, is: Why not enlist everyone who could contribute to a solution and make it happen now?" said Jim Ludes, a defense aide to Senator John F. Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat.

The starting point in the debate, Ludes and Motsek agree, are two key decisions Army officials made in mid-2003 and stuck with since. The first was a decision to keep orders within a network of current suppliers rather than bring new contractors into the mix.

This is known as "sole-sourcing," and led to a massive boost of orders for a few companies, notably Armor Holdings Inc. of Jacksonville, Fla.

The company's O'Gara-Hess unit produces what are known as "up-armored" Humvees, which add more than a ton of bulletproof windows and steel plating to the basic Humvee made by AM General LLC of South Bend, Ind. Before the war began, O'Gara-Hess was making 30 up-armored Humvees a month, mostly for military policing duties and scouting. As of December it had vastly expanded its factory near Cincinnati and was producing 450 of the trucks per month. In all there were 5,910 in Iraq by mid-December, approaching the total of 8,105 that commanders want.

New suppliers might have set up additional large factories to armor Humvees too, but the Army passed. For one thing, the service hasn't purchased from O'Gara-Hess the design data that would make it easier for another contractor to set up a factory. Smaller companies are left with the business of supplying components, not complete vehicles.

"For better or worse, it has made it more difficult for the Army to go to alternate sources," said Marc A. King, vice president for armor operations of Ceradyne Inc. of Costa Mesa, Calif., which supplies ceramic body armor plates and some kits for vehicles.

* * *
As roadside bombs and ambushes took a toll on US troops last year, the Army also decided it needed armor kits to add to Humvees and transport trucks already fielded.

That led to the second key decision, to send out much of this work to maintenance depots and arsenals in places like Watervliet, N.Y.

Known as the "Ground Systems Industrial Enterprise," this network had made 9,135 of the armor kits as of Dec. 13, covering 67 percent of the Humvees already in the theater. Frederick Smith, who directs the depot system from Rock Island, Ill., said the biggest constraint is tight supplies of items like bulletproof steel.

Hiring private contractors would have taken months just to sign contracts, said Smith and others, whereas the depots were cranking out some armor kits within three weeks. That was just what planners hoped when they funded the depots during the Cold War, to provide an industrial "surge" capacity in wartime.

All the central planning hasn't sat well with some who believe the private sector could do the work better, or at least provide competition to make the depots more efficient. As long as the depots can count on getting the Army's surges, companies have few incentives prepared to make armor quickly, critics fear.

The truth often looks like this. There's rarely a conscious decision to the effect of "Let's not armor our vehicles" or "Let's make sure the defense industrial base is hobbled in its efforts to help us." I have no doubt the Pentagon and the Army went into this with good intentions, i.e. to produce vehicle armor for the troops in Iraq. But in making these business and contractual decisions, the Army erred tremendously. And the result of that error is that today's units in Iraq do not have the vehicle armor they need to face the threats they face. At this point, the smart fix would be to reverse some of these decisions and open up this process to additional contractors. But that will take a while, and the results won't be apparent overnight. At some level of the Army, someone needs to take a hard look at our strategic situation and assess the requirements that actually exist for this vehicle armor. If we're going to be in Iraq for the next 2 years (or more), as current Army deployment timelines suggest, then the Army should shift procurement strategies to produce what's necessary to outfit that force. Making these procurement mistakes in mid-2003 can be chalked up to human error; making them in December 2004 is tantamount to negligence.

The point that there rarely is a conscious decision to f*** up is irrelevant. The people who sit at the top of large bureaucracies are paid what they are paid because large bureaucracies tend to go off the rails and f*** up unless constantly monitored and adjusted. As somebody at the top once said, the buck stops there.

Posted by DeLong at January 3, 2005 08:16 PM

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I'm betting Rummy knows game theory and employed it. I also think his basic management style is to get the best deal he can by starting out with a low low offer and then beating the opposition down as low as he can, thus arriving at the 'best' price.

Posted by: ken melvin at January 3, 2005 08:28 PM

It of course doesn't have to take months to sign contracts, if there is a need.

Historically with NASA as well as with the military, contracts aren't needed at all. No, it shouldn't happen all the time, and yes, various bean counters and Congress will and should complain, but they would be hard pressed to when it comes to armor for Iraq. All that would need to happen would Rumsfeld giving the go ahead, and back filling with contracts later.

Two historical precedents that I know of.

1) http://www.ci.mesa.az.us/airport/falconhollywood.asp

PRIOR to US entry into WWII, the Army asked private contractors to set up private air training facilities to train airman. With no contracts in hand, with hopes of Congressional approval, the private contractors went ahead.

2) 1960, The Guppy aircraft used to carry the Saturn IV stage was built without a contract to NASA. Here's a long quotation from an amazing book (Stages to Saturn). One wonderful part of taxpayer boondoggle of NASA :) was that NASA hired historians to document their projects. Stages to Saturn, available from the Gov't Printing Office, and I gather on the net as well, tells some remarkable stories of how the Saturn rocket was designed and built. Ya won't believe it. (Why were straw brooms critical to building the Saturn?)

Here's that longish quote, starting with why NASA needed the Guppy, and ending with a B377, with a large hump held up with 2x4s, laden with sandbags showing the feasibility, and NASA loaning the builder, who had no contract, the gas to fly the Guppy prototype home.

I hope you'll consider it polite of me to quote it.

Against this background, managers within NASA began thinking about other modes of transportation to ensure rapid delivery of upper Saturn stages, beginning with the S-IV. The size of the S-IV ruled out delivery to the Cape by rail or road. As the lead center of launch vehicle development, MSFC let a contract in 1960 to the Douglas Aircraft Corporation to determine the feasibility of air transport. A Douglas assessment team spent several months on the project and came up with a proposal that envisioned a "piggyback" concept that used an Air Force C-133 transport. Design studies included pictures of the rocket stage positioned above the C-133 and perched atop streamlined fairings. Because the stage was exposed to the passing airstream, planners expected to fit the stage with a streamlined nose cone, with vertical stabilizers at the rear to enhance its aerodynamic qualities in transit. Suggestions from other sources ran the gamut from airplanes to gliders to lighter-than-air vehicles. One proposal envisioned the use of a blimp, which would putter along from California to Florida with a swaying S-IV stage slung underneath. As late as 1963 serious thought was given to resurrecting a modern successor to the prewar dirigible, with an interior cargo hold to carry rocket stages.28

The Douglas organization already possessed its own reservoir of experience in the transportation of rockets by aircraft. The Douglas Thor IRBM had been freighted regularly on transcontinental and intercontinental flights by Douglas C-124 Globemasters, and the company was confident that this mode of transport was practical because its own aerial operations had not damaged any rocket or its systems. The Thor, however, had been designed for airborne shipment,29 and the situation was now reversed. Douglas was ready to listen when approached with an unusual scheme: the modification of an existing aircraft to completely enclose the rocket stage with an airplane's fuselage.

The idea of a bloated cargo airplane originated with an imaginative group associated with John M. Conroy, aerial entrepreneur of an outfit aptly named Aero Spacelines, Incorporated, in Van Nuys, California. Aero Spacelines intended to acquire surplus Boeing B-377 Stratocruisers. About 1960, Conroy and some partners acquired title to over a dozen four-engined airliners, used mainly by Pan Am and Northwest Orient on their intercontinental routes during the Stratocruiser's heyday in the 1950s. The Conroy group at first planned to use the planes for [310] nonscheduled air carry operations, but airlift for Air Force rockets also looked promising. By 1961, plans had progressed to fly NASA's new family of large launch vehicles.30

Drawing heavily on his own financial resources, Conroy pushed the idea of his bulbous, "volumetric" airplane despite the considered opinion of many aircraft engineers and aerodynamicists that no plane could be distorted and distended enough to swallow an S-IV rocket stage and still be able to fly. But Conroy was persuasive. R. W. Prentice, who managed the S-IV logistics program at Douglas, remembered him as real "swashbuckler," the sort of aviation character that reminded him of the cartoon hero named "Smilin'Jack." Conroy apparently found some kindred souls among influential Douglas executives, because he persuaded the company to go along with him on a presentation to NASA and MSFC. Some of the NASA managers were unconvinced, but the energetic Conroy touched a responsive chord in MSFC's visionary director, Dr. Wernher von Braun. As John Goodrum, chief of MSFC's logistics office, recalled the sequence of events, von Braun warmed to the idea from the start. The idea was innovative and its boldness appealed to him. Neither MSFC nor NASA Headquarters could allocate substantial funds to such a project at the time. Nevertheless, buoyed by the interest evinced at both Douglas and MSFC, Conroy decided to plunge ahead, although there was no guarantee of a contract.31

The first phase of the project called for lengthening the fuselage (by inserting the cabin section of another Stratocruiser) to accommodate the S-IV stage. After the flight test of that modification, phase two called for the enlargement of the plane's cabin section to approximately double its normal volume. The swollen, humpbacked addition to the original Boeing airframe was originally fabricated as a nonstructural element stuck on the top of the fuselage. This alteration allowed test pilots and engineers to conduct flight tests and analyze the altered flying characteristics in comparative safety. The first flight occurred on 19 September 1962, followed by more than 50 hours of cross-country trials and other experimental flights. Satisfied that the reconfigured aircraft could indeed fly, workmen finally cut away the original inner fuselage and the massive external shell was mated to the basic airframe as a load-bearing structure. The name Aero Spacelines selected for its unique plane was a natural. The former Stratocruiser became a B-377 PG: the Pregnant Guppy. The new plane had cost over $1 000 000.32

The Guppy's designers intended to make the plane a self-contained cargo transportation system. The fuselage separated just aft of the wing's trailing edge to load and unload the S-IV and other cargoes. The ground crew unloaded and attached three portable dollies to the rear part of the plane and disengaged the various lines, cables, and bolts connecting the fuselage sections. The rear portion was then rolled back to expose the plane's cavernous hold.33

[311] In the course of work on the Guppy, Conroy began running out of cash and credit. He figured he needed some tangible support from NASA in the form of an endorsement to keep his creditors at arm's length. On 20 September 1962, only one day after the first air trials of the reconfigured prototype cargo version, Conroy and an adventuresome flight crew took off for a demonstration tour. At this stage of the plane's development, the B-377's original fuselage was still intact, and the massive hump attached to the outside was held up by an interior framework of metal stringers and wooden two-by-fours. Conroy had to get a special clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration which allowed him to proceed eastward from Van Nuys, as long as he avoided major population areas en route. Following several interim stops, the Pregnant Guppy flew to Huntsville, where Conroy wanted to demonstrate the plane to MSFC officials and perhaps get some form of unofficial encouragement to enable him to continue the plane's development.

He landed at the airstrip of the Army's Redstone Arsenal, a facility shared jointly by MSFC and the Army. The Guppy was visited by a mixed group of scoffers and enthusiasts, including von Braun. While some onlookers made sour jokes about the reputed ability of the awkward-looking plane to fly Saturn rocket stages from the Pacific to the Atlantic coast, von Braun was delighted. With both time and money in short supply, Conroy wanted to pull off a convincing test of the Guppy's ability to fly a heavy load. Because there was no time to install enough sandbags in the hold to simulate the proposed cargo capacity, the plane was completely gassed up with a load of aviation fuel to make up the weight difference. MSFC's logistics chief, John Goodrum, observed the proceedings, and most of the people around him seemed very doubtful of the plane's potential. "In fact," remembered Goodrum, "there were some pretty high ranking people who stood right there and shook their heads and said it just wouldn't fly-there is no way!"

With Conroy at the controls, the big plane lumbered down the runway and into the air. The pair of MSFC observers aboard this first flight included Julian Hamilton, a key manager in Saturn logistics programs, and Herman Kroeger, a member of the von Braun group since the V-2 program in Germany and a former test pilot. Even with the number one and two engines out, the plane could maintain course and altitude with only light control. This feat so impressed ex-test pilot Kroeger that he lapsed into German in describing it to his colleagues after the plane landed. Von Braun was so interested that he wanted to fly in the airplane. The MSFC director crawled in the airplane and took off, to the consternation of those still dubious about the airworthiness of the fuel-heavy airplane braced on the inside by a wooden framework. The flight was uneventful, and informal contract talks began the same day. There was little doubt that Conroy needed some firm support. His [312] finances were in such bad shape that he reached Huntsville only by borrowing some aviation gas from a friend in Oklahoma, and MSFC agreed to supply him with enough gas to fly home to California.34


Posted by: jerry at January 3, 2005 10:16 PM

I take it back, it wasn't sandbags, it was heavy with fuel. Also, as a kid going to school about 4 miles west of the Van Nuys, I used to frequently see the Pregnant Guppy take off and cruise off. The mid-60s were interesting in Canoga Park. The Saturn V engine was built at Rocketdyne in the center of town, which was rumored to make us a ground zero target for an ICBM. Every Wednesday for several years at noon, a very large rumble filled the air and shook the ground. Shortly thereafter, a look to the west would reveal a large steam plume arising from the Santa Susana hills where Rocketdyne's test site was.


This site was also home to the world's first nuclear meltdown in 1959, and the illegal disposal of that meltdown at sea, but that's a different story. (The site still needs cleanup today, and of course, being in the hills of LA, is now associated with some incredibly expensive homes. That and cancer victims, leads to some big lawsuits....)

Posted by: jerry at January 3, 2005 10:30 PM

Fascinating tale, Jerry, especially since I lived just blocks away from Canoga Park, 3 miles from Van Nuys AP and under its Western flightpath (albeit a couple decades after the period described). The sort of entrepreneurial risk-taking involved seems almost quaint today (especially post-dot-com bubble). All of that space-age daring-do -- in both Southern (e.g. Rocketdyne) and Northern (e.g. Areojet) California -- moved to Texas during the LBJ administration, just as plane production has been sucked into the US South-East in later years for similar political reasons.

Posted by: modus potus at January 3, 2005 11:33 PM

It's not all gone, but it is going.... To think that all (?) DC-3s once flew out of Santa Monica airport.

But! Boeing's ship-borne, james bond like, launch facility is ported in Long Beach


I heard that the powers that be want to close the Los Angeles Air Force Base. That will be a terrible thing for the area. UCLA, USC, Cal Tech, Harvey Mudd College and all the Cal State Schools are geared towards producing substantial amounts of aerospace engineers. LA Air Force Base, Edwards, and Northrop, Boeing, AeroJet, JPL, etc. all created a perfect storm of Aerospace development. It will be very sad to see that taken apart.

I am now working at what had been Hughes Helicopter in El Segundo, now Boeing in Mesa Arizona.


Posted by: jerry at January 4, 2005 01:12 AM

I really enjoyed reading that, Jerry! Then I found myself wondering at the differences between then and now, in terms of selflessness and sheer sense of adventure. Or maybe it was goofy optimism. I don't know, but it certainly seems to me that the mindset of those currently in power (or who believe themselves to be in power) is one of reactionary insistence upon the status quo. The world may be in the throes of some as-yet unclear change, but by God, the way we live in this world shall stand. So it isn't surprising that a man like Rumsfeld can't really contemplate actively solving a sudden, surmountable problem.

Posted by: Aunt Deb at January 4, 2005 06:45 AM

Per General Groves' account, the majority of purchasing for the Manhatten Project was handled by making a verbal agreement on the key points, agreeing that remaining issues would be handled on a "reasonable man" basis, and following up with official government paperwork much later. He claimed that no part of the project was delayed due to contractual issues and that no contractor claimed to have been cheated later.

But such a process could never take place today, given the hyper-scrutiny that every government action gets. Even Fox needs raw meat to feed, and it only takes on purchasing scandal per generation to sour everyone in that generation of flexibility. Look at the KC-767 scandal: that is certainly going to lead to more rigidity just when we need the opposite.


Posted by: Cranky Observer at January 4, 2005 07:06 AM

How often is this administration constratined by legalities or what the media would say? Especially when the obvious counter would be 'support our troops!'.

In the end, Rumsfield didn't believe in a guerilla war until well after it was underway to a large degree, and even then wasn't willing to change things. Mr. 'Transformation' wasn't willing to transform his plans to fit reality.

And Bush didn't care.

Posted by: Barry at January 4, 2005 07:17 AM

> How often is this administration constratined
> by legalities or what the media would say?

Administration - no. Congressmen - yes. Particularly in the House, whose members have to face re-election every two years Bush or no Bush. Challengers love to make radio commercials about this sort of stuff.


Posted by: Cranky Observer at January 4, 2005 09:05 AM

I used to work in the federal government, and right-wing complaints about "months to sign contracts" and "can't fire a civil servant" etc., are a lot of hooey. Most of the time, the top leadership is conflicted in its goals, if it has any goals, that is, and it is the conflict, which slows the bureaucracy to a crawl. Congressmen and other politicians, many of whom are not, (how shall we say it?) achievement-oriented to begin with, are more than willing to grandstand over after-the-fact "revelations" of government waste. And, those "revelations" might be of something real, but are just as likely to be a bad version of a "Sixty Minutes" sandbag job.

Bottom-line: Rumsfeld should not be allowed to hide behind the time to sign contracts.

But, armor is not the beginning and the end of the problems in Iraq. The inability to contain the escalating violence is a consequence of strategic decisions made by Bremer, Rumsfeld and Bush -- the decision to use too few troops and to disband the Iraqi Army, and the decision to proceed slowly with Iraqi reconstruction, allowing 75% of funds to be siphoned off by contractors. The slow pace of armoring is consistent with that larger picture, but it is not strategic.

Pressuring them on armor after 75% of the armoring has been accomplished is a source of weak satisfaction, when nothing can or will be done to pressure them on the general, strategic conduct of the war.

Posted by: Bruce Wilder at January 4, 2005 09:37 AM

Well, really, the stuff about how long it takes to sign a contract is just an excuse the Gang thinks will play well with the anti-government crowd. But they haven't really given this sufficient thought. The reason that Halliburton via KBR is supposedly feeding our troops and building the camps and making the fuel trucks run on time is supposedly because it's so much more efficient to have private contractors with "experience" do these things, rather than the military do it for itself.

Privatization just isn't really privatization, that's the point, I think. The companies that get contracts are the ones that the Pentagon folks either worked for or know because Richard Perle or someone else on the DPB works for. This is analogous to using the warlords to keep northern Afghanistan "under control", seems to me...

Posted by: Aunt Deb at January 4, 2005 09:48 AM


Again, this is the kind of post about Iraq that no longer helps Democrats. The ins and outs of Pentagon contracts is beyond the public's ability. What the public does know is that Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and John Kerry had a lot of time to put defense plates on HUMVees and didn't.

The story of Bush's incompetence is going to be told but it is a story that neither you nor any one Demo can push.

[You misunderstand: the primary purpose of this weblog is to be my clippings file. It's primary purpose is not to "help the Democrats," it is to help me make sense of the world.]

Posted by: Moe Levine at January 4, 2005 11:14 AM

We're Republican, we pass the buck.

Posted by: Nemesis at January 4, 2005 11:37 AM

I have this vision in mind of all the boats trying to leave Britain to get to Dunkirk but being told by the military-industrial complex that they aren't qualified for rescue work, and that letting them help might reduce the incentives for future builders of real navy boats.

Posted by: Maynard Handley at January 4, 2005 12:35 PM

Having to use two of the largest, most important government programs EVER (the Manhattan Project and the Apollo Program) as examples for how government procurement regulations aren't messed up should raise a few red flags.

Posted by: Jake McGuire at January 4, 2005 12:54 PM

In analyzing the reasons that we've been slow to armor the humvees, it is important to remember the mindset the administration has had regarding the length expected of this war. Remember that as the statues of Saddam were destroyed every Iraqi citizen was to pull their American flag from under their mattress to welcome the parade of US troops. Armored humvees are not needed for such parades.

Unfortunately, the administration has still yet to come to grips with how long and how deep we will be in Iraq. That is the reason they've not adequately supplied the troops.

In going to war when it did and with the planning it had in hand, this administration placed a bet that the conflict would be short and the peace would be relatively easy. It wagered the lives of those in the military. It wouldn't listen to any alternatives.

Posted by: M. Gates at January 5, 2005 02:55 PM

I think you meant "HMMWV." It stands for "High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle." See http://www.army.mil/fact_files_site/hmmwv/.

Posted by: Kenneth Fair at January 6, 2005 12:54 PM

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