National Defense: When Bureaucracy and Tech Don’t Get Along

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Technology has been an integral part of U.S. military dominance since the First World War. By leading the technology race, we have effectively won multiple wars over the last 100 years. So you would think that technology and bureaucracy have worked well together in support of national defense. But that is not necessarily true. Bureaucracy and tech do not always get along.

For evidence, we need look no further than current satcom technology. According to the Breaking Defense website, the U.S. military is on the verge of launching the next GPS III satellite into space. This will be the third such satellite capable of offering jam-proof, spoof-proof M-Code signals that should improve military communications around the world.

Sadly, there is a problem. Despite the satellites having reached full maturity, they will be useless for at least another year. It could be longer. The satellites are useless because there are no receivers yet capable of harnessing their signals.

  • Money, Bureaucracy, and Inefficiency

It doesn’t seem reasonable to launch three very expensive satellites into space and not be able to use them. But that’s the way it is. Thanks to a combination of money (or the lack thereof), bureaucracy and inefficiency, the U.S. military operates using a cornucopia of satellites and terminals that lack even basic standardization.

Some terminals are equipped with receivers that can only link to a single satellite or frequency. Other terminals are more versatile, but still not compatible with modern technology and too expensive to replace at this time. Breaking Defense says that it’s fairly routine for new satellites to spend years orbiting the earth without ever being used simply because no compatible terminals were ever built.

There is not enough money in the budget to pay for the technology. Whatever money is available often falls victim to bureaucratic incompetence. The end result is an outdated and inefficient system that really isn’t serving its purpose all that well.

  • Technology at Its Best

The GPS III satellites boasting M-Code signals represent satcom technology at its best. They should prove a great asset to U.S. defense if the military ever gets around to building terminals that can link to the satellites. And therein lies the problem.

Rock West Solutions, a California company that specializes in sensor technology and advanced signal processing for defense applications, explains that the pace of technology is accelerating as time goes by. Indeed, it is accelerating so fast that bureaucracies and budgets cannot keep up. What Rock West is working on today could be game-changing tomorrow. But does the government have the will and resolve to use that technology to its fullest potential?

If satcom operations are any indication, no. We seem to be stuck in a never-ending cycle that sees new technology being developed only to be outdated by the time the money to pay for it is made available. If you are frustrated by all of this, that’s fine. But note that the current problems are not isolated to the 21st century. This sort of thing has been going on since World War I.

As skilled and powerful as our military is, the bureaucratic side of national defense has always languished behind the men and women with boots on the ground. Bureaucrats are always slow to respond. They always take too long to make decisions. Meanwhile, some of the best technologies ever developed are just hanging around waiting to be deployed.

It is what happens when bureaucracy and technology don’t get along. The same old story just keeps getting played over and over. Will it ever end? Don’t hold your breath.