Last year, we talked about how defense procurement was backwards when compared to the innovation in consumer tech:
Contrast this with an industry, in which there is a stream of huge payments even before there is a product, and a massive stream of payments even where the product has missed numerous timing, cost, and performance benchmarks. The extreme example is defense procurement. The Economist had a recent story about the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, our next-generation fighter jet, and the most expensive military program in history. It is running 6 years late, and the planes are running at double the acquisition cost, and at a”jawdropping” trillion dollar cost to support and operate after the $400 billion or so it will cost to buy the planes. Despite this, apparently, Lockheed, the contractor, thinks it is doing a great job.
And earlier this month, we noted how the innovation of weapons procurement and computer cycles were on two different timelines:
Weapons platforms — with their costs as high as hundreds of billions or eventrillions 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.
This is why this news is so cool.
DARPA — an incubator for the Internet and GPS — is going to offer a prize and run a Kaggle-like competition to create the next-generation Marine amphibious vehicle:
Darpa plans a series of “challenges” in which designers could compete for prize money, the largest award being $2 million for the best total vehicle design. The first challenge is to take place in the first half of next year. Darpa “hopes to see a broad spectrum of participants, from small businesses to large industry to academia, as well as individual engineers at various levels of expertise,” a spokesman said.
The goal is to get something more creative and less expensive than the usual weapon platforms plagued with cost-overruns, old technology, and time delays. And the other great insight that DARPA is applying is having the crowd-sourced solutions compete with the traditional contractors to exert change on those players as well, implanting that innovation ethic into the traditional industry as well.