The Texas chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Republican Mac Thornberry, has suggested that the US military should be able to buy more of the things it needs online, including guns.
Military acquisition procedures are often mentioned in discussions of the waste, complexity, and paperwork that currently surrounds federal budgets. The new legislation, if it passes, will allow the military to buy almost everything it routinely requires – from pens to treadmills – in the same way that you or I could buy them.
It is envisaged that the military could use online sites such as Staples or Amazon to acquire these products, including handguns, and that this could save millions of dollars in acquisition costs.
A good example of the waste created by the current system is the replacement of the M9 Beretta pistol. Back in 2005, the Army decided that it needed a replacement for this firearm. It then spent 10 years writing and rewriting requirements for a replacement. The final document ran to 350 pages, 23 attachments, and added $15 million to the cost of the eventual replacement. In 2015, after a decade of discussions, the Army had still not decided what caliber the new pistol should be, or what ammo it should use.
If that sounds like a stupid process, it is because it is. US small arms companies make more pistols every month than the Army will buy in 25 years. In addition, there is a large and quite professional enthusiast community – GND included – who are constantly assessing the capabilities of new firearms.
In this context, perhaps it makes more sense for the military to be able to research and buy guns in the same way that you or I do. It is also worth noting that off-the-shelf consumer items, rather than expensive bespoke products, are used in many other parts of the military. I remember talking to a friend who flies drones for the US Armed Forces, and asking what hardware and software they used to do this. He explained, to my surprise, that they use Xbox controllers, because they are easily replaceable and available at a few days notice!
Allowing the military to buy guns online could therefore give huge efficiency gains, and help the organization to stop wasting the tax dollars that you and I provide to it.
I do, however, have a few reservations about the proposed bill. Remember that the current system, where the military invites designs from several manufacturers according to a brief, is designed to stop lucrative military contracts creating monopolies in weapons manufacture. It also serves to make the process of acquisition as transparent as possible, so that there can be no question of particular companies paying bribes to secure military contracts.
Therefore, whilst this new system is to be welcomed if it saves money and time, I would like to see more detail on the oversight brought to bear on the way the military makes decisions as to which handguns to buy.