As I was growing up, it was common to hear other kids remark that because of the sheer number of slave laborers employed by the Third Reich during the Second World War, German machinery, not the least of which were the PanzerKampfWagen (these days referred to merely as “Panzers”) were quite easily sabotaged by those same justly spiteful laborers. But what the others during my childhood and teens either did not realize or did not remember was the fact that, to use the Panzer example, those same tanks were prone to their own issues: each and every Panzer ever built utilized painstakingly hand-machined parts, meaning that more German steel was needed in the production of the vehicles than were ever used in the finished product; as a result of the first point, fewer Panzers were ever built than the beloved Patton and Sherman tanks so familiar to the Allies, or the T-34s (built by the Soviet Union at a rate of roughly 8,900 a year over a period of four years.) Although the Panzers were fearsome, the legend aided by such names as German tank ace Michael Wittman, Hitler’s obsession with massive scale and hand-machined quality in production ultimately catalyzed Germany’s defeat.
It was more than Panzers, however: many German planes, especially such machines as the Messerschmitt Me-262, were fashioned in the same painstaking manner, yet flown with a host of problems. For each weapon produced by the Reich, manufactured to the highest possible standard by hand, any single Allied nation could easily manufacture dozens, if not scores, of less time-and-resource-consuming weapons.
Fast-forward to the twenty-first century. In this day and age, we like to think that we manufacture the highest-quality vehicles and weapons for our men and women in uniform to use, in theory giving them extra job security. In many cases, this is true. Better weapons, vehicles, and armor are produced every day and put into frontline combat. Unfortunately, all too often, the same issues are brought to light, issues which plague our military whether we like it or not. Take, as a more recent case, the Lockheed Martin F35. Although theoretically, it would be spectacular to have a stealth aircraft with potential VTOL (Vertical Takeoff and Landing) capacity, the program has, over the course of its lifespan, been plagued with issues. As recently as March of 2015, red flags were raised when the Pentagon was warned of the possibility of Chinese hackers having breached the F35’s software; the fuel tank was given a very costly hardware and software redesign due to issues in that area of the plane; as of that same aforementioned date, if frequent purges were not made with an outside source of nitrogen, the possibility of maintaining flight in a lightning storm was out of the question; as certain missions continued, the F35’s flight control eventually degrades, meaning that attacking at some angles is difficult, thus endangering the pilot and anyone that pilot is sent to assist by their inability to perform; in basic maneuvers of both a defensive and offensive nature, the helmet display was negatively affected, which further jeopardized the pilot in their attempts to evade incoming missiles; several key components necessary for the aircraft require a more frequent maintenance schedule than would be preferred, which increases the maintenance costs of the aircraft, already plagued with a steep price tag; the Automatic Logistic Information System, software which monitors the status of the entire aircraft, often does not accurately represent the status of the plane, meaning that, should an issue arise, there may be difficulty for the pilot and ground controllers in assessing the condition, and thus maintaining safety of the individual at the controls.
These issues, according to Business Insider on 20 March 2015, were among the most pertinent for one piece of military hardware. Already, the Y/F-22 Raptor, a great albeit expensive plane, came in well over budget and hardly on time. I could cite numerous examples of the Pentagon’s failed attempts to produce new, high-tech equipment capable of fulfilling certain roles on the combat zone, but that’s hardly the point. It’s known that our military is underequipped and that rather than producing more weapons proven to be effective by improving on a reliable design, those in Washington and in Langley would prefer to find great new toys to play with at our expense. Over the life of the F-35 program, the Pentagon has spent more than $1.5 trillion for planes which continue to come in with new issues. This is a consistent issue with our military, and in large part, it’s not a personnel issue, but a series of design issues across multiple weapons and other equipment.
In January of this year, we were informed by news.usni.org that the Gerald R. Ford, a new aircraft carrier scheduled for its first in the early part of the next decade, has also been plagued with delays. Training, as a result, will likely be accelerated, which, to me, seems almost a national defense-sized version of Titanic. Are we to trust the safety of our Nation to people who consistently bring military projects in overdue and over-budget, only to find out that they don’t work remotely to the specifications for which they’re supposed to be rated? I might have thought that such a catastrophic series of crap products was something of which only the Soviet Union was capable. Russia’s sole aircraft carrier, Kuznetsov, has heating and engine problems and requires a flotilla of deep-sea tugs throughout every deployment; the Soviet submarine K19’s reactor suffered from a catastrophic failure and killed nearly half her crew. And although we don’t have the same issues, our military hardware is certainly plagued with its own problems.
I’m not remotely opposed to having brand new tech in the combat zone. If nothing else, I’m all for it. It’s a sign of progress, that our men and women in uniform are able to do their job with something which may, in the end, save their lives, if not outright make their jobs any easier; however, anything produced for use in the field ought to be functional to the point that any delays are minimized, if they can’t outright be eliminated, and the hardware and software ought to work properly. Naturally, every system is going to have its own problems. That’s just a fact of life. But if we continue supporting these projects rife with costly, timely delays, shouldn’t we scrap them? When I’m building a dresser, I don’t see that it’s lopsided and buy higher-grade wood, or top-shelf nails. Instead, I figure out where I went wrong in my measurements and I attack that issue. And if I can’t figure that out, I tear it apart and measure more carefully, taking my time until I have a better product. What, after all, is the use of a brand new plan or aircraft carrier if we can’t mitigate some of the issues? We’ve already spent trillions on failed products. Isn’t it time we sat down and took a look at the issues that keep cropping up whenever we build something new? Doesn’t the military deserve better? Perhaps it’s best that we simply eliminate the failure that is the Military Industrial Complex, and instead allow competent designers with successful products and methods to compete for a bid. Do we need to spend tens or hundreds of millions of dollars per unit when we could easily do the same thing without the hassle of cutting red tape at the Pentagon? We could save billions annually. There’s no reason to spend that much money when we can spend so much less for what is essentially a superior product.