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Soldiers speak out about being blocked from repairing equipment by contractors (mattstoller.substack.com)
487 points by danso on July 15, 2021 | hide | past | favorite | 187 comments

This was a deliberate decision back in the 1980s and 1990s related to how to structure personnel. You'll likely recognize it as how software teams are siloed and the concept of "full stack" is kind of a misnomer.

The theory was basically that complex systems needed specialization for building and maintenance and that the US military could not afford or recruit the kind of people that could simultaneously run operations, do management AND troubleshoot.

In other words, military personnel are not seen as technical experts that focus on one thing for a decade, moreso that they are like project managers who have depth in one area from their first 5-6 years and then "broaden" out to fill in the management layer of the force beyond that.

There are exceptions to this of course, warrant officers and the like. However it's a tiny slice and given how massive the system is and how many sub-systems are involved - the management layer grows in the form of uniformed ranks while the technician layer grows in the contractor ranks because of how the force is structured.

The incentive for that contract force however is to keep the contract (and follow on) and the knowledge related to it, so they end up building in these kind of "nobody can touch this but us" requirements. Functionally you can see how this is a self fulfilling prophecy - we aren't recruting or structuting our force to have the capability to maintain systems because we have a contract force that does it.

To fix this a deliberate decision has to be made to change the force structure to build more technicians and unfortunately people like that don't want to take the pay and lifestyle cut so we just can't fill out the ranks.

I could go on all day, including how the defense industrial base as well as citizens balking at growing the size of the uniformed forces reinforce this system, but it's a pervasive problem across multiple vectors.

The problem is that the military does (or at least did in the 200X's) train people how to repair and troubleshoot. They basically take the people more adapt to do that sort of work and train them how to do it.

I know several people who were trained to do board level component replacement, but for most of the equipment they had, they were not authorized to do the repair, even though they were trained and equipped to troubleshoot and repair most circuit boards (including surface mount).

For design and creation of new things (eg: software) they used to train for that, but I don't think they do that anymore.

When I was in the army I use to rail against contractors all the time, until I got transferred to a maint. center for communications equipment. The equipment you get there is usually the result of a failed attempts by trained personal to fix things, but were trying do it in the field, without the proper reference materials, equipment, or parts. There units were issued all of these, but after several deployments, books get lost or destroyed, tools walk, etc... Half the times the equipment was fried by its own protection systems being tripped because it wasn't dissembled correctly, making the issue they wanted to fix a moot point.

So some PFC just destroyed a $40,000 system because a Capt. was up his ass about fixing it right now, he has no ability to push back, nothing that can be done but to follow the order to the best of his abilities. If he destroys it, well if the capt. is a dick, he gets written up, and charged for it. If not, the equipment is still fried, and has to be replaced.

With a contractor, they are outside the chain of command, and can tell the capt. to pound sand, and tell them the equipment will need to be shipped and fixed properly. And reminds the capt. that there are several dummy switches that without the right tools, and training, the equipment will fry itself, and if this is discovered to be the case, the indecent will be turned over to CID (army detectives) for investigation and that he should make arrangements to source a replacement from supply ASAP.

Seeing the straight don't give a fuck of these guys could exercises, in relation to what is best for the equipment and not the commands ego was amazing, and made total sense why on the high end equipment this method was used.

>> were trying do it in the field, without the proper reference materials, equipment, or parts

there is your problem.

that does not mean that the fix is to have a 'nobody can touch this but the contractors'

The US Military - all branches - have a long and great tradition of making field fixes. This is critical out there.

Waiting 3 days for a 10min fix may be acceptable in a US base, but in a war zone it will get people killed. At the very least, they need to be able to get remote support for on-site personnel to actually implement the fix.

Man, I think you have a wrong impression here, field fixes are usually sacrificial, and are made in haste, and often on "this might work." A great tradition it isn't, coat it in 100 MPH tape and 550 cord, and hope it holds. is generally the the solution to most issues.

Not to say there haven't been great innovation, but realistically most of these repairs are being made by guys that barely got out of high school, and had maybe 20 weeks of training. (I was one of them, its not a dig, its reality)

And as much as it pissed me off when a piece of equipment was no longer available, because it got shipped off, I was also equally pissed off when my unit all got sick and was throwing up because our water purification system broke, and a commander told the cooks to add bleach to the water. That is something a soldier has to do, where as a contractor wouldn't be likely to.

In the military you spend a lot of your time pissed off because someone, somewhere is doing something stupid, and it will probably get you killed.

> In the military you spend a lot of your time pissed off because someone, somewhere is doing something stupid, and it will probably get you killed.

This very succinctly sums up almost every conversation I've had with ex-military.

Bleach is perfectly fine to kill bacteria & some nematodes but, its like 1 cap full per 5gal and should be allowed to outgas after. Don't get me wrong, its not the best method but, it works.

Oh military communications equipment. I can totally see that stuff bugging out if someone looks at it wrong.

I actually worked a bit designing military comms when I was just out of school, but left because the politics was too crazy. Military comms seems to be held back in the 60s where everything had to be built for purpose and it doesn't matter that this radio uses 15 bit bytes and runs on 22 volt power and that radio uses 13 bit bytes and runs on -48 volt power since they were never designed to communicate or exist in the same system. Until a "Grand Program" is started to get them to talk. Then contractors comes out of the woodwork and eventually they come up with a design where the two radios (positioned next to each other) pass "XML" (<bit position:0 value:0\>) over a custom designed third pair of radios and can communicate only a small subset of what either radio was able to express. Of course none of that uses Ethernet or IP or even some standard military connection protocol, because that would make things less efficient and suppliers want the biggest numbers possible so they are competitive.

If we are going to have a technology dependent military and they can't use COTS then they should at least make things modular so learning about one piece of hardware can be applied to other pieces of hardware. And hey, if it's modular then maybe military techs can at least swap modules to fix stuff.

The military isn't all that concerned about a modular enterchangable system that use similar methods between systems.

We have time and available people who are educated, they can learn the some odd 40 systems in 27 weeks (excluding tacSat.)

So all those conveniences, only serve to make it easier for our enemies to understand. Additionally alot of the military communications equipment make use of proprietary hardware that perform functions standard equipment can't and in environmental conditions that would make it impossible for off the shelf equipment.

As for the network over FM they've had that since the late 90s, at the time because of the security and frequency hoping, and it being all done analog, the network could span roughly 15 miles and had a 64kbps backbone.

Just enough to send text file reports over.

But why worry about enemies understanding the radio? I can practically guarantee that the lower classification maintenance books that get "lost" already make it to enemy hands. Plus if we use COTS then looking at anything but the encryption module would tell them little to nothing and allow them to use whatever existing civilian supply chains are available.

Sure there's a time for LPI/LPJ, but short of a war with China I don't really see the need for most forces. Anywhere else we'd have air superiority and jammers are just loud, bright targets.

If you have a LPI/LPJ module you just put in the radio when you need it then it's much easier to keep out of enemy hands.

Then there is the cost of training for all the different radios. Yes, you could put one man or of a squad in training for 6 months ago he knows the basics about every radio there is. Or you could spend a couple weeks teaching everybody how to work a radio. Or you could have a real in depth training so you have a lot of fully qualified repair technicians.

I'm not exactly sure what your talking about for the radio waveform fielded in the late 90s. That's too late for SINGCARS and too early for JTRS waveforms like SRW and WNW. The capability description seems a bit like SRW (though that is frequency hopped, not FM), which was one of the few limited "successes" that came out of JTRS (the design goals were 100x as many members of the network, 10x the range, 10x the backbone capacity, and the ability for software upgrades to make it compatible with any future radio).

I'm at the end of the day you really need to argue this with the military not me.

as far as COTS parts, I mean if you think you can build a radio of that size with its requirements,life span,etc someone probably would have.

they moved to slightly modded radios similar to law enforcement for squad level communications, but I dont see that happening for larger scale systems in the near future.

But the field operation guide doesn't tell you how to open the radio, that is beyond operator (RTO) and field services.

There were at least 11 builtin counter measures, to prevent someone from exploring the guts of the radio, and sure you could see what is in the radio, but once the eproms fried themselves, you would be hard pressed to figure out what was on them.

The manuals that explain those enter workings aren't issued to field units, hence why they have maint. Centers.

Not sure what you mean by too late for SINCGARS, the originals before the half sizes came out, I just as you could load the crypto and hopset from and ANCD, all you need to do was take a dog bone cable and splice and map the wires to a serial cable, and then configure telnet. Then set the proper broadcast mode on the radio.

you could probably find the specifics in a leaked field manual :)

There are a few reasons that military tech turns out this way. The largest I've seen is that the military doesn't actually make any money with it's tech. From a classic business perspective, it's just an end user. There isn't a monetary incentive to remake entire systems to work well together.

Another big reason for the strange and overbearing standards is that there are so many different classified legacy systems that need to function, and no one is really allowed to alter, that newer systems need to be backwards compatible to work with them.

I'm not sure I buy the argument about not making money. Sure there's not a monetary incentive to make the whole system work well together, but that doesn't mean that the military should ignore how failures in their communication infrastructure limit their ability to rapidly respond to threats and coordinate between different forces. Combined arms is a thing a after all, and it sucks when people have to spend time coordinating because targets or enemies show up in some units but not their attached units (or worse show up in different locations on each).

Sure, legacy systems are an issue and compatibility is necessary (especially for systems we need to talk with allies who spends less money upgrading equipment than we do). But that doesn't justify the new things not working together. Is there a reason that we got MADL with the F-35 and IFDL for the F-22 and needed a special program (with unmanned airborne relays) to allow the two to talk? Those are both new systems, there just doesn't seem to be any overall coordination. Heck, to some degree it seems like this inability to interoperate is intentional, as one of the F-35 requirements was that it could receive but not transmit on the existing legacy waveform, Link-16.

I don't mean to be so negative about it. The technology behind modern military radios is incredible and the radios effectively meet the requirements that the military specifies. This allows them to do amazing things. I just think that, particularly for communications, they need to look past the new hotness for something less exciting that both ages better and works well with existing systems.

So the equipment deployed in Afghanistan then needs to do a round-trip in US if it’s critical to the mission? I understand why Capt. insist so much to attempt a local repair. Are there repair posts in deployment?

That is interesting.

Surely there is a middle way? This is a classic throwing the baby out with bathwater.

The middle way is have fixed-cost civilian contractors for 'standard' maintenance, and contractors that bill by the hour for fixing fuck-ups caused by field repairs.

You still have the issue of middle-managers in the armed forces asking enlisted men to do stupid things, that end up wrecking equipment, but the only way to fix that is for better accountability within the command structure. Good luck with that, since the lack of accountability shields the only people who have the power to fix it. [1]

[1] See this outline of the fatal collision of the USS Fitzgerald for an example of how well accountability for stupid orders works in the US Armed Forces - https://features.propublica.org/navy-accidents/uss-fitzgeral... [2]

[2] The long and short of it is that someone above you tells you what to do, and if you can't do it, you get canned. So you do it, but you cut corners. If those cut corners cause a disaster, it'll be your ass on the line.

> The equipment you get there is usually the result of a failed attempts by trained personal to fix things

Are there statistics on how many things were successfully fixed vs how many ended up in the maintenance center? If not, that is a possible survivorship bias, kind of.

I don't understand. With pounding sand, don't contractors get tried with military tribunal if they interfere with field activities of the army? Like, SWAT team in the house, with "give us source code or we're going to the court with charges of treason now"? I'd assume Capt. is correct in attempting to fix immediately, and somebody who'd oppose him should be investigated, right? By CID or FBI? Because contractors can't likely make fixes more ASAP than operators in the field?

Or is it the purchasers who're procuring the equipment which "needs to be shipped and fixed properly"? Are we fighting wars in a manner "wait a minute, dear enemy, I'll just fix this small issue in a gusto, and we'll continue"?

Just curious.

I'm not sure how you are refusing to improperly service something, The contractor is there because a high ranking individual at the DOD put them there, in most cases they are helpful, and willing to help out when they can, but they are there with the orders to make sure the equipment they are tasked is maintained properly.

With that said, if a commander orders someone under his command to smash the piece of equipment with a hammer, the contract won't interfere, but he will report the situation.

The issue is, most of the equipment at this point is well beyond the knowledge a company commander would have, they aren't qualified to know if this is something that can be fixed in the field, and a soldier under his command that is qualified isn't in a position to refuse the capt. order. So they fry the equipment.

The army is pretty big on redundancy, and having contingencies, it would be very rare that an operation couldn't continue without a single piece of equipment. It might be harder, and may be a greater risk, but in a place where lots of things get shot, you make a plan, then you make due.

I'm not saying the scenarios I'm describing fit all situations, but I can say that far less equipment was destroyed after they came on board.

I didn't mean a contractor in the army quarters. Being in the field close to soldiers should help - in case of farmers, it's as if John Deere's certified mechanic (of course with all training, tools and spare parts, including and especially all software-related) was on the farm during harvest period. However, there shouldn't be a situation when the equipment can be fixed - i.e. it's not destroyed enough - and it's not because of software. Software is something which is relatively easy to change - I'm a software guy - and it has this property and advantage over hardware. So if it's software which misbehaves, it should be double duty of such a contractor - this time the whole company, not only the person in the army position - to help with everything, in a timely manner. In farm it's to allow harvesting to go with less problems, in fight it's to avoid losses among soldiers.

I'm mostly talking about the whole company approach to such time-sensitive customers.

You can't field-update software which has to pass a hardware-enforced integrity check. This is by design, and is very much a feature (for further reading, look into anti-tamper).

In general, military (electronic) gear is designed to be difficult to repair because repair and reverse-engineer are pretty similar. One radio being out is a small problem. The radio system's crypto being compromised because it was captured and reversed is a big Problem.

> You can't field-update software which has to pass a hardware-enforced integrity check. This is by design, and is very much a feature (for further reading, look into anti-tamper).

The suggested notion that anti-tamper integration exists on arbitrary whathaveyou weapon systems is, at best, misinformed. Field updating of operational software at the box level over e.g. 1553, or ARINC 429 via 615, or even vanilla RS-485 PHY via bespoke protocol, is very much a thing and almost de facto mandatory capability for most systems. If we broaden the scope of the term "field" to include intermediate-level maintenance in forward-operating labs staffed by uniformed personnel, then even firmware updates of cherry-picked circuit card assemblies can be a thing (although much simpler isolation to a replaceable circuit card or modular assembly is a lot more typical; CCA-level firmware updating is usually reserved for depot or OEM activity).

> In general, military (electronic) gear is designed to be difficult to repair because repair and reverse-engineer are pretty similar.

Bullshit. In fact the exact opposite is almost always boilerplate baked into acquisition performance objectives, sometimes even down to defining explicit MTTR targets. Certain systems even modularize the anti-tamper crypto applique portion to enable repair of everything else that isn't anywhere near as sensitive and much more probable to fail based on analysis.

The real meta is an adversarial one where private defense contractors are intentionally exploiting a complex process with the objective intent of locking in the ever so lucrative OEM sole source sustainment dependency, and the corrupt influence on DFARS statutory language as it relates to technical data rights is a critical part of that game.

> Software is something which is relatively easy to change - I'm a software guy - and it has this property and advantage over hardware.

Ha...you've clearly never been a software engineer in the encumbered world of fielded defense systems.

Contractors don't fall in the military hierarchy and the example given isn't interfering with field activities.

Basically, a Capt can say what ever they like but if it's just not possible to be fixed in the field then it's not going to happen.

Also, you don't get thrown into jail everytime you disobey an order. Especially when it comes to technical equipment.

I'm not a lawyer, but I'd assume when a field unit conducts operations, in the field, and some equipment fails, it's the job of the supply chain to do everything possible to help mitigate the issue reasonably fast. Definition of "reasonably fast" would be an expectation, carried from previous history of similar cases, and definition of "similar" is carried from previous history of purchasing equipment for the army. In other words, one can't just say "oh, this is more complex, and suddenly you can't rely on your practices anymore" without first - when the equipment was talked about - making that clear.

And "everything possible" would include tools, electronic or software, and software codes - and yes, possibly engineers who created them on the line, something like what was done when Apollo project had landings on the Moon. Only in this case I'd assume different kind of responsibility than just contractual.

I don't fall in the military hierarchy at the moment, but that doesn't mean I can give aid and comfort to enemy. Again, I'm not a lawyer - that's why it's a tribunal - but for a court to give go-ahead to this (absent more prompt collaboration beforehand) would be something to expect. What would you expect if you'd be in the field in this case?

And that's the point - for such a contractor, the only punishment available is through courts, with more or less a presumption of innocence, and where the officer is in a lot of career jeopardy if the tribunal digs up that they were being unreasonable.

By contrast, a soldier in the chain of command can be punished administratively, and disobeying orders is a crime that in most militaries is only excusable if the order is criminal, not if it's stupid. Rarely brought, but the spectre of it is there

You can always refuse the NJP and demand a court martial. In most cases, it's an extremely bad idea. As you go up the chain, more severe punishment can be applied.

I have seen it work with one pissed off LCpl. The officer decided to back off.

The requirements and financial penalties for failing to perform the duties specified in the contract are spelled out... in the contract. The biggest one is the government could neither give you a pile of money nor give you the opportunity to earn more piles of money in the future.

There is no way you could do your job badly enough for it to be treason nor as far as I know subject one to a military tribunal.

I have wondered what the procedure is when someone gives impossible orders. Like, I know there's a spectrum here, but just to illustrate, what do you do if your superior says "I'm ordering you to jump that gap" but it's thirty feet wide and fifty feet deep with big metal spikes at the bottom? If you ordered me to, I don't know, fix a computer, and I've diagnosed that the computer is busted because the CPU has let the magic smoke out and I don't have any spares or any other less-critical equipment to cannibalize for a replacement CPU, is it just my job to tell my superior that it can't be fixed and if they keep insisting I'm just going to have to wait for my lawyer save me at the court-martial?

There's no duty to obey an unlawful order; UCMJ case history indicates that in order to be lawful an order can't infringe on the statutory rights of the person receiving the order. In other words, you don't have to kill yourself attempting a patently impossible feat, and as there can be no possible military objective being pursued by giving the order, the officer should know better than to issue it.

As for your second scenario, yes, that's about it. Although to be honest it's unlikely to ever go to court martial; an officer demanding impossible things happens all the time and is dealt with at the company level.

The parent appears to conflate general orders with technical orders; your interpretation of the second scenario appears to do the same as well.

The word "technical" does not appear anywhere in the UCMJ. Technical orders are Air Force specific. There is no distinction between general orders and other kinds of orders in the military at large.

Nor did I say it did either.

The proper term "Technical Order" is indeed salient to the Air Force, but the notional concept of a "technical order" is precisely what the parent describes and exists in all branches of service, deriving its authority from a long traceability chain that terminates as a general order issued by the Secretary of the respective branch of service, e.g. in the Navy, its functional equivalent is a "Technical Manual".

I beg to differ on distinction. Whereas both uniformed and civilian personnel are required to comply with executing technical orders per the same chain of authority, the latter is almost completely shielded from the punitive hammer of the UCMJ.

In the US, you'd be conflating general orders (punishable by Article 92 of the UCMJ applicable to uniformed personnel) and technical orders (something completely different and more akin to a commercial service manual).

Despite seemingly popular belief, uniformed personnel maintaining military equipment simply aren't at liberty to arbitrarily fix shit that breaks however way they please using whatever support equipment/material is readily available.

Think of it this way: the general order issued would be that all uniformed personnel must comply with the explicit language of technical orders in performing routine/unscheduled/critical maintenance of military equipment---no more, no less. In turn, said technical orders specify the applicable troubleshooting, diagnostic, repair, test, documentation, etc. instructions that maintenance personnel must follow and even describe system theory of operations (albeit fairly high level; nowhere near the level of specificity adequate for an engineer).

Consider this[1] junior Air Force crew chief. He's reviewing the maintenance records (specifically, 781A records which document discrepancies, related maintenance and their associated corrective actions; maintained in parallel with mirror digital database equivalent) of an assigned aircraft because he was trained in tech school on compliance of a certain mandatory technical order[2] to do so. Everything he and all his uniformed colleagues are tasked to perform is quite literally "by the book" (of which there are many) and to be executed without deviation. In theory, nothing is left to guess work and everything is traceable, all the way down to what pieceparts of a weapon system can/can't be serviced at specific levels of maintenance. Technical order doesn't exist? Can't do it. Demonstrated proficiency at a routine task? Doesn't matter; the applicable technical order must always be present, open at task and performed to the letter at all times. In this environment, you're not authorized to wipe the ass end of an aircraft without an explicit technical order enumerating step-by-step instructions. That maintenance officer screaming at this guy's senior enlisted supervisor is in fact a logistician in company-grade uniform. Said officer can steer this airman towards court martial for a serious enough technical order deviation, but really can't do shit if exhaustive technical order compliance doesn't result in a desired outcome.

In your example, the system would be deemed "not mission capable", the required part(s) would be placed on order (whose priority shot call would be determined by the production superintendent) and you'll move on to something else until the part(s) arrive and you're directed to resume maintenance action.

[1] https://www.defense.gov/observe/photo-gallery/igphoto/200245...

[2] https://www.tinker.af.mil/Portals/106/Documents/Technical%20...

Ah, that makes sense - If the universe of orders that can be given w.r.t. technology is closed, then yeah, there's theoretically no ambiguity and there's no way for the superior and the technician to disagree about whether an order can be followed. Thanks for the detailed writeup!

Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory is a good illustration of how this question plays out.

Sometimes there's nothing you can do to fix something and a piece of equipment has to be shipped off and repaired (in my line of work this has usually required cranes to take communication terminals off ships!). Usually the military will want to have spares though, so there are options if field repair isn't viable.

The manufacturer/contracting company will always have a contract with the customer limiting liability so no, you're not going to be tried for anything but the company might get sued for breech of contract if things go really wrong.

But my experience has been they they are pretty chill as long as you're respectful, make it obvious that you're competent and you know what you're talking about (which requires actually being competent, not something you can fake for long in that kind of situation!), and offer alternatives and solutions to get things going again.

I would suggest you start by reading the part of the constitution where the crime of treason is defined and then continue on until you get through the bill of rights. Any dysfunction there is is liable to be systematic. You wouldn't need to point a gun at someone to force them to share their source code and if you did YOU would be the one going to prison. If it was required by the fat government contract it would be done.

The Army phased out soldering for Satellite techs in late 2002. I was one of the first cohorts to go through the schoolhouse without soldering being one of the classes. We still did component level isolation, but only for the purpose of "pluck and chuck"ing bad boards.

On the other side of the coin, I was one of those contractors in Afghanistan (2011-2013). I specifically co-developed an in-depth intensive five day course for all designated terminal operators. We didn't care what your background or experience was, we took everything from truck drivers to satcom techs through the same course. Taught the basics of RF theory, signal flow, troubleshooting, fault isolation, operations, and maintenance. Only the first two days were PowerPoint heavy(with very few words on the slides, mostly picture to relate concepts). After that, it was three days of hands on doing setup, tear down, and fault isolation. We would break all kinds of things, and they would repair it. All the problems we presented to them were real life issues that had been observed in the field.

The high point of that work was when one of the satcom techs came up to me after the course and said that they had learned more from me in a week than in six months at the schoolhouse.

As much support as we gave the folks we were there to help, it was all organic knowledge gained through experience. The satellite dish controller was a black box that we, as technicians had to reverse engineer because the company would not provide us with schematics. This was made worse by there being at least four hardware revisions (despite the company saying there were only two) with only some parts compatible across revisions.

The reason for not providing schematics? They feared one of us would clone it and sell it to the Army for cheaper, since it was the only custom piece of hardware in the entire system.

> This was made worse by there being at least four hardware revisions (despite the company saying there were only two) with only some parts compatible across revisions.

To be completely honest, this sounds like a classic case of conflating hardware revision and configuration as it pertains to a managed configuration item. That you didn't have access to approved internal schematics, and technical knowledge of the black box was constrained to a defined external interface boundary prior to independent reverse engineering efforts is certainly consistent with that.

Class II ECPs consistent with MIL-HDBK-61/SAE EIA-649-1 and the system's documented objective maintenance plan are a thing. Surely the SMR code of this controller (more specifically, its maintenance repair and recoverability disposition indices as specified by AR 700-82 [1] that logistics activity would have assigned it) in the context of reported anecdote would be sufficient to infer an interesting story.

I certainly don't doubt that you encountered 4 different harware revisions, but it strikes me as much more likely that the maintenance plan for said system never intended internal hardware abstraction layers to be serviced by activity at your level, instead structured to be independently managed by contract activity driven by performance-based logistics incentives with the objective of ensuring that, from a black box behavioral perspective, what they reindoctrinated back into the supply system is tested to be operationally indistinguishable ("form, fit, function" as it were) and thus compliant with overarching performance specifications when integrated at the next higher assembly level.

[1] https://armypubs.army.mil/epubs/DR_pubs/DR_a/ARN30303-AR_700...

A big part of the problem is the massive (almost exponential) increase in the complexity of the equipment over just the last few decades. And software. So much that used to be achieved with discreet parts has moved into microcontrollers, FPGAs, etc. which even if the customer had the bitfiles/firmware for, often after loading that (which might require special equipment), it then often requires configuration and calibration etc. that is very specialised (and might even need external equipment...).

The amount of training required to get to that point is just massive. It would take us six months of having field techs putting units together and working with the more experienced guys to work through problems with systems in the factory before they could manage going out to the field to do basic tasks. But even then, the systems were so software-based that eight out of ten times they'd need support from the software team to diagnose and fix the problems...

As a systems architect (this was in SATCOM, small specialist vendor, mostly selling to Navies), I tried to push in the direction of designing the systems to have a small number of interoperable LRUs (line-replaceable units) that the customer could keep spares of and change themselves, then ship back to us for refurbishment, as well as redundancy so the system could keep working when one of a type of unit had failed (for when it was mission-critical). I think it's a pretty good middle ground.

But the problem of course is vendor lock-in where the manufacturer screws them by making replacements extremely expensive. There's not enough recourse against the big companies doing that (like banning them from other acquisition programs). Too much lobbying, back-scratching, revolving doors between military and industry goes on for that I guess...

If you do component level repair on a circuit board would it be more likely to fail later in combat than if you just replaced the whole board?

It depends on a lot of things. If the root cause for the failure was poor factory soldering, a new board will likely fail in the same way after similar use where as a field repair may solve the issue.

There are plenty of other root causes where many components were overstressed and replacing them all with a new board would result in less downtime than replacing components as they fail, too. Of course, sometimes you can do well with replace this group of components anytime any one of them fails.

Also, availability of full boards and availability of individual components makea a difference.

Oh, the sweet innocence of someone who never looked inside electronics around him. Probably 1/10 of the products you ever owned shipped with some kind of factory bodge or went thru rework at the factory. That includes silly things like alarm clocks, VCR/DVD players, but especially expensive ($xx-xxxK) scientific equipment, airplane avionics, industrial control and medical devices.

1960s mainframes were “field serviced” for processor errata by going out to every installation and hand-soldering some pre-planned bodge wires onto the boards, according to very detailed patch schematics.

And their backplanes were breadboards!

For anyone who wants to see what I'm talking about, here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mBssIIRGkOw) is a good video of a 1970s minicomputer (which is not a mainframe, yes, but generally built and maintained by the same vendors with the same repair strategies) being disassembled/reassembled. You can see plenty of bodge wires!

You can also see the 1970s evolution of the "breadboard blackplane" into "pseudo-ball-grid-array backplane, with arbitrary collections of bodge wires loosely mated to it via hand-crimped proto-Molex connectors." (The only difference in practice being that you could now plug/unplug a "group" of wires, rather than one at a time. There was still no screen-printed indication of where on the BGA grid to re-attach anything, since the grid wasn't customized to its purpose, but rather was still fundamentally a "generic routing board" in the same vein as a breadboard.)

Possibly, but the component level repair could be a good triage solution while awaiting that replacement board. Not a soldier, but I imagine in warzones and combat areas a good enough solution that works now is more important than awaiting the "right" solution that takes 3 days.

>When I was in Iraq (08-09), we had a juniper firewall go down, didn't have another on back up, and they had to fly a contractor out from the states to Iraq, to change it out. Took 10 minutes to diagnose the problem, and 3 days of waiting, and 15 minutes to install it. We lost feed to the predator drones in the area, phone, internet, coms, and several other mission critical things for 3 days.... a real s** show.

This is highly unlikely, Firstly military comms equipment and drones use their own proprietary comms equipment The coms equipment is typically a combination of (AM/FM/TacSat) it wouldn't be running through a firewall that handles phone and internet (which is almost always handled by a separate contractor even in 08)

I'm not going to say it didn't happen, because its the military, but that is super uncommon, and against so much info sec, it just doesn't stand to reason.

Much of the communications equipment have complex counter measures built in, and sometimes just really simplistic ones that if you say open the case without unscrewing the screws in the right order, they are designed to fry themselves to prevent tampering.

This isn't something you really want to try to do in 120 degree heat, hanging out the side of a vehicle in a very sandy environment.

Historically, "frying themselves" was also meant in a very literal sense, with thermite or explosive charges.

Every so often, something would make it into the post-WWII surplus market with anti-tampering countermeasures still intact. Hilarity seldom ensued.

Often stuff has to be repaired for training and its not equipment that would ever be used in combat. It would not be an issue if it fails again in fact it would be useful for training if it does. You dont have to simulate failure and people learn if their repair is actually lasting.

I did train soldier on technical equipment (not in the US) and we would have broken or known unreliable parts given out so they learn how to find it. Also we had no authorization to repair most stuff and sometimes it was hard to keep broken parts to use the for training because these parts where scheduled for maintenance witch would mean the manufacturer of the part would replace it and turning the perfectly "good" part for training into e-waste. It's the classic problem in hierarchical structure. The top just never gets what the people at The bottom really want and need. They cant warp their head around why a broken part could be of more value than having 100% of the replacement parts functional all the time.

It depends so much on what it is, a simple single component swap seems unlikely to cause issues.

Sure I understand that a full diagnosis/repair of say a water damaged board I might not trust, but if it's just a port or a capacitor then it seems unlikely to cause massive issues if the person has any EE background whatsoever.

In a combat situation, having a thing down now may be worse than an increased likelihood to fail later. You can always order a replacement, but what are you going to do in the mean time?

As I said, there are exceptions. However the general principle at the Force Management level is as I describe it so the incentives for the decisionmakers are built around that, not the exceptions.

I will say though that it has changed a lot since I was active duty - better and worse. It's getting better for software and worse for hardware.

To fix this a deliberate decision has to be made to change the force structure to build more technicians and unfortunately people like that don't want to take the pay and lifestyle cut so we just can't fill out the ranks.

I'm doubtful that it's impossible to train some number of existing personnel to do basic repairs - especially the repairs involving simply replacing a part, as described in the article.

The original bureaucratic logic you're criticizing seems bad. But it seems like you're using a similar sort of reasoning to claim things are all or nothing.

I thought this was the purpose of warrant officers. By design, they have a separate hierarchy and charter for all intents and purposes. Sure, you don't get paid as much as the private sector, but you do get a lot of autonomy and mastery. There should be plenty of people who want to accept this challenge.

Downrange it’s a different story. When I tried to deliver a giant tech support contract to the 101st when they rolled in, the commander told me to deliver the equipment with root, and keep the support out of his theater. I gave him my team’s analysis, and they did everything from scratch just like they trained for. When I went with SF, the comms sergeants and EOD rewired everything in the RF stack based on intel and mission requirements. There was no other way to respond to change in time. Also, a big part of our job was to hack together solutions for partner nation equipment, mostly again the mobile RF stacks that needed specific un/declassed waveforms loaded for joint ops. The contracts were not fast enough, even the spook shops, although they did bring interesting toys.

> To fix this a deliberate decision has to be made to change the force structure to build more technicians and unfortunately people like that don't want to take the pay and lifestyle cut so we just can't fill out the ranks.

This is the part that's making less and less sense to me... we are paying the going rate, just indirectly, in fact we're paying more than the going wage to cover the overhead of using a contractor. why has it become so hard for the federal government to pay a proper wage directly?

> unfortunately people like that don't want to take the pay and lifestyle cut

When we are already paying $30k for a $20 part, we can afford to pay them market rate.

Seems like an old issue. I used to know a WWII British navy officer who complained how the Americans were so wasteful because they would get equipment replaced instead of repairing it themselves. I had assumed it was because their manufacturing capability was greater/cheaper but maybe it was this kind of war profiteering (is that the correct term?).

Well, the other side of the coin is legacy physical debt.

Do you want to be the one overhauling a piece of gear duct-taped together for 10 years using undocumented procedures and materials?

We've definitely slid too far down "end users can't be allowed to repair anything" and are overdue for a correction. But factory / manufacturer repairs have their merits too.

It feels like the worst excesses could be curbed with right to repair minimums. Factory wants to get into the business? Fine, but they need competition instead of being the only option.

I don't think it was duct-tape repairs. They had their own fitters and turners onboard who could make replacement parts, presumably of the same quality as the originals. I guess, back then, more stuff was just bits of metal that could be made by anybody.

> I guess, back then, more stuff was just bits of metal that could be made by anybody.

There's a reason the good old AK-47 - a design from 1946! - is still used on battlefields and insurgencies worldwide: it is easy to manufacture (so easy that there have been a number of both legal and illegal clones), easy to repair and to find spare parts for, it can take a lot of abuse before it jams up or breaks so hard you need to do an extensive rework and your average rookie doesn't need much training other than "this is target, pull trigger until target dead".

Modern weapons may be more accurate (e.g. G36) or have more firepower... a result of more strict tolerances and way more components, at the cost of reliability.

Large weaponry, from your average car over tanks to capital ships, is even worse.

> There's a reason the good old AK-47 - a design from 1946!

Not a great example. After a number of tweaks to try to simplify production it was eventually accepted that the original design wasn't conducive to mass-scale manufacturing. So it was redesigned from scratch as the AKM, which entered service in 1959. It used simple metal stampings instead of a milled receiver.

So the vast,vast majority of AK patterns you see on the news are actually AKM derivatives since very few countries ( Finland, Israel, Yugoslavia ) could justify using the original 47 design.

> So the vast,vast majority of AK patterns you see on the news are actually AKM derivatives since very few countries ( Finland, Israel, Yugoslavia ) could justify using the original 47 design.

Israel's derivatives (the Galil family) diverge enough from the AK-47 that it is difficult to completely exclude the AKM as a source of inspiration. Although the design was derived from the Finish RK62 (itself derived from the Polish version of the AK-47), The first Galil prototypes actually used stamped parts like the AKM before (mostly) switching to milled parts.

OTOH, the very earliest models of AK-47 also had stamped receivers, so there's that.

Obligatory Nicholas Cage speech. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H99XlWQ9KsA

I have no doubt of the skill and efficacy. Military mechanics or technicians with enough time on their hands could effect equal or better repairs.

But they probably wouldn't be to spec.

Does that matter when it's a Bradley AC unit? Probably notsomuch. Does that matter when it's a capacitor matched to the expected interval between service overhauls? Or when it's a component downstream of that capacitor on the next repair?

It doesn't take much for equipment to drift out of spec, and then you've got a collection of custom one-offs.

So, balance -- somewhere in the middle.

Why is military dependent on private corporate manufacturers? Do we want private corporations controlling the military?

Because the US military has no manufacturing capability.

From coffee cups to routers to tanks, jetfighters, and satellites. Everything is designed and manufactured (to spec) by private industry.

Just to clarify this point: This is an intentional decision by Congress and followed by the US military wherever possible.

Interesting story - the military has research labs that design stuff. They design a prototype satellite and ground station. The government gives each of the designs to two contractors (because they can't just sell it to themselves). One contractor finishes the satellite in time for launch. The contractor with the base station has nothing. The military "borrow" the prototype ground station for a few years (and maybe asks for a few more prototypes to get built that they can "borrow"). Finally, a few years later the contractor delivers their ground station (which is somehow bigger, uses more power, and less reliable than the prototype it was based on), so the military returns the prototypes to be scrapped and buys the new ground station.

They certainly don't have control over the military in the "Napoleonic supply officer coup" way. Diversion of funds and corruption while bad cannot lead to an outright coup. Gear is a long term thing for securing loyalties of the men holding the guns. Money alone wouldn't work well - the government has more and gave them everything they have. The high level of complexity and specialization of advanced military gear while favoring them fiscally also means that they wanted to go full treason and use their manufacturing capacity to equip an army covertly they would be at massive disadvantage from lack of skill even if they had enough legitimacy that their employees wouldn't just nope out the moment they did something so crazy. That and fear of facing serious charges.

That bit aside the reason is that corporations do a better job at it. The US navy once had their own manufactury - they quit doing it when private industry could get them better bang for their buck. Also methods of social arrangement which are helpful at a corporate level for their domain would be disastrous for governments.

Having competing monopolies of force isn't a stable situation for instance. Squabbling divisions drawing from the same resource pool are bad for serving the root cause. Corporations have seperate resource pools in competition without the same set of problems.

A government would have a Morton's fork for its own manufacturing. If they had only one division they have the same disadvantages as a monopoly. If they have multiple for the same niche they have the same issues as above.

Ideally we shouldn't want the military dependant on private corporations but there really isn't any other way to do it. It is way cheaper to outsource the work to a third party that is designed to efficiently do the exact work you need. Same thing goes for other non-military organizations like NASA, a lot of the actual fabrication and manufacture of parts is outsourced to private companies.

Armaments manufacturers don't just control the military. Actually they control the entire war media and most national politicians as well.

I would agree with profiteering being the right word. They would argue against it because it is a negative, and nobody likes being called a spade when they are the spade.

I would argue with profiteering as a concept because it is so ill-defined. There is no agreement on what is "excessive profit" for one it is a matter of opinion cast as ironclad fact.

The mathematical implications also can get quite silly - if you get overpaid for manufacturing guns but are awful in efficiency and but well financed and don't break even you cannot be accused of profiteering.

My dad was stationed in Afghanistan and he told me a story about how an air conditioning unit stopped working and instead of fixing it the Army just got a new one. It wasn't a major problem apparently and could have easily been fixed.

Well, we don't fight wars for any reason other than war profiteering so it might as well be as blatant on the ground as the geopolitical calculations are.

Everyone knew Korea and Vietnam would be a waste of money at the time but we did it anyway because we thought the alternative would be worse. It was more or less a purely ideological thing.

Afghanistan was basically all spite.

Latin America intervention, Gulf Wars you'd have a better argument.

Vietnam & Korea: I think you have to ask, all that money was spent... where did it go? In great part, the increased military spending went to contractors who don't care how many helicopters get shot down because they get to make more.

The ideological part is about expanding global markets so US interests can extract natural resources and sell it back to them at increased prices. That's called imperialism, but it's also a kind of war profiteering (if you win).

Afghanistan: They wanted to place US military bases within striking distance of Iran, China, and Russia -- the few countries in the world that aren't fully integrated into the US lead world order. Afghanistan is also sitting on trillions in mineral deposits that were mapped out by Soviet planners.

Iraq has some other stuff going on too, but just look at what country sits between Afghanistan and Iraq. Not too hard to figure that one out.

> The ideological part is about expanding global markets so US interests can extract natural resources and sell it back to them at increased prices. That's called imperialism, but it's also a kind of war profiteering (if you win).

WRT the Korean and Vietnam wars: the market aspect, while present in spirit, was at a few removes, as those particular countries didn't have, at the time, markets significant enough to warrant the intervention. The dot connecting those wars to the market motive was the Domino Theory[0], so in a way those wars were about preserving the option to expand the global market in the future rather than allow the Soviet bloc to expand and dictate those boundaries.

IOW, the rationale was effectively "stop them over there now so we don't have to stop them here later".

In hindsight, allowing the Soviet bloc to bite off (even) more than they could digest might have resulted in an earlier collapse than 1991.

[0] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domino_theory

if you look at a map with all the military bases in the region, the US has (well had) Iran surrounded. Iraq and Afghanistan were the final two pieces.

I don't understand why we're so antagonistic towards Iran? Some corps still mad that their assets there got seized during the Iran revolution?

edit map: https://i.imgur.com/qw6dOWE.png

Well, US is aligned with Israel. And Israel and Iran are mortal enemies by tradition now. The iranian leadership has the US and Israel as the enemy as their core agenda that is thought in schools. Israelian hardliners brag how about they will wipe out iran (and do carry out attacks) It is hard to break out of that cycle.

Plus, it is much more complicated, because the other Ally, Saudi Arabia is mutual enemy of iran, too. Not just geopolitics, also religious reasons. And .. a whole lot more.

I think it is sad, because the iranian people I met, were very nice persons.

If the Iranian leadership did not have Israel, they would find something else to fill the same role - Turkey, India, Saudi.

Picking fights with neighbours is an effective way to keep the focus of your citizens away from internal corruption and injustice. Foreign guerrillas are a cheap form of power projection, and their antics entertain your supporters.

In recent times, Hussein, Gadaffi and Putin have all run the same strategy, as have countless African strongmen who we never hear about on the news because they don’t have oil.

Live-and-let-live is not a universal ethos. Just as the Nazis and Stalin were pure power play regimes, so are many current regimes.

The ayatollahs do not lead a democracy, and do not deserve your sympathetic words.

"The ayatollahs do not lead a democracy, and do not deserve your sympathetic words. "

I do not have any sympathy for the ayatollahs. I have sympathy for iranian people. That is not the same. But the way I see it, the more outside pressure goes on iran as its whole(and not their government), the more they close ranks, naturally.

It was more or less a purely ideological thing.

"Ideology" is usually better termed "marketing" in the American political context. The war media popularizes the myths and prejudices (even if they weren't fake they wouldn't rise to the level of "ideology") that make favored wars more likely. They do that in order to make more money, which is typical of marketing.

Besides, both of these wars can be traced to particular events rather than some sort of general ideology. The Korean War was foisted upon civilian leadership by the insubordinate and deliberately poor tactics of nest-feathering military brass like MacArthur. The Vietnam War was justified by the Tonkin Gulf Hoax executed by navy but mostly by NSA.

Korea was a waste of money? Did you ask South Koreas that question?

Did the US fight in World War II only for war profiteering?

>> Did the US fight in World War II only for war profiteering?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attack_on_Pearl_Harbor was also a factor in the US entering the war.

Mainly yes. WW2 is the only US war where I can identify some objectives that decent people can support. However, US war aims in WW2 were based on expanding US influence around the world. I think if you look in retrospect, the results of post-war planning are obvious. The US is the world hegemon after we turned on our Soviet ally, whom collapsed decades later leaving us a monopole.

US business interests were very friendly to the Nazis, providing manufacturing knowledge, financing, and equipment for chemicals, tanks, and advanced computing equipment. Without IBM computing equipment, the holocaust would have been logistically impossible. They have never been brought to justice and are name brands today including what is now Monsanto, IBM, Ford, General Motors, and Chemours.

After the war, the United States helped the former Nazis escape on the "rat line", seeding them inside US industries, around Europe (including NATO command), and South America. Nazis and their ideological descendents were used for US covert operations around the world to counter the communists and latin american governments that were a bit too independent.

We live in this world now.

I think you need to take a break from the internet for a while. Too many conspiracy theories at once will fry your brain.

I thought it was common knowledge that the US (esp. industry) for years collaborated with Nazi Germany? Near the time they entered the war, the US propaganda machine worked hard to erase the fact. They were successful, especially after winning the war.

This is not meant as calling-out the US in particular. The nazis and soviets had large scale propaganda, too. It goes without saying that the latter still do, just like the US.

There is an abundance of examples, but one that I personally really like is https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_for_Death . When I first saw it, I was certain it was fake.

Which parts are untrue?

Hit or miss here.

Hit: can get a field rep who by contract has to be available, in the motor pool, for 1-2 weeks stretches when called. That field rep may have just designed the very weapon system you’re trying to maintain and they improves your readiness in 2 weeks more than 2 years worth of soldier maintenance would, and all for free to the unit.

Miss: you find out about that field rep and their cellphone through word of mouth, and the on post field reps are garbage.

And minor addition as to why contractors are valuable -- you only pay them when they're there, and can terminate them when they're not needed.

Granted, this can be mismanaged (omnipresent contractors on infinitely extended contracts), but the general principle is that it's sometimes cheaper to pay $600/hr and $60/part, than have to pay for (1) recruiting, (2) training, (3) sustainment, (4) pension, & (5) inventory warehousing and management.

Speaking as a current government contractor, this is not how government contracts work.

On the individual level, someone would have to work very hard, or be seriously disliked, to be terminated. In particular, when an old prime contractor loses a contract, the new prime contractor attempts to hire all of the individual workers from the old contractor, and generally succeeds. (It kind of makes sense; the work will likely remain the same, and the workers are the only ones who know what that is.)

Second, the government is often paying the $600/hr not because it's cheaper or more flexible, but instead to insure that there is a national market for, say, aerospace engineers. (Without defense contracts, the number of aerospace engineering positions in the country would likely be in the three digits, not the five digits.) The government is paying for recruiting, training, sustainment, pensions, and inventory management anyway.

Well, talking about a range here. Presumably the government isn't privatizing janitorial services to maintain a national market for janitorial engineers. ;)

And I guess that's the rub. There's places where it does make sense and places where it doesn't. Unfortunately, where it gets used and where it doesn't is ultimately a political process.

Thereby incentivise your contractors to let things fail. Contractors only get paid if things fail, if they are on salary and on staff they are incentivised for things not to fail.

Further problem: You are one mortar round away from that weapon system becoming completely useless.

I have literally never heard a success story of a company/organization outsourcing their core capabilities to presumably save money.


I don’t understand why all of management still thinks it’s a great idea? Maybe it’s actually working well for them personally and making them boatloads of money?

I spent 10 years in a public service. In that time, management centralised all IT support into one office to save money.

The next set of management - to fix claims of insufficient customer service - split IT out and embedded them into the various departments again.

When I left, management was looking to centralise again...

So. Much. Bullshit.

I heard similar stories for private companies too...

It's working for managers because in the beginning, it makes the quarterly numbers look good. They've got some MBOs or something, and they delivered, and they get a nice bonus or a raise or both. And the stock goes up, and they probably have some options. So, yeah, they make money. The bill comes later, and it comes to other people.

Yikes! This is crazy. I could understand if an AC breaks in some general's tent in the backlines, but preventing soldiers to repair things in combat zone can have serious consequences. Ok, it may not be like the old days when some wire and duct tape could keep a plane flying; today if you need a chip you need a chip; but for fsck sake, let them bring spares and documentation, rather than forcing them to wait for service. I'm not even from the US, this is against the education everyone in the military should have been taught everywhere.

Just imagine this being replaced by business cards with the service phone numbers on them (bookmark it, quality is excellent).


It seems like this could be really risky, what with sophisticated equipment in the field being unready at time of crisis.

I doubt it though. I recall from "Best damn ship in the Navy", a chapter about how the navy had satellite communications on every modern ship. But still used the old communications system anyway because until everybody was trained on the new one, nobody wanted to use it. And nobody wanted to go first. (So in the Mediterranean this guy's ship sent their communications officer to each other ship in the area and trained them, but that's another story).

My son was in Iraq and relates that all the night vision and fancy portable display devices and whatnot got left in the barracks. For whatever reason, they just used radios and guns like they always had.

It's one thing for the military to fund and buy all the latest technology. But somebody on the ground has to give a flip, and get it trained and deployed effectively. Until then, it's irrelevant.

Used to work in a intelligence agency, and we regularly had the usual suspects of defense contractors working for us.

I can't really say anything specific, but I can tell you this - the projects were itemized down to almost every line of code.

We once had a contractor tech/engineer fix some extremely trivial bug on the spot, which was not part of his support tickers - it was a one-liner. Guy got chewed out back home, flown out again, reverse the fix, and flown back again. 6 months later he came back, applied the same fix, and everything was peachy.

His previous sin was doing something for free.

While I have no doubt that the linked article is legit, this was not my experience (I used to fly Blackhawks in the army). Maintenance schedules are periodic, where after every flight day there will be minor maintenance, every x0 hours there will be moderate maintenance and repair, every x00 hours there will be major maintenance and repair, etc. Typically post-flight and x0-level maintenance and repair is conducted by the unit that owns the aircraft, by soldiers, not contractors.

It varies from system to system. The HH-60 Pave Hawk, for example, (USAF variant of the UH-60 Black Hawk) is well understood and on a regular maintenance schedule like you talk about. However, the USAF contract didn't require Sikorsky to hand over tech data and, instead of purchasing it, the USAF program office essentially reverse engineered a large portion of it.

Go to the JSTARS, the maintenance is almost entirely done by NG (which also bit them, they fucked up the work on one and caused it to be grounded overseas after the issue caused a fuel tank rupture during midair refueling).

There's also been a rush during Iraq & Afghanistan to push out small-run proprietary systems into the field for specific purposes, which also creates complications. Even if permitted, many of these systems end up being unmaintainable in the field due to the lack of maintenance tech data since it isn't required by the contract and lack of experience with the systems due to their relative novelty.

Makes sense.

With respect to aviation, the O-level maintenance activity you would have encountered is largely unapplicable here. You'd have to step into the depot bowels of e.g. Corpus Christi, Tobyhanna, etc. to get a feel for the real behind-the-scenes clusterfuck.

How much of that work is repair of existing components versus wholesale replacement of larger assemblies?

This isn't a right to repair issue, it is a purchasing specification and policy issue. The DOD can and does specify what has to be field repairable by soldiers by design, documentation, and spare parts. The fact is that they made a policy choice that they don't want this.

Exactly. Purchasing is a mess, and it is impossible to get improvements that don't increase numbers on a PowerPoint slide somewhere funded.

I wonder if institutionalized corruption in the Chinese military is the same, worse or better. If they are not paying $600 to replace 20 cent bolts, we are heading towards a massive shift in military power, because their military spending has surged since 2016 and they are now spending almost as much on defense as the US.

This feels like something out of Warhammer 40k. The troops aren't allowed to repair their equipment, they need to call in a techpriest^H contractor.

40k started off as a satire of 1980s British culture, but somehow reality ended up matching fiction.

A lot of comments here essentially about how it is all too complex, specialist contractors are needed, soldiers cannot do it.

Perhaps design criteria should include failure modes that can be corrected (faults can be fixed) in the field.

The defence contractors are piling complexity on complexity. Still the Taliban won, the USA Army lost.

This sounds like a threat to US military readiness and operational capabilities in a serious conflict.

I used to work for a defense contractor in the late 80's, and my job was to build "spares kits" for our products -- every component in the system had one or more spares that were packaged up and sent along with the equipment so it could be repaired in the field. I assumed all military procurements still worked this way, with enough spares and/or documentation to do field repairs.

Though this product was relatively easy to repair, it was mostly discrete circuit boards plugged into a backplane. Most of the components were socketed and could be easily replaced if needed.

The military is specifying this behavior in the contract. If they want spares, training, field replaceable units, or support techs stationed in the field, they need to put that in the contract.

That's what I first thought of when I read it, someone has not writen a good contract.

The contract could even be constructed to penalise the suplier, eg if the army doesn't have the capacity to fix the issue, the supplier has to pay for the technician to go out immediatly and with in a time frame - this isn't very hard to do

I am not from US, but reading this makes me feel US is very, VERY vulnerable.

They made it so they are more dependant on logistics than any army already is, meaning if they ever got in a war against peers (China, Russia, etc...), USA could lose the war because the front line got cut-off or sieged.

Seriously, for example if you send a special force group to sabotage a carrier for example, then all you need to keep the carrier non-funcional is siege it, place boats with anti-air equipment in certain positions and shoot any airplane trying to reach the carrier.

Land battles against bases seemly can be won by just sieging them and waiting all their gear to break, specailly if it is in harsh environment (like desert or snow), don't need to wait them to run out of food or ammo, just have to wait until their gear stopped working properly and then you can assault.

How the leadership doesn't see that?

In time of full scale war (or potentially whenever they want) the gov't can do whatever they want including changing the deal. This of course doesn't obviate your claims, because in case of all out war all the broken equipment contractors have been milking might cause huge problems. Also, it might be nuclear already, so who knows if anyone will be there to fix it, or even pull the trigger.

Regardless, this looks to me like a function of the huge $$$ that is referred to as the "Military Industrial Congressional Complex[0]", in which the mostly protected cost center of "defense" and of course those thousands of global US mil installations essentially milk these degenerate spasms of cash all over each others faces in the name of patriotism, service, the public, and whatever else.

Also refer to "War is a Racket" (1935)[1] by medals of honor recipient Major General Smedley Butler

[0] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military%E2%80%93industrial_co...

[1] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_Is_a_Racket and https://feralhouse.com/war-is-a-racket/

> Also refer to "War is a Racket" (1935)[1] by medals of honor recipient Major General Smedley Butler

That is a terrific piece, and one that's had a lot of HN attention:


Most active discussion, from five years ago:


Smedley Butler is also one of the few people in history who was tapped to help with a fascist coup and refused the seduction of power. A modern day Cincinnatus.

> In time of full scale war (or potentially whenever they want) the gov't can do whatever they want including changing the deal. This of course doesn't obviate your claims, because in case of all out war all the broken equipment contractors have been milking might cause huge problems.

I mean, assuming the soldiers have the tools and training to do it. If they don't, changing the terms of the deal doesn't matter much, since the soldiers won't be able to repair when they need to.

Yeah, the military contractors silo off the repair data and probably special tools, but I mean if it were really an emergency the Defense Production Act can compel the contractors to turn it over today. They can throw them in jail, too.

Not saying this is likely, but it is possible. I'm not educated enough to rate the probability.

Here's an example of this power being used to compel telecoms to spill some beans: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2011-11-30/obama-inv...

> In time of full scale war (or potentially whenever they want) the gov't can do whatever they want including changing the deal.

Nothing quite says 'military preparedness' like, "In the event of an actual real conflict, we can always just scramble to change everything."

It's the American Way of War. See also the US Civil War, US participation in WWI (the US went into that one with essentially horse-mounted dragoons intended for the Indian Wars), and, of course, WWII.

isn't this how most countries changed to a total war system? looking at world war 2, most countries radically changed their economies and nationalised a ton of industry to be able to conduct warfare.

Yes, they saw USA create a military from scratch in five years and curb-stomp two giant multi-continental martial empires who had been building their armies for decades. The lesson they somehow drew from that was "it's bad to build a military from scratch!"

> milk these degenerate spasms of cash all over each others faces

You really could have omitted that thought.

I don't think you're speaking with much context.

> USA could lose the war because the front line got cut-off or sieged

No formation is set up to operate without resupply anyway. That's not a thing in the first place - issues with contracting or not.

> don't need to wait them to run out of food or ammo, just have to wait until their gear stopped working properly

Why do you think gear would stop working before they run out of ammo? Ammo is almost always going to be your limiting factor way before anything else. Ammo runs out in hours.

> can be won by just sieging them

Just run a siege. Simple as that, huh? How many people do you think that takes? Huge cordon, defending in both directions at the time same? I wouldn't want to do that. Would you?

Worse yet, sitting in one place like that with modern artillery and air support is just asking to be obliterated from beyond line of sight range. And if you have the ability to counter them with counter artillery or air superiority why not just shell or bomb it in the first place?

If you want to recover sensitive intelligence - if you are cutting off supply lines then you already lost as the obvious response is to destroy any intelligence so it doesn't get captured.

Even the Admiral Kuznetsov, intended to sail solo, would completely ruin any type of 'siege' attempt.

The DoD employs millions, the United States is bordered by two oceans, and has enough nuclear weapons to kill billions of people.

'VERY vulnerable' is the least accurate description I can think of for it, despite TFA.

With enough screw-ups, it might be at a point where it can't effectively press an overseas war, but it's not going to be 'vulnerable' in our lifetimes.

It's not like the history of logistics and repair when it comes to war was solved / squeaky clean to begin with.

Not to hand wave the actual problem but this topic isn't exactly new.

Also just not knowing if another given nation does or doesn't have a problem sometimes is more about how open they are about it ...

The US is protected by two oceans and nuclear weapons. Amphibious landings are some of the most complex and difficult military operations, D-Day is so hyped in part because it's so difficult. We'll be fine.

The question to ask is what the heck are we doing out around the world.

Isolationism doesn't work. Two world wars showed that.

I'm not an isolationist. I'm against global military dictatorships. I think that if there were a democratic institution like the UN with required contributions and no single country vetos, we'd have a mostly better system.

It would be a terrible system. A country the size of China with 1 point something billion people, would have the same clout as a country like Belgium, with 11.5 million. Unless you will give proportionate representation, but why would smaller countries agree to get swallowed up?

Why would smaller countries that are constantly being invaded by the US agree to give vetos to the US??

You're very confused about how these things work.

> Seriously, for example if you send a special force group to sabotage a carrier for example, then all you need to keep the carrier non-funcional is siege it, place boats with anti-air equipment in certain positions and shoot any airplane trying to reach the carrier.

A Navy ship does its important resupply via ship, not via aircraft.

> Land battles against bases seemly can be won by just sieging them

If any of this stuff you are suggesting were feasible, it would mean the US already lost the war.

> If any of this stuff you are suggesting were feasible, it would mean the US already lost the war.

It didn’t win the one discussed in the article - Afghanistan.

Special case. The US has a lot of experience with counter-insurgencies and screws it up every time.

> Special case. The US has a lot of experience with counter-insurgencies and screws it up every time.

Arguably, in Afghanistan the US came closer than ever before to not screwing it up, despite Afghanistan being a particularly hard nut to crack.

The leadership does, but their interests are political so that they may end up in the ranks of the private contractors selling materials and services to the military. It's beyond dysfunctional and isn't well recognized. The military industrial complex has converged into a self-defeating feast of taxpayer's money.

The US military has a long and glorious record of getting into situations with craptastic gear and training and half-assing things until they kind of figure out what they're doing (and then half-assing that). But yeah, that first year or so really sucks.

Because you are rewarded to cuddle metrics not make things that work properly.

I would consider the possibility that reading a bunch of YouTube comments that Matt Stoller copy pasted to his Substack probably did not give you a full picture of the U.S. global military posture.

The US military is far better at logistics than any other military. If nothing else, they have had more recent practice at larger scale and longer term deployments than any other military.

The US would definitely lose against China if a war was fought today.

In a war between nuclear powers, I expect both sides to lose.

Depends heavily on the objectives of both sides. That is nowhere near being absolutely true.

I think both that the US is vulnerable for these reasons, but systemic issues like this are worse in China, and Russia is not a substantial threat outside of nuclear engagement. I think the US military is actually much better than China at maintaining decently competent people in positions of power. You'd be much more critical of China if you were able to witness their actually attempting a military objective.

> I think the US military is actually much better than China at maintaining decently competent people in positions of power.

Looking at what China and the US have accomplished in the past 30 years, how do you draw that conclusion?

What has China accomplished militarily in the last 30 years?

I think it was the last decade that China changed troop deployment from being primarily based on railroads. America conquered a few countries far outside their traditional sphere of influence.

These defense companies have captured the US Government's congress, congressional budget, & military branches.

It's as simple as that. Military Industrial Complex, Banking, Energy.



As always, government contracts are some of the most lucrative out there. Especially when 'unauthorized' repair can be spun as 'dangerous'.

"Sorry Lockheed didn't change that bolt, you forfeited future repairs. We can get you back into compliance for 2 million"

Does the pentagon consider it a feature that repair knowledge is compartmentalized outside of the combat zone such that it cannot be as easily leaked?

No. Maintenance and repair of a contracted item are governed by the active contract. That means if a soldier steps in to repair the item the military is breaking the contract and the assigned contractors won’t touch that item moving forward. This is problematic because the soldiers in place likely don’t have the dedicated resources to assume full ownership.

No, contracting as many military functions out as possible was spun as making things 'more efficient' by the Bush administration. Forcing the pentagon to go with the absolute lowest bid has been an enormous source of waste when every contractor goes over budget because they had to lie about how cheap they could do it to get the contract.

it sure would be an unmitigated disaster if the enemy knew how to fix an ac

Sorry to break this to you soldiers.

To the military industrial complex you are not soldiers. You are simply logistics and weapons sales accessories.

I know it is tough to hear this, but most of you already know this.

The reason they don’t allow repair as such is twofold: competence and liability. Both increase the risk of the equipment malfunctioning in the field. This leads to dead people fairly quickly.

Repair is one of those things where the Dunning–Kruger effect is very real.

Source: the guy who used to work at the contractor doing the repair or disposal evaluation of things which had been attempted to be repaired.

The underlying issues are far more nuanced than that. In fact, it has little (if any) to do with manual labor competence and/or liability risk; if you can be trained then you can be summarily replaced, and the risk is hardly a support contractor's prerogative to assume.

The root cause of these issues (as I see it) is almost entirely traceable to tech data availability/quality, commercial influence on DFARS data rights language, and the acquisition games being played (of which the general public only every catches superficial wind surrounding ACAT I programs).

i know a guy who works as a contractor to do helo repairs in afghan, iraq, etc for the USGov, he makes BACON! ya'll thought tech salaries were good.

> If people understood how much money we actually waste on defense contracts they'd be in awe.

Yes, but would they be surprised? Does anyone argue that the money is spent efficiently or effectively?

Why is hacker news doing more advertising for a Youtube personality?

This used to be called war profiteering and was a crime and a great shame to those who did it.

We need to get rid of the patent system and dramatically overhaul intellectual property to increase competition and reduce barriers to entry.

Totally agree that this should be called war profiteering, although I don't think the people who engaged in it were shamed in the slightest.


This is no way similar to Louis Rossmann's case. If the military would want to repair its fancy stuff it would.

Louis would be first to tell you that it is all related. Many manufactures have moved to this model. In his space he is specifically seeing 'just toss the thing and buy a new one', when the real fix is 30 cents worth of resistor and a couple of hours of someone's time. The military is no exception. But they may have the bargaining power to fix it for themselves at least. Think of it more along the lines of what mcdonalds did to themselves. Their milkshake machines are broken (10%-20% of the time) because they outsourced fixing it to a third party. The third party has no reason to really fix the issue when a good chunk of their income is repeatedly fixing the broken thing. When the reality is poor diagnostic and poor info to some teenager who was told by his boss to 'fill that thing' and he did it slightly wrong. Mcdonalds could fix it real quick if they just stood up to their third party and said 'fix this, like last week'. But the companies have 'political' issues where people in mcdonalds are incentivized to keep it the same. Also parts of the costs are take on by others and mcdonalds proper does not really have to deal with it. The military has similar issues.

> Think of it more along the lines of what mcdonalds did to themselves. Their milkshake machines are broken (10%-20% of the time) because they outsourced fixing it to a third party.

Ye there is no end to such bullshit deals with 3rd party suppliers that pop out from nowhere from the top.

> Louis would be first to tell you that it is all related.

Would he, though? He seems more than happy that people think Apple seized a bunch of parts shipments because they don't "like" that he does repairs, as redditors are oft to repeat.

The real reason they seized the shipment of batteries was because he bought from a manufacturer who copied the battery packaging, right down to the Apple logos. The manufacturer passed them off as OEM parts and Rossman was happy to do the same.

Meanwhile iFixit doesn't sell new parts with Apple logos on them and somehow Apple has never even glanced at them...and they very, very clearly help more people actually repair their Apple shit by means of their very well written and illustrated guides.

I like him pushing on the R2R movement but the man is almost pathologically narcissistic and sometimes borders on con-man. He's like the RMS of R2R.

I resent that I have to spend a magnitude more effort to refute your misinformation than it took you to write.

You are conflating the person whose shipment was seized, Henrik Huseby in Norway, with the person reporting on the story, Louis Rossmann (two "n"). The full story is that Rossmann initially believed that the parts were refurbished, so of course they would bear the Apple logo. When new information came later to light that the parts that Huseby bought from ShenZhen Excellent E-Commerce Co. Ltd. (DBA jacktele.com) were counterfeit, then Rossmann made not one, not two, but five follow-up videos to correct himself and present the new information. That is because he actually cares about being truthful. Chronological order:







What do you stand to gain by adding the character attack at the end?

He has said as much in many of his videos. Basically 'they all do it'.

It is related to the politics of getting anything changed though. Does America venerate "the good old days"? Farmers aren't allowed to repair their tractors. Does America venerate her military? Soldiers aren't allowed to repair their equipment.

(Alternatively, you can frame those as food security and national security.)

If you can't get the people who matter to sympathise with your problem, put it in a context they can sympathise with.

Yes. I think they agreed to these repair conditions as part of the contracts to make the things. Right to repair would protect consumers who don't have any special contract and didn't really think about negotiating that.

You don’t think there could be perverse incentives if not outright bribery with the people who negotiate with the contractors?

Surely. I just mean that the US military is in a position to choose how their stuff is repaired, while I can't force Apple to sell me spare parts or whatever.

Not even that is a given. It would be easy for defence contractors to form a cartel forbidding any of its members to let the customer do the repairs.

> Not even that is a given. It would be easy for defence contractors to form a cartel forbidding any of its members to let the customer do the repairs.

Even in the current environment, that would almost certainly trigger prosecution under the RICO Act as collusion and conspiracy for the purpose of market manipulation, just for starters.

Only if they get caught.

It’s common for advanced electronic components to have their data sheets under NDA, meaning that the suppliers are contractually obligated to keep the information to repair the equipment from the customers. Every party except for the customer benefits. Now is it market manipulation or legitimate protection of intangible assets? Who knows.

Only stupid racketeers get caught.

> Only stupid racketeers get caught.

Evidence suggests that in all walks of life, half of people are below average in intelligence.

The larger the conspiracy, the higher the odds (asymptotically approaching 100%) of getting caught eventually (and eventually isn't all that long).

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