Weapons platforms — with their costs as high as hundreds of billions or even trillions in the case of the F-35 strike fighter — can take 15 years or more from design to completion and can be kept in service for 30-50 years given the investment in them.
In contrast, Moore’s law — the doubling of speeds of computer chips — acts in 18 month segments.
Awkward. As the Economist puts it:
Another advantage of high-tech payloads over platforms stems from Moore’s law: the doubling of computer-chip speed every two years or less. This embarrasses military planners. Even their latest and fabulously expensive equipment often lacks the processing power of cheap consumer gadgets. It takes at least 15 years to bring a new ship or aircraft from design to completion. That can be eight or more cycles of Moore’s law.
Accordingly, there is some recent thinking, moving toward “payload” weapons architectures, where payloads on fighters or carriers can constantly be updated to take advantage of the latest technologies and strategies depending on the state of current tech or military challenges. This is in contrast to durable weapons systems that cannot be updated to take advantage of the latest computing power.
In an extreme context, it brings to mind Fred Wilson’s thesis that durable consumer devices, which are also dumb because they lag computing cycles, should be controlled by cheaper, less durable, more quickly replaced devices which have the latest and greatest in computing power. This holds true a trillion times more when we are talking about keeping our investment in weapons systems current.