What's the Difference Between Military Procurement and Waste Treatment?

Monday, November 12, 2007 at 08:26 PM

You've got me. This is such a ridiculous procurement story that it's 50-50 whether you laugh or cry.

What is the one thing you really, really wouldn't want to do when procuring a bunch of commercial helicopters for government use? Set your specifications to leave out an item that all the commercial versions have. In this case, the Army spent some $2.6 billion on hundreds of European-designed Lakota helicopters for use in homeland security and disaster relief. Among its intended uses: search-and-rescue missions in disaster areas, evacuation of injured people, reconnaissance, disaster relief and VIP tours for members of Congress and Army brass.

The copters are already available commercially, but the Army decided to not require that the copters be air conditioned, despite the fact that the commercial versions of the copters are all air conditioned. Of course, our crack procurement system was unable to figure out that there might be a reason the commercial copters had air conditioning, at least until the military models were tested.

That's when they discovered that, without air conditioning, temperature in the cockpit rose up over 104 degrees, even though it was only 80 outside. And, of course, 104 degrees is the point at which the copters' communication, navigation and flight control systems can overheat and shut down. See the problem?

The solution is to spend millions to retrofit the Lakota helicopters with air conditioning at an estimated cost of "at least $10 million."

And the public explanation of the snafu is classic:

Air conditioning is standard in commercial versions of the aircraft, which have not had overheating problems. But the military usually avoids air conditioning in military aircraft to reduce weight and increase performance.

“We don’t need air conditioning in the Blackhawks, so we didn’t think it would be an issue” in the Lakota, [Army spokesman Maj. Tom ] McCuin said. “But when we got the helicopter into the desert, we realized it was a problem.”

I would like to think that this little flaw might have been uncovered before delivery if anyone in the procurement process had been gifted with the foresight to ask why the commercial versions all had air conditioning. Or even if someone had simply read the copter's performance specs and noticed the 104 degree threshold for problems, then noticed that the commercial versions were all air conditioned.

In any case, that wasn't the only flaw discovered on testing:

The Lakota has another problem: Testers said it fails to meet the Army’s requirement that it be able to simultaneously evacuate two critically injured patients. The Lakota can hold two patients, but the cabin is too cramped for medics to actually work on more than one of them at a time, the testers said.

Also, the Lakota cannot lift a standard 2,200-pound firefighting water bucket, though it can handle a 1,400-pound one. The Army said it had no intention of using the Lakota to fight wildfires anyway.

Well, since this government excels at parsing words and playing semantic tennis, it should be pointed out that, technically, the Lakota is "able to simultaneously evacuate two critically injured patients." It just can't provide the environment for maximizing their likelihood of survival. Which as we know, is a whole different thing.


Laugh or cry? The one constant in anything the government touches is inefficiency. Just another case to bolster the fact we need a smaller government. If it wouldn't be such a disaster it would be amusing to witness the waste that would occur if the government got fully involved in the healthcare industry. Glad to see you are for smaller government and privatization Lee.

I'm not for smaller government and privatization, as I'm sure you know.

I'm for competence, and having particular jobs done by the entities that are best suited to doing them. That's often the private sector, but it's not infrequently the government.

As for government inefficiency, of course it's inefficient. Anything run by human beings is inefficient. The solution isn't to privatize everything. The private entities are frequently just as inefficient/incompetent, and sometimes more so.

There is no easy solution to the need to live together. It takes constant vigilance and oversight whether the entity being overseen is public or private.

It would help a whole lot if the many incompetents in positions of authority--in both public and private entities--paid the price for their incompetence. Unfortunately, that does not happen in either sector.

After 13 years of working for a corporation, and 12 more working with one under contract, I know to a certainty that private entities are no better. Over and over I watched corporate execs who screwed up big time retain their jobs or even get promoted, and people with no ideas except self-advancement rise to the top over others who could have easily achieved greater profits for the company.

Surely you don't think that our private health care system is a model of efficiency? In fact, I challenge you to make a case for the private health care industry being as efficient as the Medicare system.

Ya better laff or yer gonna cry on this one.

2.6 Billion fer helicopters that don't work in the heat at a time when the biggest need fer military helicopters is in the friggin' 100 plus degree heat of the ME?

Can you say "kickback"? Spud thought you could.

Surely you don't think that our private health care system is a model of efficiency?

Spud considers America's for-profit health care industry to be an abomination. Thanx fer askin'.

The real question here is how to enforce the idea of a meritocracy in the worlds of Big Biz and Big Gov.

We seem to always end up with corrupt crony corporatism and oily oligarchy's instead.

Spud, as usual, places a lot of blame of the toothless and co-opted Old Media with their armies of suits saying "You can't say or do THAT!!

Government, corporate-world and the MSM have transmogrified into an overly cozy singularity to the detriment of everyone but the powers-that-be and their political meat puppets du jour.

Blog-world helps, of course. But the inclusion of many more people into the "chattering classes" may not be enuff.

The 10 million dollar retro-fit may not be enuff of a fix here. Maybe the powers-that-be can just rub some of this stuff on the Choppers and make it all better.


Spud likes yer stuff, btw.

Be Well.

Years ago, working for a long-deceased maker of passives for aerospace and NASA, I was chatting up with a man from DOD. We got to talking about things like you've mentioned, yes. How stupid they are. How kickbacks allow dangerous shit to take place. Waste, inefficiency, and yes, a word that starts with "C" and ends with "K". Yeah, that one.

"Did you know?", he grins at me. "That there is a requirement spec for the coffee maker aboard the C5 that states it must withstand a 100 G load and still operate?"

My eyes widen. "Dude, 7 makes you pass out! 20 and the wing spars snap like toothpicks! 100 G's, good God, whatever for???"

A smirk. "The story goes they did that, so, if one crashes, the accident team has fresh Folger's at the site."

And I believe it, too.