Sad news for MilSF fans
December 4, 2017 1:30 PM   Subscribe

 
I am sad, but completely unsurprised to see it happen. Our materials tech just isn't quite there yet.
posted by Samizdata at 1:41 PM on December 4 [1 favorite]


Like a lot of our military hardware, this thing is basically designed to defeat a cutting edge modern superpower military (or alien invaders) in an age when the enemy is mostly pissed off villagers with machine guns and improvised explosives. You can't win that fight. This thing is like the Deathstar trying to pick off swarming X-Wings one at a time with its planet-destroying superlaser.
posted by Naberius at 1:42 PM on December 4 [10 favorites]


Everything in life has a natural order. First giant robots THEN guns. Then giant robots with giant guns.
posted by Fizz at 1:46 PM on December 4 [8 favorites]


This would be the obvious solution to the "common mount" problem they mention.
posted by Artw at 1:48 PM on December 4 [4 favorites]


Good
posted by Legomancer at 1:50 PM on December 4 [3 favorites]




one of my friends, who is an electrician on nuclear subs, talks about how a lot of the ships in the US Navy are Frankensteinian monsters of different parts from different decades, none of which were built with the other components in mind

he told me a story of how he had served a few months on a ship that recently had a systems software upgrade from a lowest-bidder-wins outfit. turns out, that software, like most of my buddy's team, had no idea how to handle different components and their required/recommended voltages and the many, many minor alterations different folks had to engineer on the fly in order to get everything working together

so on their first trip out the thing starts a fire that docks the ship for a month. on the second trip out, it almost happens again, this time in a part of the ship that also happens to contain a lot of fuel which, from the sound of things, my buddy had the pleasure of personally getting under control

in my eyes, this railgun thing is as much a PR thing for the Navy as anything else - it pumps taxpayer money their way because looks super cool and great. meanwhile, basic ship repair and maintenance and a lot of the unsexy stuff falls behind because, well, we really probably can't support our whole global model of brinksmanship from an economic perspective but we continue to do so anyway because of some reasoning impervious to my lay understanding

so, in my eyes, RIP but also finally, yeesh. I'd rather our military focus on ensuring the folks joining their ranks are able to stay alive rather than creating yet another object which is so good at fancifully killing things
posted by runt at 1:59 PM on December 4 [29 favorites]


If you're not effective after ten years . . . maybe it's time to shut down.
posted by Bee'sWing at 2:00 PM on December 4 [1 favorite]


This thing is like the Deathstar trying to pick off swarming X-Wings one at a time with its planet-destroying superlaser.

Or perhaps more aptly, like the primitive spearmen unit in Civilization who, if very lucky, could kill the most advanced and powerful units, including battleships.
posted by bonehead at 2:06 PM on December 4 [4 favorites]


Besides, it still loops back to the logistics issues. If we could finally get DEW kit up and running, I think that would be a better use of our time.
posted by Samizdata at 2:07 PM on December 4


If you're not effective after ten years . . . maybe it's time to shut down.

If you're not effective after 20 years to the point where your product is unsafe to operate during rainstorms, well, what's a trillion and a half dollars between friends?
posted by Copronymus at 2:10 PM on December 4 [3 favorites]


(Sorry. DEW is Directed Energy Weapons, like lasers or particle beam weapons.)
posted by Samizdata at 2:12 PM on December 4


I'm against the industrial military complex as much as the next guy but if you just reclassify something like this as basic-ish/applied research, it's pretty cool. I mean, projects like this help us figure out really fucking rad things sometimes.

The whole attitude of 'we got nothing to show for this giant wad of money!' is kind of myopic. I mean, we're using the internet, which was/based on military research. Projects like these kinds of research projects don't always work, but when they do, they can literally be world changing. I'd rather they not be geared towards killing people and more towards exploration or infrastructure research. I mean, it's been a longstanding science fiction idea that large mass drivers could be used to send objects to space (and back to earth).

I'd okay with this level of money being spent on research on really similar projects, even if we fucked up and things 'didn't work' once in a while, if we had housing, healthcare and environmental shit all sorted.
posted by furnace.heart at 2:15 PM on December 4 [7 favorites]





In 2015, SCO realized that the HVP, originally conceived as a specialized shell of the railgun, was just as effective when fired from a conventional powder cannons like the Army’s 105mm and 155mm M109A6 Paladin self-propelled howitzers and the Navy’s deck-mounted Mk 45 5-inch guns. A May 2016 report from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment found that large caliber guns could fire an HVP between 10 and 30 nautical miles at Mach 3, faster than conventional unguided rounds.

That is really interesting, I never thought about that. Is the rail gun the Juicero of the US military?

Outside of the R&D hurdles so far, is the rail gun really a zany overpriced luxury weapon? Isn't the whole point to turn hunks of metal into devastating weapons on the cheap? If anything I think it's just still a bit ahead of its time.

The article makes it sound like the railgun is RIP until the navy has more ships that can handle the power needs like the Zumwalt can.
posted by Query at 2:21 PM on December 4 [3 favorites]


in my eyes, this railgun thing is as much a PR thing for the Navy as anything else - it pumps taxpayer money their way because looks super cool and great. meanwhile, basic ship repair and maintenance and a lot of the unsexy stuff falls behind because, well, we really probably can't support our whole global model of brinksmanship from an economic perspective but we continue to do so anyway because of some reasoning impervious to my lay understanding

I mean, I definitely agree with you, but according to the article the lifetime cost for this program has been $500 million. That is, and admittedly this is not the fairest of comparisons, only a little more than 3 F22s, not even counting the development cost of that program. And despite being quite exploratory research, they appear to have gotten some benefit in the form of improved shells for conventional guns, and are willing to kill it when it looks like they're not going to get anything more useful out of it. That's pretty good for a pie in the sky research program.

Now if we could get that level of funding and management for something more practical and useful than killing people and breaking things.
posted by Zalzidrax at 2:24 PM on December 4 [5 favorites]


... a lot of the unsexy stuff falls behind because, well, we really probably can't support our whole global model of brinksmanship from an economic perspective but we continue to do so anyway because of some reasoning impervious to my lay understanding

It's not just the military. It's impossible to get anyone anywhere excited about paying for ongoing sustaining work because you don't get to see a Shiny New Thing in return for your money. it is and will always be unglamorous and unsexy.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 2:29 PM on December 4 [1 favorite]


The benefit is not so much the projectile but the basic research, and what do we need to get off our addiction to chemical based (oil) energy, a way to wrangle high electric power in a bunch of different ways. Operational needs of the big gun will help build out infrastructure to power electric cars, the rest of our devices * billions and perhaps even a rail gun near the peak of a tall mountain to launch materials into orbit.
posted by sammyo at 2:29 PM on December 4 [1 favorite]


Big Boat killers render Big Navy obsolete (they actually already are but this makes them even more obsolete).

The US Navy is already largely incapable of genuine force projection against credible enemies (possibly even marginally credible enemies). The Chinese have geared up with missile and air defense systems that probably already mean the US navy cannot aggressively steam in anywhere near them if China chooses war. It's debatable whether the carrier groups will even be able to within the bomber range of the Joint Task Fighter against defended targets.

Submarine offensive capabilities way outstrip anti-sub defense at the moment and have for decades. Any navy with a sub can sink an American aircraft carrier. Both Canada and the Dutch have penetrated US carrier group defenses in war games. Two nations that make super powers tremble with their might!

So why do Big Boats get built?

Big money and Big industry.

Does the same navy that wants to spend $10-15 billion per aircraft carrier really want to admit, even to themselves, that they are the ducks in an amusement part shooting gallery?

The existence of a US railgun means they can't pretend quite the same way they do with the sub and missile defenses that might have some tiny chance of stopping conventional attacks.

This feels an awful lot like the air force's resistance to Drone fighters.
posted by srboisvert at 2:29 PM on December 4 [13 favorites]


I guess I'm just coming at this from the context of not wanting to live through endless warfare and having a military-industrial complex that justifies the murders of civilians but I suppose you can call me idealistic. I kind of just think it's horrendous that our armed forces just spent half a billion dollars of tax money to make their cannons mildly better at killing things while our society is, well, you know, a really horribly unethical system that inflicts wanton suffering under the guise of moral courage
posted by runt at 2:29 PM on December 4 [14 favorites]


Meanwhile the ships are blundering around crashing into things and killing random fishermen

In the US Navy's case - or more specifically, the 7th Fleet's case - there have been not three, but four costly mishaps just this year.

Two other ships currently deployed to the Asia-Pacific, the USS Antietam that ran aground in Tokyo Bay and the USS Lake Champlain that struck a South Korean fishing boat, suffered damage this year.

That certainly makes for a pattern. With a US warship calling in Singapore every three days or so, there is every reason for the Republic to take more than a little interest in what's going on.

posted by infini at 2:30 PM on December 4


I'd okay with this level of money being spent on research on really similar projects, even if we fucked up and things 'didn't work' once in a while, if we had housing, healthcare and environmental shit all sorted.

plus the arts and several thousand other things, i would too, but we don't, so i'm not
posted by entropicamericana at 2:30 PM on December 4 [4 favorites]


I also kind of think it's shitty that my friend's life and many of the lives of his shipmates were literally minutes away from being obliterated because the Navy's focus is on fancy new railguns and not basic maintenance of the ships they use to perpetuate endless warfare but I guess making sure that our service members are minimally cared for is just an impractical thing to ask for in this political climate

cue Seinfeld bass sample
posted by runt at 2:31 PM on December 4 [11 favorites]


So what's being cancelled (or seemingly at risk) is the gun, but not the projectile and maybe not the concept in its entirety.

What they developed was two things: an electromagnetic launcher, and a superdense projectile, designed to be fired from the gun.

Nobody, it seems, is really interested in the gun, but the projectile apparently works as intended, and there's no particular reason you can't fire it out of a traditional (chemically-propelled) artillery system, which suddenly makes it much more interesting to a wider variety of users. So the SCO has decided to emphasize development on the projectile, and less on the gun.

That seems pretty reasonable to me, although I'm sure the project is a clusterfuck if you dig into it deeply enough, but that's true of basically every R&D-to-production project of significant size and complexity. (I used to think this was a function of government projects, and yeah government projects have their own brand of clusterfuckery, but it's not like the private sector is a well-oiled machine either.)

this thing is basically designed to defeat a cutting edge modern superpower military (or alien invaders) in an age when the enemy is mostly pissed off villagers with machine guns and improvised explosives.

Just because the last war was mostly COIN ops against guys whose idea of high technology is a Nokia phone, doesn't mean the next one is going to be. Building capabilities for the last war is, historically, a pretty good way of getting your ass kicked in the next one.

Anyway, the slightly strange thing about the US, relative to most other countries, is how much planning is conducted just hanging out there in the open. You don't have to dig to figure out what countries the US is worried about and is building its capabilities around matching. The Brookings Institute has it covered. Of the 5 noted threats, "transnational violent extremism" makes the list, but the other 4 are all traditional nation-states (Iran, China, Russia, N. Korea) with significant investments in military hardware, and two of them would probably be classed as "near-peer" states in a potential conflict or proxy conflict.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:33 PM on December 4 [3 favorites]


Maybe more focus on seamanship and training onboard naval vessels rather than rayguns and whatnot?
posted by infini at 2:36 PM on December 4 [1 favorite]


Like a lot of our military hardware, this thing is basically designed to

...funnel money to defense contractors so they can buy a fourth horse farm in Northern Virginia.
posted by indubitable at 2:41 PM on December 4 [13 favorites]


I still want to see development of the Light Rail Gun, which can place mass transit into crowded urban corridors from a hundred nautical miles away.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:45 PM on December 4 [38 favorites]


a rail gun near the peak of a tall mountain to launch materials into orbit.

Psst

Startup and all that, but the idea of firing cubesats into LEO might not need nearly the size and power of that railgun.
posted by Existential Dread at 2:51 PM on December 4 [1 favorite]


god if only we could replace the east river L train tunnel with a catapult and a net at either end
posted by poffin boffin at 2:51 PM on December 4 [5 favorites]


I mean this is big and sexy and all, but whatever is sapping the maintenance budget, it sure isn't this program. According to the article, this program cost about $500 million over 10 years. That's $50 million a year on average.

Poking around, it looks like the US Navy's maintenance budget request for 2017 was $55 billion. The money spent on this program is barely a drop compared to that bucket. It pays to look at where the money is actually going. For all the sexy photo ops and hyped up press, this program did not involve a great deal of expenditure or effort on the part of the US Navy.

Not that there aren't major, wasteful R&D programs out there that do take away from basic maintenance and training, but this isn't one of them.
posted by Zalzidrax at 2:53 PM on December 4 [5 favorites]


"Lethality mechanics". That's a nice phrase, isn't it?
posted by Capt. Renault at 2:57 PM on December 4 [5 favorites]


Capt. Renault: ""Lethality mechanics". That's a nice phrase, isn't it?"

Yeah. Take too long to pay their bill and see what happens...
posted by Samizdata at 3:00 PM on December 4 [1 favorite]


Also, another little gem I noticed from that report I linked:

The Department of the Navy FY17 budget includes a $45 billion (Base and OCO) procurement budget focused on improving high-end capability across all warfare areas.

The FY17 budget buys seven new ships in FY17 including two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, two Virginia-class submarines, two littoral combat ships, and one America-class amphibious assault ship to prioritize stability in major combatant shipbuilding as the fleet grows to 308 ships in FY21.


Emphasis mine.

The US Navy's not even trying to hide the fact that their main reason for buying new ships is to keep defense contractors afloat.
posted by Zalzidrax at 3:04 PM on December 4 [8 favorites]


That Powerpoint slide is chock full of Culture Ships:
ROU Lethality Mechanics
GCU Dynamic Power Sharing
GSV Space And Weight
GCU Focus Of Effort
dROU Power & Energy
posted by EndsOfInvention at 3:12 PM on December 4 [20 favorites]


Not that there aren't major, wasteful R&D programs out there that do take away from basic maintenance and training, but this isn't one of them.

it is very exciting to me when I'm right in spirit but wrong on a pedantic level. my partner always did tell me to trust my instincts more
posted by runt at 3:16 PM on December 4 [2 favorites]


Submarine offensive capabilities way outstrip anti-sub defense at the moment and have for decades. Any navy with a sub can sink an American aircraft carrier.

Now take the submarine and make it a robot.

Imagine having to defend floating humans from something that can sit on the bottom, detect your floating large object that carries humans and fire off a couple of rounds, move, and fire some more.

Now, hows that defense work if there is more than 1 of these auto-u-boats? How about a swarm?

Yea...whole lotta suck for ANY Navy.
posted by rough ashlar at 3:24 PM on December 4 [1 favorite]


The US Navy's not even trying to hide the fact that their main reason for buying new ships is to keep defense contractors afloat.

To be fair, if the Navy doesn't send a steady supply of work to the major shipbuilding companies, the companies are forced to reduce their workforce or go out of business. In either case, suddenly there's no companies available to build ships for you when you need them and the next time you need lots of ships you're spending way more for companies with much less experience.

There's contractors like Bechtel which represent basically our entire capacity to produce modern naval nuclear propulsion plants. You don't want a company like that to go away unless you care to outsource your nuclear submarine production to a foreign country.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 3:34 PM on December 4 [13 favorites]


Whoops, this was my dad's project before he retired last year. I'll send the article on to him and get his thoughts.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 3:40 PM on December 4 [3 favorites]


Of course there are always reason the system has to work as it does. It's just a terribly convenient coincidence if it happens to be very lucrative for some people.
posted by Zalzidrax at 3:44 PM on December 4 [6 favorites]


in my eyes, this railgun thing is as much a PR thing for the Navy as anything else - it pumps taxpayer money their way because looks super cool and great.

A lot of expensive weapons programs are basically this; maybe all of them are. The F-35 is a trillion(!)-dollar weapons program designed for roles that don't exist that on top of that doesn't work. Ballistic missile defense is a technology that keeps failing its softball tests while getting more money thrown at it.

Not only are these weapons getting built for a great-power conflict that probably can't happen, they are weapons that would lose any such conflict because they've never been subjected to budgetary discipline to make sure they're worth spending money on.

If you believe we're really in a superpower conflict that justifies trillion-dollar superweapons, then you have to think these programs are literally killing us. In the world where we need to buy trillion-dollar weapons to survive, there's no way we can afford multiple trillion-dollar weapons that don't work.
posted by grobstein at 4:17 PM on December 4 [3 favorites]


Now, hows that defense work if there is more than 1 of these auto-u-boats? How about a swarm?

You attack and degrade its command and control network, or its IFF system.

That's the problem with autonomous systems in general, and it's the stated reason behind the services' slow adoption of them (which is without a doubt exacerbated by traditionalist and job-protection issues, but that doesn't mean there's not a kernel of truth to it). Drones, in the air or underwater, seem like a great idea -- and are, in a very one-sided conflict, e.g. against Al Qaeda or the evil medievalists du jour -- but bring with them tremendous new problems in terms of how you communicate with and control them, and how they distinguish friendlies from enemies. Obviously you can punt on that if you are the sort of military that doesn't care about creating chaos (you could have the system "fail deadly" if it doesn't get a C2 signal, and have it attack everything; it'd be a sort of "smart mine") and it could be that defeating such things, which would by their nature be both disruptive and asymmetric, will be a major part of future conflicts. Bit early to say, really.

But there's a significant chance that a military that committed to an all-drone navy and air force would see itself Battlestar Galactica-ed in the opening minutes of any conflict with a peer or near-peer adversary.

My personal feeling is that the US is probably both under-investing in drones and late to the global party, and there's likely to be some sort of Billy Mitchell-esque moment where their superiority is definitively proven, but I'm not sure we're there yet. Not because a drone can't be quieter than a manned submarine (no life support!) or turn harder than a manned aircraft (no piddly low G-force limits!), but because those systems can still function and perform reasonably well in the absence of a command circuit.

I foresee a future where you have teamed semi-autonomous and manned units at the pointy end, with the manned units controlling both themselves and also directing the actions of the semi-autonomous units via robust communications links (radio over high-gain directional antennas, lasers, whatever). But this requires both a recognition of the value of autonomous systems, and also a willingness to not micromanage them from afar when communications links are available (which prohibits training crews to use them independently). Those are hard problems, because they're not technological, they're social. The hard problems are always social.
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:47 PM on December 4 [6 favorites]


Capt. Renault: ""Lethality mechanics". That's a nice phrase, isn't it?"

Potential for confusion scrolling down quickly from Casablanca thread.
posted by Artw at 4:55 PM on December 4 [4 favorites]


Maybe 'rail guns' as defined as tactical weaponry, sure - but the development of this stuff as DARPA and SBIR project stuff to build this started well before 2005. Hell, I stopped engineering on this stuff in 2002.

The shit has worked since then too. When it worked - it was awesome. But there were definite engineering problems to continue to solve. The challenges I worked on were largely twofold:

1. Power needs in terms of instantaneous power delivery to key systems without making everybody instantaneously sterile. (all I'm saying is back in the day, when an armature slid by and the CRT screen pulled completely to the corner as a direct response to the magnetic field firing along I chose to wear several metal aprons both above and below. The amount of power necessary at scale was pretty impressive. Lets just say this - a nuclear powered vessel may be able to produce enough power - but to store and release all that was necessary in the time frame necessary for specifications - that's a different story.

2. Individual subsystem failure acted as an anchor inducing an exponential increase in power request - meaning that in order to ensure specifications you had to be able to way way way over-deliver power. (3 phases - all systems A-OK. 2 phases - the 3rd phase acts in opposition to the other phase, meaning that as you increase power to the remaining 2 phases, the 3rd phase literally induces the opposite current, requiring more power, requiring the 2 phases to increase, repeat until you blow your components. Good news though - this at least looked like a heavy metal pyrotechnic show when it happened.)

But yeah... I spent a lot of time for a few years commuting out to the left coast to work on parts of these problems.
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:42 PM on December 4 [6 favorites]


EndsOfInvention: "That Powerpoint slide is chock full of Culture Ships"
So's Metafilter:

GSV Crone Island
LCU Flag It And Move On
ROU Eponysterical
SL Emotional Labor

posted by Pinback at 5:45 PM on December 4 [5 favorites]


There's contractors like Bechtel ... You don't want a company like that to go away

Companies like Bechtel and Halliburton--screw 'em. If we put 1/10 of the money that funnels into their coffers toward helping the poor, this country would be a helluva better place.

Munitions manufacturers and arms dealers are plain evil. The weapons go round and round, and the allies that we provide $$$ of munitions today oddly enough wind up shooting at US military tomorrow.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:32 PM on December 4 [3 favorites]


Rail guns would make wonderful launch systems for tiny satellites, but they should be developed explicitly for that purpose.

We need a strong educational system and applied research funding, not money pits defense contractors. Any engineering talent at Bechtel would be perfectly happy developing experimental reactors which at least demonstrated some advancement in human knowledge. In fact, you could train and hire far more nuclear engineers without all the management overhead and profit taking.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:21 PM on December 4


Serious question here: what was the last major engagement with another nation's armed forces won by the US? Gulf War 1?
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:57 PM on December 4


So Jeff, the company I worked for started on linear motors for high speed rail and high speed rail switching. From there we went on to a NASA project for scale satellite launching. The power consumption for this was surprisingly NOT cost effective, once again - issues with power storage and release without browning half the national electrical grid. Space is pretty far up there, and to launch something up there in such a manner where it lands in the specific orbit *without* over or undershooting the orbit is hard as all hell. Watching that armature slam into the 1" steel plate at the end when the breaking section would fault was hilarious... expensive - but hilarious.

From there we went on to specific arresting and launching projects that were... more terrestrial in nature, and from there on to other applications mentioned in this article. Each step, refinement of the switching, tighter motor control, feedback loop development, expanding flywheel usage... Communications, sensors, health monitoring... build build build...

So, rail knowledge in to failure.
NASA for first application
SBIR / DARPA for funded project work.

I can say - defense is not a money pit. Defense wants things to work. They want it to be reliable. They want systems that are fault tolerant. They want systems that have minimal risk of faulting in a 'critical fail' mode. A system that stops working and fails in a manner that it no longer woks is a risk to the military. The military development in the 40s 50s and 60s still relied on hard mechanical stops and switches and avoided the use of controls systemsNo other industry I worked for actually cared about the quality and the safety of their product more than the military. And no customer drove me to leave engineering and take up cooking like the realization I was working on weapons systems no matter how I spun it as a lie to myself. But damnit - they were excellent partners.
posted by Nanukthedog at 10:35 PM on December 4 [8 favorites]


I agree that it is unfortunate that certain capabilities like naval nuclear reactors have become things only governments need. It's actually a good case for nationalizing those particular business units. If there are no other customers, why are we paying for overhead that only makes sense if there are?

Not much different from having private contractors operate the nuclear weapons labs, I guess. (Which also makes no sense to me unless there is a legitimate trade in nuclear weapons I'm not aware of) Heaven forbid the executive class have a few less 8 figure jobs available. Can't have that.
posted by wierdo at 8:41 AM on December 5 [1 favorite]


As far as stuff like the F-22 and F-35 go, it is technology and production capacity that wins wars. I think the idea of developing limited runs of advanced fighters so that the technology and tactics are available in the future isn't unreasonable on its face, but do we really need to be building massive fleets of the things? I can't see any particular reason for it.

Having plans on the shelf such that we could restart production? I can get behind that. Building hundreds of aircraft before the bugs are even worked out, though, makes less than zero sense. The only purpose for going into full scale production at all, much less concurrently with design, is as a jobs program that isn't even particularly effective since so much of the money is siphoned into executive pay and windfall profits for billionaires.

Research into stealth has already proven to have promising applications in other areas where metamaterials may have applications. Lots of other advanced military research has similar spinoff effects, so I have zero problem with designing and testing the stuff even if we have no real use for it. Let's just dispense with the unnecessary large production runs that cost hundreds of billions of dollars even if all goes to plan. The idea that we need to be able to fight three hot wars at once with zero lead time is ridiculous, even if we are stupid enough to pretend to be the world police. If the nukes start flying, all of that is for naught, and if not, we'll have time to build whatever we need if we have the plans and tooling sitting on the shelf. Unless Canada is now credibly threatening invasion and I hadn't noticed?
posted by wierdo at 8:54 AM on December 5 [1 favorite]


Alright. I'll bite. Again.
Aircraft carriers are the mainstay with which the US has maintained combat superiority. The current method of launching a plane in the air is basically the Whiley Coyote slingshot, where you pull back and slam the thing forward with all of the shock at the initial takeoff and it decays rapidly over time. These are big piston designed to catapult the plane off the deck. All the force is applied initially as a massive jerk force. This causes stress on the airframe of the plane and overtime limits the life. It isn't move the plane off the aircraft carrier, it is strip it for parts and start from scratch. Normal wear and tear does the same thing, but aircraft carriers by design basically eat planes as fuel in this regard.

A rail gun is not jerk force. You can speed up your armature at a constant rate and minimize the stress on the frame - still bringing it to terminal velocity in a short distance.

So. Having plans for planes isn't enough. You have to be constantly building new ones. Period.
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:23 AM on December 5


Wierdo: Part of the problem is the difference between the marginal per-unit cost and the average per-unit cost. One of the usual pathologies of American defense acquisition, from what I've read, is that research, development, and startup costs (tooling, etc., etc.) are amortized over the production run. Congress sees that a program goes over budget, leading to high unit costs, so they cut the production numbers, which then increases unit costs (because the same fixed cost is being spread over many more units). Congress sees this and cuts the program again, leading again to higher unit costs, and so on. It's immensely frustrating to read about; I can only imagine being part of the process.

This is part of why you suggest what you suggest, if I read you aright: pay these up-front costs, and then only build large quantities later, when (if) we need we need them. Problem is, I don't think that's actually going to save as much as you think it will, because the up-front costs are such a large fraction of the total cost
posted by golwengaud at 9:31 AM on December 5


we'll have time to build whatever we need if we have the plans and tooling sitting on the shelf

Yeeeaaah, but you do kinda have to wonder how many people might have been saved if the US had had a significant fleet of heavy bombers on 8 December 1941 instead of having to wait until 1943/4 for serious numbers of them, or what the Soviets would have been able to do with another couple of thousand P-39s the US had had sitting around.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 9:42 AM on December 5 [2 favorites]


I have to wonder, but I also look at the fleet of planes we have and the unit price of acquiring more of those for immediate replacement needs. (I still contend that being prepared for multiple major land wars at once is overkill) If and when some potential adversary starts building more advanced planes in numbers we could bother to do the same. A small run of 5-10 planes is generally enough to work out the bugs and develop tactics.

And yes, I realize development costs are a significant part of what makes these programs so expensive and low production numbers enforce high unit costs. However, even if it only cuts 25% relative to developing and building in large numbers, that's still a lot of money. I can see the case for the research, but I don't see the point in building stuff we literally don't need. We could spend that $250 billion on things we do need, like decent support for veterans returning home or cutting the cost of education or any number of other things.
posted by wierdo at 6:15 PM on December 5


« Older The Untold Story of Japan’s First People   |   How Dollar General Became Rural America's Store of... Newer »


You are not currently logged in. Log in or create a new account to post comments.