Huh?!? What does that title mean? Aren’t R&D (Research and Development) and Production two separate, if not mutually exclusive, terms? Isn’t R&D something you do separate from, and generally prior to, Production? Doesn’t R&D mean the investigation and development of something that isn’t mature enough for production – something that may or may not eventually pan out? Doesn’t Production mean the routine building of a known commodity?
You say your old rifle isn’t good enough anymore? Well, you initiate an R&D program and when you have a proven design for a new rifle with the major kinks worked out of it then you begin production of that new rifle. Seems simple, straightforward, and obvious - so obvious, in fact, that I’m beginning to bore you, right? Talk about stating and belaboring the obvious!
Well, despite the obviousness, the Navy (and, to be fair, the military in general) seems totally unable to grasp the concept and has begun using Production as a means of implementing R&D.
The most obvious example is the LCS. We’re producing hulls that have no purpose or capability so that we can justify an enormous and long term R&D program attempting to develop unmanned vehicles of various types as well as other far future technologies. The Navy terms this practice “concurrent” production and design. More accurately, it’s concurrent production and R&D.
The JSF is another good example. We’re building an aircraft while simultaneously conducting an R&D program to develop an integrated, 360 degree sensor solution tied into a magic helmet. We have no idea whether it will ultimately work. It hasn’t so far and it’s unlikely to be operational for several more years, at least, yet we’re building the aircraft.
The Zumwalt is a floating R&D laboratory though the degree of R&D risk is, perhaps, a bit less than some other programs. The very shape of the ship may or may not prove seaworthy and yet production is well underway. The ship contains a host of developmental technologies that are not yet proven.
The Ford is intended to use radars that are still in the developmental stage even though the ship is already built. The EMALS and AAG systems are still developmental.
The problems with this approach are many. We’re wasting enormous sums of money building platforms and systems that, at best, will have to be extensively reworked as the designs mature and, at worst, may never pan out and will be discarded. We risk our future combat capability with bets on technology that may not succeed. Consider the LCS – if we can’t develop useful modules, and so far we have none despite a decade or more of R&D efforts, we may well wind up with a third of our battle fleet consisting of Coast Guard cutters. If the Zumwalt proves unseaworthy, and the Navy is already writing guidelines to address the dangers of sailing a tumblehome hull in certain seas, we may wind up with a cruiser size, $4B ship that can’t leave calm waters. If the JSF technologies don’t pan out we’ll have a $300B program that will have produced a near obsolete aircraft by the time it enters squadron service.
The sequence of R&D followed by Production is a time-tested and proven concept. Concurrent R&D and Production is one more example of the endless string of very poor decisions and practices implemented by uniformed leadership over the last few decades. The military desperately needs a return to common sense and time-tested procedures.