In America’s culture of optimism and innovation, there is always the desire for the better mouse trap. Sometimes, traps are needed to catch rats and not mice, so the mouse traps must be replaced. Sometimes, the existing traps can be modified to more than do the job against the actual threat they face. But we must be intellectually honest and ask, “Can what we have already get it done?”
For example, the .50 caliber Machine Gun was designed in 1919. That’s right, just after the First World War. It has been successfully upgraded and is still used today by all the armed services. It is efficient, deadly and respected by all of us who have used it in battle to defeat America’s enemies. Why? It simply works. America has protected thousands of lives and saved billions of dollars by resisting the calls for a potentially better mouse trap.
Too many times the urge to build new vs. incremental upgrade is hard to resist especially if a clique of advisors is captured by an aggressive sell of shinny new technology. ( Though alternately it can be hard to tell when an old war horse needs to be put out to pasture.)
But…if the shinny new blivet is only incrementally better and many or all of its advantages can be spun onto the old gray tiger you really have to consider incrementalism.
Speed, stealth or smaller, are often sold as the key advantage of a new frame…but most of the time the advantage so bought costs in $’s and in lost capability, flexibility, or maybe even reluctance to pull the trigger given a fear that the shinny new tech will be revealed to the oppo…
Especially in a world of rapid change the urge for the new is not necessarily a good one. Too many times a brilliant idea today is obsolescent before it’s out of development and can get caught in a horrifically expensive dollar death spiral chasing evolving requirements.
Also remember that the old guard primes have huge infrastructures (and stockholders) they have to support. And upgrading old systems will not fill the pipeline. So they have a strong motivation to denigrate the old and laud the new, so do many in the DoD bureaucracy.
Unfortunately for the new platforms, most technologies coming down the affordability curve are as good for, or better at upgrading older platforms or capabilities, than providing big step changes at the platform level.
Not to say that this won’t doom some old war horses. I’m not confident that the CVN is anything more than an admiral’s yacht and diplomat’s crutch these days.