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FCS Jitters

fcs-bck.jpgThe latest General Accounting Office study on the Army's massive modernization program finds - surprise - that there are 'development risks' involved in the the communications components. Since Future Combat Systems, or FCS, will network manned and unmanned vehicles and weapons, if the communications don't work, the system is a dud.Fair enough. The larger problem is whether the constant demand for accounting and oversight that drives GAO and its congressional masters is making it harder for the US to maintain technological excellence in military space. To be risk-free, a program would need to depend on the technologies of the 1980s. The hard question is whether failure and waste are unavoidable companions when making better weapons or technical intelligence systems.The answer to that question is yes, failure and waste are inevitable and maybe even necessary for real innovation. Corona, the original spy satellite, failed in its first five launches. The first 13 missions were failures and produced no pictures. The expense was enormous - if you adjust for inflation, the total program cost (over 12 years) may have been $40 billion. Of all Corona missions, only 70% were successful. But overall, Corona was an immense success. This sounds like an apology for waste, fraud and abuse, but it's actually a suggestion that it might be worth tilting the balance in how the US thinks about space back towards risk taking and away from accounting.

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