This is a tiny bit of news from the defence nerd news department. We all know that acquisition processes of new weapons systems are usually a nightmare. Or at least nightmarish. Development takes far too long, introduction is usually bumpy and the military rarely ever receives what it originally had ordered. And when the government took a decision on what the new system should cost it is quite a fair bet to predict its going to be way more expensive. Take the acquisition of the A400M, for instance, the transport plane that is supposed to provide strategic air lift capabilities to Germany and a number of allies. Its way behind schedule and bloody expensive.
Since this is hardly a new problem, one is left to wonder why acquisition processes are so difficult to fix. The United States thought the development of single platforms that could be used by all services would be a way out: driving up the number of systems to be acquired thereby driving down costs. That hasn't worked exactly well, as the Joint Strike Fighter Programme demonstrates. Since European countries face stark austerity measures, many European policy-makers think its time to buy “off the shelf”, i.e. acquiring systems that are already developed oftentimes by foreign manufacturers. This has the obvious disadvantage of labour unions hating it and domestic producers pointing to devastating losses in domestic industrial capabilities and knowledge.
Yet, the austerity measures are unprecedented and the number of systems to be acquired has become so small that it hardly makes sense to produce virtually everything domestically. Even the United States are facing similar problems. The CBO has now offered its take on the acquisition of a replacement for the U.S.' ageing fleet of Bradley fighting vehicles [pdf]. It argues that the current programme—the Ground Combat Vehicle—is far too expensive and that alternatives exist. The two alternatives most noteworthy are the Israel Namer and German Puma. And here is the funny thing, if you will. Even though the Puma has less capacity for a platoon than all the alternatives and more vehicles would have to fielded if it were chosen to replace the Bradley, it would still be cheaper than the GCV programme or its alternatives.
Will the United States buy off the shelf? In all probability not. Imagine the Senators and Congressmen from constituencies that produce the Bradley. They will cry foul once they read the CBO's report. And killing a programme once it has commenced—and the GCV is still alive—is incredibly hard. Take for a moment Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte's—herself a Hawk—campaign against the Medium Extended Air Defence System (MEADS), which will be developed fully but in all likelihood not be acquired by the United States. And the other two partners in MEADS have yet to decide when to introduce it and on what scale. So this report might make a lot of sense, but don't get your hopes up. In reality, no one in NATO is ready as of yet to buy off the shelf.