Imperfect Deployment of Technology

James Carlson

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I've been doing some reading the past few months on Cold War tactics assumed by the Department of Defense; one of the strategies discussed was "imperfect deployment" of technology. Basically, the strategy was created in response to the Soviet Union's assumed technological superiority from the late 1950s to the early 1960s as evidenced in the early years of the space race -- they got Sputnik out and the first astronauts into space, etc., and the DoD was of the opinion that these advances were due to the fact that a communist dictatorship has certain advantages in their national marketplace; they didn't have a "marketplace" so technology wasn't dependant on whether or not someone was going to pay for it. In order to overcome the "disadvantages" of a free market system, the Department of Defense assumed a strategy of "imperfect deployment", which basically means that technological systems were not being tested as thoroughly as they should have been, and were not being "perfected" anywhere near the extent that industry normally demands. As a result, technology was being deployed into high-tech military systems -- such as the missile defense systems, for instance -- before it was ready. The Department of Defense decided that we could only catch up to the USSR in the technology race by deploying our own technology as quickly as possible, thereby raising demands on industry to produce new technologically superior systems faster, until we had not only caught up with, but surpassed the technological standards of the Soviet Union. Any adjustments, troubleshooting, final testing, and life-span data collection would only be accomplished after the systems were already deployed on station. Normal preventative maintenance of active systems was no longer going to be normal.

Neither Congress nor the Department of Defense intended this to be anything other than a temporary "fix", because everybody hated this kind of dependance on systems that were not actually "consumer-ready". In practice, however, it resulted in a large number of systems failures that were compounded by the normally expected difficulties industry had always had with new technologies. This was why we had so many failures of components like the NS-17 guidance and control modules on Minuteman II, that continuously had to be repaired, retested, and replaced on station, normally as part of routine maintenance. This gave the appearance of a vibrant technological environment, something that was considered very important for any deterrent systems, and as a result of this strategy we were, of course, able to eventually surpass the technological abilities of the Soviets. But it also resulted in an uncharacteristically failure-prone environment, particularly in systems like missile defense in which the technology was advancing so quickly and so dramatically (for instance, look at the huge differences between Minuteman I and Minuteman III). And with the compounded failures one on top of the other that resulted, we were apparently unable to move away from that strategy until the 1970s.

I've started this thread, because I'd like to collect from as many people as possible, their take on this strategy -- any examples you might have, whether it affected you personally in your work, any thoughts you might have regarding its efficiency, or lack thereof -- was it a good idea or not? Most of this is to satisfy my own curiousity, but I may eventually write an essay on the subject -- I really haven't decided. The actual practice just seemed so odd to me, that I wanted to find out more, particularly how it affected the day-to-day operations.

So, what are your thoughts?
 

AWP

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Interesting, something I'd never thought about or even heard about.

It makes sense if you're conducting a realistic threat assessment (Do we need this?) and a realistic risk assessment (Is this safe?). I would think it should be a "tool" rather than a policy. For example, you are lagging in ICBMs so would it be worth it field technology which can advance what we already know, provide a deterrent through the appearance of strength, and one that has a minimal impact on life, limb, and security. I would argue that is a good use of the practice. However, let's say you lag behind in submarine or aircraft technology, should we commit to losing subs and aircraft given the loss of life, cost, and failures in the I/O "war?" I would argue those are not worth it. (Though I'd bet we readily did this throughout the Cold War).

Risk vs. reward with very high stakes.

One wildcard though is your security around such actions. If it were leaked and an adversary made aware that our ICBM fleet is at 50% strength for example.....that could be disastrous.
 

James Carlson

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Interesting, something I'd never thought about or even heard about.

It makes sense if you're conducting a realistic threat assessment (Do we need this?) and a realistic risk assessment (Is this safe?). I would think it should be a "tool" rather than a policy. For example, you are lagging in ICBMs so would it be worth it field technology which can advance what we already know, provide a deterrent through the appearance of strength, and one that has a minimal impact on life, limb, and security. I would argue that is a good use of the practice. However, let's say you lag behind in submarine or aircraft technology, should we commit to losing subs and aircraft given the loss of life, cost, and failures in the I/O "war?" I would argue those are not worth it. (Though I'd bet we readily did this throughout the Cold War).

Risk vs. reward with very high stakes.

One wildcard though is your security around such actions. If it were leaked and an adversary made aware that our ICBM fleet is at 50% strength for example.....that could be disastrous.

I've been trying to think of an example regarding a non-deterrent system, and why you would want to apply this sort of strategy to its deployment, and I 've got to admit I've failed to come up with a good enough reason. the whole thing hinges on how you want the rest of the world to think about the systems you've deployed. I've never even heard of this strategy actually being applied outside of the Cold War setting. The first article I could find that discussed it was written by the same guy who apparently convinced President Reagan about the necessity of a Star Wars missile defense system, so it was applied even then to missile defense, which I believe (and I'm not 100% on this) has always been deployed as a deterrent. This idea of imperfect deployment was first discussed, to my knowledge (and again I'm not 100% on this either, because I'm always coming across stuff that's just completely new to me) in 1961, and a lot of people thought we had some serious catching up to do at the time just to get us equal with the Soviets.

The fact that it was developed as a means to catch up and surpass Soviet technology originally seemed kind of odd to me, but I assumed as well that things weren't as bad as a lot of people seem to have once thought they were. I was just reading an article from December 1996 called "Bombs Away" about the U.S. missile systems. This is the quote that struck me at the time; it was in a discussion about the computer systems used:

"Those systems include a satellite receiver, an encrypted fax' machine and an ultra-high frequency radio for airplane communications, as well as a mechanism to receive messages by very low spectrum frequencies (which, as officers put it, is particularly useful in a "nuclear environment"). Crews also have access to ordinary telephone lines for personal use (credit card calls only) and a closed-circuit phone system connected to other nearby installations.

"None of these accessories were purchased off the shelf because the Air Force has determined that an ordinary fax machine wouldn't survive the electromagnetic pulse during a nuclear conflict. Indeed, it took 10 years of development at Loral and GTE (including a trip through the Pentagon's acquisitions bureaucracy) before the capsules' computer system could be upgraded. The Russians installed an equivalent system 10 years before the United States did, Blair says.

"Despite the wait, the new computer system-which crews have dubbed "Windows for Armaseddon"-has been an immense relief to missileers, who find it much easier to use than the blinding array of "idiot lights" typical of its predecessor. The computers are not particularly powerful-l2O megabytes, up from 1 megabyte before the upgrade-but officials insist that's all the system needs. In fact, the system's simplicity has been a blessing in at least one regard: The faulty programming that will cause a worldwide crisis once computer clocks hit the year 2000 does not affect ICBM computers, officials say."

And that was just stunning! The first indication -- the one that says the Soviets had deployed a decent computerized system with hardened defenses against nuclear EMP for use within the firing crew capsules 10 years before we did was really surprising enough, but then insisting that the method we used was better because we didn't have to worry about Y2K was just a kick in the head -- we're talking about systems that supposedly allow for accurate nuclear retaliation, and the computers used didn't have date or timing characterisitics logged in?

So I don't know -- maybe the author didn't have any idea what the system was really like? But if the systems in use before that upgrade was 10 years behind, you'd think that imperfect deployment would have been necessary -- but they didn't use it with the computers. And that means they weren't necessarily as concerned with catching up to the Soviets as they were with looking like we had caught up with the Soviets. Does that make sense?

It's just a very odd thing for someone to write about the strategy but not really dictate when it's best to use it and on what. I think this article seems to suggest they didn't even consider using it with computer equipment, even though we were 10 years behind the competition (although something about that still seems a little off to me). But when it came to the actual deployment of missiles, that's another thing entirely. But what you had to say about risk vs. reward also makes a lot of sense, if all you're concerned about is what the enemy believes you're capable of. No need to worry about casualties if you're really not intending to use whatever you're deploying except as a last -- and I mean very last -- resort. When Possony first proposed it, he was talking about nuclear weapons and missile defense. I just assumed it was a general strategy because he never actually insisted that we just want it to look like we're deploying weapons we're really not capable of properly deploying in order to fool the enemy. He treats it like a strategy to force our own industry to pick up the pace. he doesn't really talk about the Soviets are supposed to think or how they might respond. If you look at it that way, it leaves the field open to anything our own industry is capable of producing. He doesn't spend a whole lot of time talking about what the Soviets, except to say that they have advantages over U.S. industry that wasn't being properly reacted to by the U.S. They could order changes to a product line or insist on directions in research that our government could only purchase. I need to give this some more thought.
 

car

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"…an imperfect plan implemented immediately and violently will always succeed better than a perfect plan." -- Patton
 

James Carlson

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"…an imperfect plan implemented immediately and violently will always succeed better than a perfect plan." -- Patton

Apparently the NFL is claiming that "Imperfect Jets still manage to fly high".

I posted this same question at http://www.missileforums.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=1164&st=0&sk=t&sd=a

They've come up with a lot of really beautiful examples, but they all concern missile systems; some really interesting stuff, and a lot of great details, but I still haven't come up with anything that doesn't qualify to at least some extent as a deterrent weapons strategy. If anybody can suggest some kind of reasonable alternative, even if it's just a wild guess, I'd appreciate it. Thanks -- James
 
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