Thursday, March 31, 2005

Procurement programs and "Divine Wind" - Lessons Learned

Last Sunday I spent the day being lazy. From the late afternoon and into the evening, either on the History Channel, Discovery Channel, or National Geographic Channel, there was a series of documentaries on Genghis Khan, and his son, Kabuli Khan. I caught it from the beginning, when Genghis Khan’s father was murdered, thru the sinking of the great Mongol Fleet off Japan in 1281. It was fascinating. There's a link near the end of this article, because that's where it belongs in this story (that's a hint to the drive by readers here to hang on for the good stuff). One of the early notes I took mentally, was how Genghis Khan began to really consolidate his power when he made his military a meritocracy, and got rid of the tribal associations. This has a parallel in the entire history of the US Military, unlike many other countries, who, even today, rely on a class system of sorts to determine who leads and who follows. If there’s any question that letting people get ahead, in any form of endeavor, based on their ability to perform, look at our economy, and our military. It’s a win-win through history. Genghis Khan controlled 4 times the territory of Alexander the great. I knew he took over a lot, including Rome, but I didn’t realize it was that much. I’m sure the meritocracy has something to do with that. Lots of other good lessons in the entire story, but the end was the most fascinating to me. It was the story in which the Kamikaze or "Divine Wind" philosophy came from. It seems, as the Mongols were laying offshore at anchor, trying to figure out, after one attempted amphibious assault, to successfully create a beachhead, as super typhoon came from the south. Some Chinese researchers went diving for evidence of the fleet and finally found the sunken ships, beginning with the finding of an anchor. They eventually found ten anchors. They analyzed the positions they found them in, and all of them had been dug in, pointing southwards. The show followed the research thru the work with storm experts and realized the fleet of 4400 ships (about the same number that invaded Normandy) were sunk for two main reasons. 1) No warning system (duh!) 2) Most of the vessels were not the 230 ft long ocean going ships, with watertight bulkheads and keels, they had been craft designed to operate in the Chinese rivers. Why does it matter that they were river boats? They had flat bottoms, and were not equipped with a deep keel, which would have provided some resistance to the wind’s force to try to capsize the ships. It gets better. They looked at the workmanship of the blocks on the lower decks of the ships where the masts were "stepped in," and realized the quality was very poor and would have allowed a masts to twist, and in a strong wind, most likely shear off. The analysis continued, trying to determine how these things could have happened. They realized the workers who made the ships were the conquered Chinese, who were now slaves, but they had the ship building skills. Obviously, the conquerors weren’t treating them well, so you can imagine they sort of cut the holes for the mast slightly large. Crafty guys. We’d call that "sabotage" today. The next interesting point, was the fleet of 4400 vessels was built in one year. Kublai Kahn had insisted in rushing the building of the invasion fleet, and making the river boats was faster. This speaks to today and our military procurement process for major systems. While many didn’t like McNamara, he did bring a better decision making process to the table, which was good, and continues to be good to the tax payers today. Had Kublai Khan spent some time following this type of thought process, he would have build a better naval force, and possibly had some of it left over after the storm to consolidate and try again. Lessons learned from the guys back in 1200 AD: Analyze your enemy and build the right thing to take them on. Oh, yeah, let the people who are the best rise up and do what they do best. My last six months in the Navy was spent at Operational Test Force. That command is charged with ensuring top level systems being purchased perform to the contract specs, which have been derived by the Fleet. It’s an important job, and can’t be rushed. The Marine Major in the desk next to mine was the Project Manager for the V-22 Osprey. We’re still not done making sure it does the job, but that was 11 years ago. Good procurements of major systems take time, and it’s important the taxpayer gets what they need. And on that note, link over there to "The Wrong Army." As you read it, think about the procurement process, and it’s time line (which we used to use 12 years for the nominal major system to take from drafting boards to IOC (Initial Operating Capability). I agree wholeheartedly with Chief Edwards. He did a great job on that editorial.

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