How Not to Build a Better Mousetrap

Anyone who has watched a Vietnam War movie has seen the M113 tracked troop carrier. The squat, boxy vehicle that looks like a tank without a gun was the United States’ armored personnel carrier of choice for much of the Cold War era. It was flexible, able to traverse rough terrain, afford a dozen or so troops protection from small arms fire, mines and small projectile weapons, and could even float for water crossings. It was a proven, dependable workhorse. As weapon systems advanced and the Soviet threat continued to evolve through the 1960s and 1970s, the U.S. military decided it needed a replacement for the M113 APC. What it desired was a faster, more maneuverable vehicle for the battlefield of the future. That was the conception of the M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle, named for World War II General Omar Bradley who played an instrumental role in liberating Europe and defeating Nazi Germany.

Bradley, who served under General Dwight Eisenhower and commanded General George Patton, was known for being a pragmatic and disciplined leader who deftly managed the battlefield and acted in the best interest of the common soldier. The Pentagon’s choice to memorialize the new APC after Bradley would ultimately prove ironic given the mismanagement of the entire development program.

The Army and Marine Corps had two simple requirements for the Bradley: protecting soldiers and speed to keep up with the new 50-ton M1 Abrams tank, which flew over the terrain at 60 miles per hour. Upsetting the plans were innovations made by the Soviet Union, which in the 1970s introduced an armored personnel carrier known as BPM infantry fighting vehicles. These weapon systems had the armor of a conventional personnel carrier, plus the speed of a scout vehicle and a weapon slightly bigger than a large caliber machine gun.

The Soviet’s BPM deployment greatly distressed the Pentagon. Some people would say it gave the Pentagon just the excuse it needed to turn the Bradley over to its corrupt, inefficient and wasteful procurement system.

Planners submitted a series of change orders to modify the Bradley to counter the Soviet threat and perceived capabilities. On top of its original requirements, the Bradley was given a 20-millimeter gun for firepower and a TOW anti-tank weapon giving it the ability to take on the Soviet T-72 and T-80 tanks, which outnumbered NATO forces by five to one. Everything seemed perfect, except for a few things. The Bradley’s thin aluminum armor didn’t provide the strength to stand toe-to-toe with a Soviet tank. The addition of guns made the Bradley taller, negating its use as a scout vehicle. Its heavier weight made water-crossing operations impossible without the addition of a complicated floatation system. And the weaponry and ammunition took up so much space that the vehicle could only carry five or six troops, limiting its utility as a personnel carrier. Worse, the military never field-tested the Bradley prior to deployment in 1983. A combination of weak armor, poorly placed fuel tanks and high profile made it highly susceptible to detection and destruction. It wasn’t until 1985 that the first live-fire tests reveal serious protection deficiencies. And problems with the swimming system resulted in several soldiers drowning during training exercises.

Testing and post-deployment experiences forced the Pentagon to spend billions of dollars in retrofits to give the Bradley “improved survivability.” With a development cost greater than $10 billion, an average unit price of $3 million a piece, and a post-deployment improvement price tag of $5 billion in improvements, the Bradley is one of the Pentagon’s greatest blunders of all time.

Lessoned learned

Dismissing the Bradley as military and bureaucratic ineptitude is easy. In fact, it’s a classic example of what happens when you put technology ahead of the objective. Pentagon brass was so enamored with what they could do with the weapons and machinery that they overlooked the practical implications of their decisions.

While Bradley project managers and Pentagon procurement officers believed they were acting in concert, the reality was a lack of communications motivated by a blinding desire to field a new system. While military and government procurements are distinctly unique compared to project and operational management in the private sector, the lesson of the Bradley is the need for convergence and placing the mission objective ahead of the technology.

Even the best intentions of the best leaders can leave the organization befuddled. Perhaps, however, we should cut them some slack. Leaders today are charged with creating organizations that are agile and resilient, global in perspective yet sensitive to a single customer whim, constantly adding new ventures while perfecting the old, and assessing a glittering array of new technologies while holding the line on spending.

Many challenges stand in the way of government, businesses and corporate leaders, and overcoming these challenges requires new perspectives, thinking and management framework that come together in a focused plan of action. Some of these management framework and tools will be used by the C-suite, others by project teams, but their efforts will mesh together and unify the enterprise top to bottom in its decision-making and execution. This is business-technology management convergence.

Faisal Hoque is an internationally known entrepreneur and author, and the founder and CEO of BTM Corp. BTM innovates business models and enhances financial performance by converging business and technology with its products and intellectual property. His previous books include Sustained Innovation and Winning The 3-Legged Race. His latest book, The Power of Convergence, is now available.