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Based on its analysis of US military space programs, the GAO offers some insights into the drivers of costs and delays: 

  • the US DoD starts more weapons programs than it can afford, generating a competitive dynamic whereby advocates and industry drive down cost estimates to unreasonable levels and DoD is forced to constantly shift costs around and between programs, resulting in further overheads and uncertainty;
  • because DoD tends to start its programs too early, technology invention extends into acquisition, resulting in ongoing technical fixes that push out deadlines, and making cost estimates even more uncertain;
  • the tendency of programs to try to satisfy all requirements at once, regardless of circumstances, stretching technological capabilities; and
  • the character of and changes in government oversight–and GAO flags the erosion of capability, in particular cost estimation and engineering capability, within government.

(One dynamic the GAO doesn’t mention is that identified by Luttwak: the increasing complexity of such systems.)  Such organisational and political behavioural dynamics are hardly restricted to the US space industry, of course–they’re evident in Australia as well.  As behavioural dynamics, they cannot be solved simply through restructures or efficiency drives.  Indeed, such ‘solutions’ are likely to exacerbate, not improve, problems.  

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