Using the Death Star as a metaphor for military procurement

via Andrew Sullivan

Recently there has been news in New Zealand that military procurement has stalled, mainly because some personnel in Defence HQ can’t use Microsoft Project or Google search for a list of procurement solution providers. Mostly they want to run very expensive projects to decided which machine gun to produce, or to select a sniper rifle that will suit New Zealand soldiers as if our requirements are unique in the world. Never mind the US Army and Marine Corps have spent billions of dollars doing the exact same testing and selection.

Worse than that the Ministry of Defence instead of operating a Pharmac style of procurement policy instead pays way over the top for weapons that can be obtained on the open market for half the price.

The army, which does not have many shotguns, decided in 2007 it needed 311 of the weapons but it will not finish ordering them until December next year.

“A shotgun has become increasingly important in stability and support-type operations where a less-lethal capability is required.”

Cabinet had said the army could have 50 sniper rifles at a cost of $2.2 million by next year, but it will now be another two years before it gets them.

An order for 100 new marksmen rifles will not arrive until 2013

These delays are unacceptable and un-necessary. It should take two months not two years to supply 50 sniper rifles. Indeed a SE Asian country just recently took delivery of over 100 sniper rifles and ancillary equipment and they paid half what the NZ Army is being billed for 50 rifles. The Ministry of Defence is essentially feeding the middlemen and meanwhile the troops are missing out on vital equipment. Same goes for machine guns. The specification as supplied by MoD fits only two machine guns in the world. Coincidentally the US Marine Corps just placed an order for 5000 of them, why cant we piggy back behind that order and have our 500 fulfilled inside 6 months instead of the 3 years that is planned? Better still why is the Ministry of Defence planning on letting this contract to a one man band based out of Nelson with no support, no spare parts and inventory?

All this lead to what is increasingly called the Death Star syndrome regarding military procurement.

Adam Rawnsley reports on Lieutenant Colonel Dan Ward’s paper (pdf) using the Death Star as a metaphor for the poor state of DoD acquisition practices:

It’s embarrassing enough that the galaxy’s supposedly most fearsome weapon was felled by crappy duct work. But it was entirely predictable. A project so big and complex, Ward writes, will invariably stretch the oversight capabilities of acquisition staff. In this case, it led to manufacturing delays and prevented the Empire from realizing that one of its thermal exhaust ports was a de-facto self-destruct button. Moreover, for all the expense poured into it – $15.6 septillion and 94 cents, to be precise — the Death Star is destroyed twice and in its two iterations only ever manages to get off a single shot…Star Wars holds lessons about what to buy as well as what not to. Ward contends that the humble droid mechs represent a better acquisition path than Death Stars.

Apparently, this is a hot topic.

The challenges of military procurement are complex but here in new Zealand we should have none of the issues other, larger countries face, we can simply be fast followers and avoid the hassle and leverage partnership arrangements to get good, cost effective solutions. Instead we are filling the coffers of middle men and agencies who are charging double what the Ministry should be paying.


THANK YOU for being a subscriber. Because of you Whaleoil is going from strength to strength. It is a little known fact that Whaleoil subscribers are better in bed, good looking and highly intelligent. Sometimes all at once! Please Click Here Now to subscribe to an ad-free Whaleoil.

  • peterwn

    So what is new? AFAIK 18th Century Royal Navy Admirals and Captains had to put up with poor quality supplies from a corrupt and inefficient procurement organisation.

    • So your answer is it has always been like this so it always should be like this. Only someone who lives in Wellington could come up with a comment like that.

  • GingerBeer

    Name a recent NZDF procurement that has gone well?
    Part of the problem is the propensity to employ reject Brit Officers (especially in the Army) and sending them straight down to Army General Staff. NZDF is widely known as being the worst government department to work with in industry. They have aspirations above their budget and they expect the world for nothing. They have no technical vision and the key critical staff they have needed in uniform to implement technology have left.

    • Tony

      Ginger Beer,

      I suggest that if actually had experience you would know (and recorded) that the Ministry of Defence rather than the NZDF conducts procurement (Defence Act).

      I challenge you to provide evidence that the NZDF has no technical vision. Indeed it sounds as if you are a jilted contractor and please remember that everyone wants the world for nothing – particularly when husbanding the taxpayers’ money.

      • GingerBeer

        Nope not a jilted contractor – spent 20 yrs watching this receiveing the gear and having to make use of it overseas working for Liz the 2nd. I have also been in the acquisition side and aghast at incompetance and lack of sound knowledge in key areas. My biggest beef is Senior Officers actually wanting the right thing, junior staff needing the gear and middle feild grade getting on with career agenda, not doing their job for the warfighter. I have heard Major and Lt Cols blab on about … yeah the boss wants this but what he really wants is…
        These guys are real good at extending things out for trips and setting up for jobs outside. They like signing away risk to big system integrators – which is ironically highest risk of all!
        There are some good people in Uniform that could be developed and mentored to become full time project officers instead of being moved on every two years. This would allow for more comprehensive engegement with industry which is a key aspect of preventing industry becoming jilted. This is important with the CP minors that actually have greater influence on things as this is where capability intoduction by stealth occurs. Seen that done for 11 yrs. The worm is turning but for a while there, all we got where lateral imports from the UK and they were CRAP. They did nothing, sucked oxygen and talked themselves up big time. Some of the current breed with operational expereince might not be so bad.
        The worse political behavior i saw was the trashing of people in 1998 who proved beyond resonable doubt (cant tell how here) that the LAV was not the Armoured Fighting Vehicle for the Pacific regions – you know the area where we have no choice but to go. The Aussie Lav was shit in Timor. The big issue was logistics costs of operating an afv fleet alone and also the pacific is a tracked vehicle region. I could go on…..
        As far as technical vision the current info tells it all. Everyone focusing on shot guns etc stuff that the NZDF – MOD should be able to acquire reasonably quick – even with all the sustainment issues, yet what of other areas which are real critical.

  • JK

    The best thing for any army is to have weapons and ammunition that has been standardized. Any good, reliable weapon and proper training will result in sufficiently high levels of accuracy for the users. And standardized ammo and spare parts makes it oh so much easier to keep the weapons firing when they are needed most. Preferably ammo and spare parts that can be interchanged with those of our allies. The strength of the AK 47 is that it will fire in almost any condition and regardless of the dick pulling the trigger.
    Both the British army (an army I still regard as one of the best in the world) and the yankees have excellent weapons that we could buy straight off the shelves. And these weapons will come with the interchangeable ammo and parts. We can buy at the higher end if we choose to. So lets shop with our allies and buy the same gear as they do. Lets stop behaving as if the New Zealand soldier is an alien amongst our allies, needing weapons that only our boys can use with their tentacles.

  • Scanner

    Hand the procurement over to the people who will actually be using the weapons rather than a bunch of failed pom fuckwits.
    Most of the equipment needed to fill these tasks could be bought from Gun City by lunchtime tomorrow and delivered by DHL within a week, it isn’t rocket science, why do our forces have to be handicapped by some dickhead/s more interested in job justification than supplying equipment our forces need.
    Start with the Remington 870 pump, simple, cheap, ultra reliable, and available together with a huge range of ammo for every task and the Blaser R93 Tactical in 338 Lapua would have no trouble sending the sand lice off to visit 40 virgins in a heartbeat.
    Perhaps someone should introduce the DOD to Google.

  • thor42

    Agreed. Military procurement here is a complete cluster-f**k. Too many people involved, too many procedures.

  • Stuart

    Look at Project Protector what a cock up that was, can any body at NZDF HQ read a Korean Balance Sheet yet.

  • Mr Blobby

    Still liked the lybians.
    Throw anything spare on the back of a Toyota pickup truck and away you go.
    A fraction of the price of our LAV’s, will run circles around them and go where our LAV’s can’t or won’t go.
    What’s more battle proven technology and no problems with compatibility and spare parts. Pull into the local petrol station to fill up and easy to service.
    Won’t happen will it far to simple.

  • solo

    Not sure on the reject British Officer part, many of them come from technical backgrounds and are probably far more adept at evaluating products. We only need to look at the latest procurment screw ups (helos which don’t quite lift what they shoukd and hugely expensive to maintain, 757, HMNZS Canterbury.) Still while defence wastes money making sure it’s branding is correct and spend $2.6 million on PR what do you expect.

    • GingerBeer

      Dam sure about reject Poms- seen it first hand. The good ones just dont come here. These guys are not as good as people might think, – there are a few good ones they mainly go to RNZAF and RNZN. They are only here to get their citizen ship and keep their “project” ticking along so they can get trips -especially home. Its always real interesting when you mention their names to their peers. These imports need to spend time in the feild army first.

    • Honcho

      100% sure on the british officer part, the issue stems back to the new zealand defence forces fascination with a three year posting cycle, get the job, change some things ‘save some money’ and get noticed and ultimately get promoted, get a new job somewhere else in the organisation, next person comes in and attempts to salvage the mess left in your absence. As soon as someone could call themselves a subject matter expert their posting cycle is up and they are moved on. There is no accountability or long term planning, change is only driven by short term results.
      The status quo is great for keeping people in the organisation if they end up working in a job or with people they dislike, but its not so good for the health organisation at the whole.
      There is no long term direction or ambition within the organisation. It has gotten worse since bilateral recruiting efforts back in 2005-2006 saw an influx of former british service personnel, who came over as a result of the downsizing of the RAF (as opposed to the current near collapse), they have bought over their own culture and ideals which sadly have reduced the once proud royal airforce to a shadow of its former self. Big ticket clusters like tri-service single tier training which failed in the UK, is now being introduced to the NZDF, great on paper for saving money, but training army vehicle mechanics alongside navy stokers with airforce aircraft techs will never never work, and only someone without relevant background could be convinced that it is a good move.

  • ME

    Again it is that bunch of ‘faceless’ civillians in the MINISTRY of Defence who do all our contracting and purchasing for the Services. More often than not, what is delivered is NOT what the boys and girls in uniform (ie the public faces and those that face the music from the public and potential enemy) actually want and they are left with the mess for years to come, trying to modify or put up with the rubbish they are bought. I may be quite wrong, but I believe that this system came about because a Govt thought they couldn’t trust mere military people to spend the Defence Capital procurement money wisely.. This current system is an ongoing shocker and needs highlighting to the public what a sham it is.

  • John

    50 sniper rifles for 2.2M – seriously? $44,000 per rifle?