October 30, 2019

So You Want to Build a Modern Navy - The Story of a Missile Part 1

This isn't a normal So You Want to Build a Modern Navy post. Unlike the other entries in the series, it's not the results of an email discussion. This is entirely my work, but setting it in a fictional country makes it a lot easier to build a composite of the process and problems involved in bringing complicated military systems into the field.

Nobody is entirely sure where it started. It may have started somewhere deep in the Heptagon, the headquarters of the Paperclipistani military. Or in the Capitol Building, in the mind of a legislator. It may even have started with a private citizen, typing away about "what the Navy needs". But wherever it started, it ended up on the docket of the Committee for National Defense, placed there by a concerned Member, whose district just happened to have a major shipyard. The Honorable Members debated if the rising Chinese threat really merited fitting the frigates with a new anti-ship missile, but eventually agreed that it did. A new line item was inserted into the budget, directing that the Navy conduct a competition between existing anti-ship missiles for the unusually-named Frigate Intermediate Surface Defense Missile (FISDM), with funding for procurement and installation to follow in later years.

Even running this competition would take a great deal of work, including technical expertise that the Paperclipistani Navy simply didn't have. A contractor would be needed to aid in the competition, and later to integrate it with the ship. The obvious candidate was Papercipistan United Defense Services (PUDS), which had previously been prime contractor on the frigates themselves. But after several major procurement scandals, most notably a bribery scandal that had resulted in the nascent Air Force being abolished and folded into the Navy, a procurement bureaucracy had grown at a tremendous rate. A contract would have to be prepared so that PUDS could help the competition for the contract for the FISDM, a major effort in and of itself.

Both sides began to work on this early on. PUDS had a pretty good idea of what the PN wanted, so a project lead was appointed, and the core of staff began to gather. In meeting rooms. Frequently, and for several hours at a time. They had to figure out both what specific things they would bid to do, and how much they thought those things would cost. This involved bringing in reasonably senior people from all sorts of departments, and speaking in a strange language that at some point had resembled English. Not just the technical departments would do the work, but also the army of support departments. The people who make sure that the missile doesn't violate any of the thousands of rules intended to make sure that it's safe enough to use, like the one that prohibits the use of poisonous snakes. The people who write all of the documentation, so that sailors know not to apply the live power cables to their persons. The corporate travel team, because the PUDS group was in Alexandria and the main naval weapons office was in Scottopolis, so teams would have to go there for face-to-face meetings. A few technical people were dragged in, and only managed to survive by browsing the internet on their phones while powerpoints were shown with the same information that was in the last three meetings.

Occasionally, the customer came by for a meeting. These were easy to distinguish from internal meetings. Most of the PUDS team dressed up a little bit, and there were almost always donuts at these meetings, although if they were from the Navy or PUDS depends on who was trying to butter whom up that week. On one notable occasion, both teams brought donuts. Unfortunately, several key people on the PN side were not as enthusiastic about the project as PUDS was, which made some sense, as they were the ones paying, not getting paid. When the project started, it looked like the initial Request For Proposals would be issued within 2-3 months, with PUDS getting the contract a month or so later. Instead, foot-dragging by a few particularly unmotivated civilians in the Heptagon meant that it was a 9-month ordeal before work actually started. This raised all sorts of potential problems. Maybe the Representatives, in their wisdom, would get distracted chasing something else shiny, and decide that the money currently allocated to the FISDM program would be better spent elsewhere. Maybe on something useful, like buying more ships, or maybe on the unicorn-breeding program. Even worse, it could have ended up in the grubby hands of the Army (which the Navy hasn't managed to absorb yet). And if the contract didn't get awarded before the end of the calendar year, PUDS would have had to re-do some of its cost estimates for reasons that nobody could adequately explain.

Two other problems popped up during this phase. PUDS had just recently finished a very similar contract to put anti-ship missiles aboard the PN's destroyers, and had been hoping to leverage their work to deliver the FISDM competition quickly. However, when they attempted to get the documentation from that effort, they discovered a problem. The delivered documentation was now government property, so the PUDS destroyer team couldn't hand it over internally. The frigate and destroyer project teams, meanwhile, had recently been split from a combined team into separate teams, and were refusing to talk to each other. Members of the FISDM team considered breaking into the destroyer documentation and just making copies without permission. And the whole contracting process was made more difficult by a recent attempt to streamline the contracting process, which meant it was taking twice the time that it used to.

But finally, just as people were about to start losing the will to live, the proposal was ready, and was sent off to the PN. A week later, the PN was back, having looked at the proposal and decided that it was requesting too many labor hours. Of course, the obvious solution was to have another meeting, where both sides argued over whether or not appropriate holiday breaks had been accounted for in the labor hours for the relevant months, and how much the commonality with the destroyer missile program should lower the complexity of the task PUDS was facing. Eventually, an agreement was reached, and PUDS was finally on contract to run the competition. Things would only get more complicated from here.


  1. October 30, 2019redRover said...

    This is too real.

  2. November 01, 2019beleester said...

    It's taking me some effort not to pronounce FISDM as "fist 'em." Paperclipistan has clearly fallen behind the US in the field of military acronyms.

  3. November 01, 2019bean said...

    That's mostly because more than three people look at these acronyms in the US military. But they're totally capable of it.

  4. November 01, 2019cassander said...

    Just yesterday the US put out an RFQ for Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile Remote Support Equipment (ARSE). No, I'm not joking:


  5. November 01, 2019Jade Nekotenshi said...

    I do wonder why so many US weapons systems use comparatively soulless acronyms nowadays instead of more creative names, though I can sorta guess.

    I mean, anyone who dared propose a name like "Sea Viper" would be roundly castigated for unprofessional conduct, I'd think! (Ha ha, only serious.)

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