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.


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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story.  And when he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet.   Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet, and as a result he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist that takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him.  But you can’t ignore him.

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