The United States had a pressing need for a new defense capability. That was what many thought, but as is often the case in a democracy, not all agreed. The debate went on for some time, but it finally was settled, and Congress approved a large sum of money to design and field the new system.
Then, there followed additional debates: How many systems are needed? What are the key performance characteristics? Who should build it? After considerable, often contentious discussion, a request for proposals was published, responses came in and there was a selection. The selection, however, was not without controversy, and a protest was lodged. Once the protest was resolved, a contract was awarded that required production be spread to six different localities in six different states. The first efforts to gather the needed construction material were unsuccessful, leading to cost overruns, schedule delays and ultimately congressional hearings. Fortunately, at the end of this long and laborious effort, the system was delivered and proved to be world-class when tested in combat against a fully capable enemy.
Does this seem familiar? Is this story from recent experience? It could be the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), or perhaps the Littoral Combat Ship, or maybe the Next Generation Jammer. But actually the story comes from Ian Toll’s fabulous book Six Frigates, which recounts in great detail the acquisition of the U.S. Navy’s first six combat vessels in the 1790s. One of those ships, the USS Constitution, known as “Old Ironsides,” still is moored in Boston Harbor, a continuing testimony that as tortuous and contentious as this early acquisition was, it succeeded.